Self-serving “Service”

Kyra Bergerud, staff writer

Although mission trips were originally created to provide aid to those worse off in society, now these trips have turned into tools to pad college applications, achieve self-fulfillment, and exacerbate the savior complex.

In today’s competitive society, high schoolers will do anything to make their college applications as impressive as possible. Similar to picking up a sport they don’t particularly like, or deciding to adopt slam poetry to seem versatile and quirky, students use mission trips to appear as an exceptionally altruistic candidate.

There’s a reason why college counselors caution against writing an admissions essay on mission trips: they are constantly exploited. Presenting the narrative of“having your own life changed” while changing an orphan’s life in Haiti in the hopes of convincing a college admissions officer what a great person you are is not only an act of exploitation, but most of the time, a falsehood.

Despite being on a mission to provide aid, the main goal of student mission trips is often to provide self-fulfillment to the volunteer instead of actually making a difference. The truth is that the orphan wasn’t changed because you spent a week there, nor has their life been changed by the countless influx of volunteers who claimed to change their life before you. Instead, the only consistent occurrence is an inflation of egos that came as a result of “doing good in the world.” For a majority of the time volunteers are not only not helpful, but actually do more harm than good by utilizing resources that could have been better allocated to make a change. Along with this, for a majority of the time, these trips last a week or two, at most a year. With the constant influx of people coming just to leave, no real change can be made.

As surprising as it may seem, the skills required to create change in a nation or community are not those utilized on mission trips. If one wanted to actually make a lasting impact instead “changing a life” by reading a young child a book, they would be more successful working to depollute the water supply, which has a long lasting positive influence on health and elongates lifespans. Despite these important changes that could happen, most mission trips don’t take that approach.

When asked reasoning for attending a mission trip, a majority of the time, the reasons are all self-interested and only hurt those they’re attempting to help. “I want to see the world from a new perspective,” or “I want to create change in the world” are all statements that reflect a desire to be fulfilled. The question then becomes, who’s world are you really changing and whose perspective are you changing? The answer to this question is often self-interested and in turn deeply flawed. Using time and money to go and provide surface level “help” to a place in need often costs more than what aid is provided.

This perspective is extremely harmful in that it exacerbates the so-called “savior complex,” the belief that you have the ability to save those you are helping, and continues to perpetuate a colonized/colonizer reality. The mentality of saving is one that similarity was shared by Europeans who chose to colonize African and Asian land. Much like the ways in which social Darwinism and the spread of religion occurred between colonized and colonizing countries, the mission trip model resembles these values. Essentially, volunteers go in with a superiority complex that drives them to save those who have less than themselves. The response to this, of course, is that, why does it matter what the motivations are if people are being helped. Often, mission trips produce more harm than good, shedding the positive externalities for negative repercussions that serve as a vestibule for selfishness.

If one wishes to go on a mission trip they need to look inwardly and ask themselves why. If the answer is self-interested or stemming from a desire to act as a savior to groups of people, then the resources being used could go to an effort that could actually begin to make a real difference. Creating change and making the world a better place is something most people dream of, but it’s important to distinguish wanting to change the world with wanting to change your world.