The Student News Site of Taipei American School




Service Initiatives Transform Voluntourism


For the first time in 11 years, the Cambodia Service Initiative’s (CSI) annual trip to Cambodia has been put on hiatus. “There are several reasons for this,” says advisor Dr. Smith. “But the biggest one is that we are taking a look at the TAS community and trying to tailor our program to what the students need and what they’re willing to do.”

When Dr. Smith first took on an advisory role for the club five years ago, there had been well over 100 applications for the trip. However, the club’s membership has dwindled slowly, and last year there were barely enough applications to fill the spots the club offered. “At that point, we needed to take a step back,” he says.

Though fewer students are participating in the initiative than in the past, the students that remain are fiercely supportive of the mission. “The learning that CSI provides prior to the trip and throughout the rest of the year allows members to be culturally aware,” says club officer Sarah Chin (11). Several students cite the program’s service learning initiatives as their primary reason for their devotion to the program. “We can see firsthand the changes we’re making in the community,” says club president Rachel Lee (12). The Initiative will continue to work toward their goals during this gap year by fundraising and donating to the communities they are supporting.

In the long run, they hope to change not just Cambodia, but TAS as well. “I hope that we’ll be able to start a genuine and widespread dialogue about service,” says Dr. Smith. “We cannot delude ourselves into thinking that dropping money in a bucket will automatically solve anything.” Clubs like the Myanmar Service and Culture Club are already beginning to follow that method of thinking, attempting to incorporate service learning into their community service. “We’re attempting to take service one step further than usual,” says the Myanmar Service and Culture Club’s vice president, David Wang (10). “I think bringing attention to nations that are not getting the international attention they need is a very important aspect.”

“Voluntourism,” too, has been criticized by activists for its dubious impact on resolving issues. Because of the lack of skill in many who volunteer, sometimes it seems as if overseas community service trips do more harm than good. “We’re not sending experts,” Dr. Smith agrees, “we’re sending students.” But this is for good reason: a major goal of these service clubs is, ultimately, to provide an educational experience for students so they can do more in the future. “Effectively addressing a longstanding historical problem takes much more than showing up and hammering in nails,” he says. “Instead, we’re giving students a lifelong tool set.”

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