03 June 2019

A guide for volunteers and travelers: 4 principles to promote dignity and break stereotypes on social media

Volunteer tourism, or voluntourism, is an emerging trend of travel linked to “doing good”. Volunteering programs are expanding rapidly as it has been estimated that every year 1.6 million people volunteer overseas, with voluntourism being considered the fastest growing ‘trend’ in travel, a trend worth an estimated $2.6 billion per year.

Even if we know that in the right circumstances, volunteer tourism provides significant benefits for both the volunteers and the communities that receive them but we need to be absolutely clear: volunteering in an orphanage abroad is a bad idea. 

It is increasingly important to address how volunteers and travelers tell their story on social media, to make sure that language and images are used to make a positive impact and break stereotypes, rather than reinforce them.

Hope and Homes for Children Safeguarding Policy and Communications Guide

Within our Safeguarding Policy we have a chapter on the use of images (both photographs and video) and stories: Hope and Homes for Children’s overriding principle is to maintain the safety, privacy and dignity of children, families and communities portrayed.

Hope and Homes for Children aims to ensure that choices of images and messages will be made based on the paramount principles of:

  • Respect for the dignity of the people concerned;
  • Belief in the equality of all people;
  • Acceptance of the need to promote fairness, solidarity and justice.

In our “Guidelines for publishing images and stories”, we refer to:

Informed consent
We must obtain informed written consent from any person we wish to photograph, video or interview, regardless of whether or not they are identifiable in the image. The written consent should as a rule be acquired PRIOR to capturing their image or filming them and contributors should be given sufficient information and time to reflect between consent being requested and pictures/interviews being taken

Children and adults in the care system
Children in the care system, and especially those in institutional care, are particularly vulnerable and therefore need a higher level of protection. Being institutionalised has a negative impact on their lives and this can be exacerbated by being discriminated against because of their early life in care.

Highlight positive and transformative effect
We should endeavour to show the positive and transformative effect of our work. Wherever possible, images and stories of institutions, or images/stories that illustrate the need, should not be used in isolation, but balanced with positive images and stories, showing how we are transforming lives.

Portraying diversity
As in all our communication publications, videos and website, we should ensure there is a balanced representation of the wide range of people we work with.

The social media guide for volunteers and travelers

Radi-Aid is an annual awareness campaign created by the Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ Assistance Fund (SAIH). Emerging from the satirical campaign and music video ‘Radi-Aid: Africa for Norway’, the campaign has focused on arranging the Radi-Aid Awards (2013-2017), celebrating the best – and the worst – of development fundraising videos. Along with this, they have produced several satirical, awareness-raising videos. In 2017, they have also developed the below Social Media Guide for Volunteers and Travelers.

“An increasing number of people spend their holidays or gap years traveling, while at the same time doing something meaningful and different. Language and images can either divide and make stereotypical descriptions – or unify, clarify and create nuanced descriptions of the complex world we live in. It can be difficult to present other people and the surroundings accurately in a brief social media post. Even though harm is not intended, many volunteers and travelers end up sharing images and text that portray local residents as passive, helpless and pitiful – feeding the stereotypical imagery instead of breaking them down. This is your go-to guide before and during your trip. Use these four guiding principles to ensure that you avoid the erosion of dignity and respect the right to privacy while documenting your experiences abroad.”

PRINCIPLE 1: PROMOTE DIGNITY

Promoting dignity is often ignored once you set foot in another country, particularly developing countries. This often comes from sweeping generalizations of entire people groups, cultures, and countries. Avoid using words that demoralize or further propagate stereotypes. You have the responsibility and power to make sure that what you write and post does not deprive the dignity of the people you interact with. Always keep in mind that people are not tourist attractions.

PRINCIPLE 2: GAIN INFORMED CONSENT

Informed consent is a key element in responsible portrayal of others on social media. Respect other people’s privacy and ask for permission if you want to take photos and share them on social media or elsewhere. Avoid taking pictures of people in vulnerable or degrading positions, including hospitals and other health care facilities. Specific care is needed when taking and sharing photographs of and with children, involving the consent of their parents, caretakers or guardians, while also listening to and respecting the child’s voice and right to be heard.

PRINCIPLE 3: QUESTION YOUR INTENTIONS

Why do you travel and volunteer? Is it for yourself or do you really want to make a difference? Your intentions might affect how you present your experiences and surroundings on social media, for instance by representing the context you are in as more “exotic” and foreign than it might be. Ask yourself why you are sharing what you are sharing. Are you the most relevant person in this setting? Good intentions, such as raising awareness of the issues you are seeing, or raising funds for the organization you are volunteering with, is no excuse to disregard people’s privacy or dignity.

PRINCIPLE 4: USE YOUR CHANCE – BRING DOWN STEREOTYPES

When you travel you have two choices: 1. Tell your friends and family a stereotypical story, confirming their assumptions instead of challenging them. 2. Give them nuanced information, talk about complexities, or tell something different than the one-sided story about poverty and pity. Use your chance to tell your friends and stalkers on social media the stories that are yet to be told. Portray people in ways that can enhance the feeling of solidarity and connection. A good way forward is to ask the local experts what kind of stories from their life, hometown, or country they would like to share with the world.

Here’s the social media checklist for volunteers and travelers from Radi-Aid, Africa for Norway:

 

You can download the guide at this link.

To know more about voluntourism and how to choose the right program

We know that in the right circumstances, volunteer tourism provides significant benefits for both the volunteers and the communities that receive them but we need to be absolutely clear: volunteering in an orphanage abroad is a bad idea. 

If you’re thinking about volunteering abroad, here’s what to look for to make sure your time overseas is genuinely spent making a difference: check out this 10-point checklist to make sure you know what to look out for when you select your volunteering program abroad.