The Fordham Ram

When Charity GO!es Wrong

Though GO! has altruistic intentions, it is ultimately more of a voluntourism organization than a charity service. (Courtesy of Facebook)

Though GO! has altruistic intentions, it is ultimately more of a voluntourism organization than a charity service. (Courtesy of Facebook)


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By Sean Franklin

Global Outreach (GO!) fundraising season is in full swing. Everywhere I turn, there are pleas for me to buy something to support someone’s GO! trip. Posters in the hallways of my dorm tell me to go to Chipotle. Emails from my RD alert me to an upcoming bake sale. Instagram stories implore me to buy donuts, and texts from my friends eagerly dish out order forms for customized Fordham gear. It’s inescapable.

This is troubling, because GO! is not a charity. It is a voluntourism organization, sending Fordham students on cultural enrichment trips that involve some service.

Its members act as though they are members of a charitable organization, holding on-campus fundraisers and soliciting donations much in the same way that legitimate charities such as FDM and UNICEF do. But they aren’t.

The things that GO! does are not charity. At best, they are misguided attempts at service. At worst, they are nothing more than glorified tourism.

I want to be clear that I don’t think GO! is a malevolent organization. It provides Fordham students with unique opportunities to immerse themselves in other cultures and learn about unfamiliar ways of life. It builds community among the people who participate in its projects. It provides opportunities for reflection and spiritual growth.

However, GO! is not a service organization. The service it provides to the communities it visits is nominal at best. There’s only so much you can accomplish with 15 undergrads and a week’s time. Even if GO! trips were 100% service — which they are not — they would still be a waste of resources.

A GO! trip usually runs between $1,000 and $2,000 a person. If your typical GO! trip is 10 to 15 people, then you’re easily looking at a total cost of over $20,000 – just for 15 people to spend a week in a foreign country cooking meals and gardening.

$20,000 donated to UNICEF could vaccinate over 100,000 vulnerable children against polio. $20,000 donated to Oxfam could plant 40,000 trees in the developing world.

When compared to the impact of real charities, the impact of that $20,000 spent on a GO! project is vanishingly small.

Therefore, for GO! to pose as a charitable organization and solicit donations in the same way is indefensible. It’s impossible to justify GO! as anything but an enrichment program – an opportunity for students to go abroad and learn about different ways of life. Many GO! members, when asked, will readily admit to this. Yet this is not the way they are marketed. Their own promotional material lists them as a “service and immersion program.”

A picture of students participating in GO! Mexico put out by Campus Ministry (which administers GO!) with the caption “Feed the hungry. Comfort the afflicted.” has appeared all over campus (including, strangely, on the napkin dispensers in the cafeteria).

You could be forgiven for thinking that they’re an organization primarily engaged in service. However, they aren’t.

Students looking to make a genuine impact should look elsewhere. The fact there is an appetite for GO! trips shows Fordham students have a genuine interest in service and charity, which is laudable.

Students who are interested in serving others. They could volunteer with homegrown organizations like FDM or venture out further into the Bronx with organizations like the Bronx Volunteer Coalition. There are plenty of opportunities right here at home that will do far more good than a GO! trip ever will.

Campus Ministry, for their part, should either fully finance GO! trips or leave the cost up to the students alone.

Encouraging GO! members to engage in this kind of disingenuous fundraising is unacceptable. Unless GO! becomes more transparent about the nature of its projects, it should not be soliciting donations.

Earlier this week, a friend of mine asked me to buy a Fordham hat for $20 to support her GO! trip to New Orleans. I didn’t, but in her honor I took that $20 and donated it to UNICEF.

The next time someone asks you to donate to their GO! trip, I would urge you to do something similar. Don’t let their good intentions go to waste.

 

Sean Franklin, FCRH ’21, in an urban studies and economics major from Alexandria, Virginia.

1 Comment

One Response to “When Charity GO!es Wrong”

  1. Emily Sullivan on April 10th, 2019 12:16 pm

    I’m a Fordham alumni who participated in GO Mexico 2015 and led GO Guatemala 2017. I also served on the GO board my junior and senior year. And I agree with many of the points made in this op-ed.

    I will say, being so entrenched in GO during my time at Fordham, that GO is very different from the majority of college service projects. For example, my Guatemala team and I met weekly and I assigned “homework” for each meeting that included different histories of Guatemala’s civil war, different essays about how service projects are wasteful (Mr. Franklin, and anyone who’s reading the comment section, I 100% recommend you read “To Hell with Good Intentions ” by Ivan Illich — I’ll link at the bottom.) I made my team discuss charity (donations, providing clothing etc) versus justice (actually enacting social change through policy, protests, education etc). By the time we left for our project I think I made a few people on my team very uncomfortable. From what I understand, most other colleges don’t prep or educate students as much for projects.

    I also know that the cost of *most* projects includes a large donation to whatever service organization you’re partnering with. For example, the project I led worked with a great organization called Via (which is ran by Guatemalans, not white saviors from the U.S.) and a few hundred bucks per participant went to that org. Like Via, all of the orgs that GO partners with (as of my time at Fordham, I graduated in spring 2017) are ran by members of the communities GO visits, rather than, say, More Than Me, a “charity” in Liberia ran by an American who had no idea what she was doing. (ProPublica had a great story abt this — https://features.propublica.org/liberia/unprotected-more-than-me-katie-meyler-liberia-sexual-exploitation/)

    I think that for most students, GO *can* be a really good gateway in community service in their own communities, *if and only if* they are encouraged by their leaders/GO staffers to a) be uncomfortable with the fact that they are paying money to go on a service trip, b) learn/reflect enough to realize that their basic charity efforts won’t make a real difference if they’re not fighting the actual causes of injustice rather than putting a bandaid on the symptoms of those injustices, and c) realize they are not special or altruistic for doing a GO project.

    In my opinion, students who do not leave the project without those realizations have failed and left with probably a worse worldview than they had before. I would say that the average GO participant probably naively signs up thinking they’re going to “change the world.” Most learn that that’s the furthest thing from what their doing. Those who don’t — it’s a shame.

    I always notice when people go on a project, take photos with brown children, and then come back to New York, never to volunteer in the Bronx or care about injustices in their own communities. (As if most students at Fordham even care about the Bronx community that hosts them… but that’s a comment for another time.)

    …ALL THIS TO SAY…

    Tone-deaf marketing efforts from GO participants and pleas to help fund their projects are, simply, bad. If someone is preaching about how Venmo’ing them some money will “help” a poor community in Latin America, then they have completely failed the basic exercise of examining their privilege as a (probably white) student going abroad to a place that’s HOSTING them and, IMO, should not be on a project. (But then again, maybe that hypothetical student will be confronted with their own white savior-ness on their project, and hopefully correct their ego-centric worldview.) I agree with Mr. Franklin’s assertion that at GO’s worst, the org is “nothing more than glorified tourism.” But at it’s best, I do think it permanently changes students’ worldviews by making them uncomfortable and challenging them to do better in their OWN communities.

    I’d also like to point out that fundraising is how many non-wealthy kids get to participate in this sometimes bad, sometimes good org that lets them have a space to truly think about social justice.

    I really appreciated this op-ed by Mr. Franklin, and I hope that current GO leaders/those involved in GO/GO alumni appreciate the very valid criticisms here.

    To Hell with Good Intentions: http://www.swaraj.org/illich_hell.htm

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




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When Charity GO!es Wrong