Gadling talks to Chris Blattman
Check it out. An excerpt:
I think we should recognize that the short volunteering vacation probably does more for us than the recipient. Development tourism has value, most of all because it expands a visitor's appreciation for life in a poor country. But we should not fool ourselves into believing that we can have much "impact" in just a few days or weeks. Neither should we convince ourselves this is the best use of charitable funds; the cost of the travel alone could find better uses. Plus, it's not as though there is a shortage of semi-skilled labor in poor countries ready to dig wells and build homes (more cheaply too).
I say, let's call these what they are: experiential vacations-- better than splurges in tropical resorts, but not quite impactful. The distance from development tourist to the true do-gooder is not that far, however. To make the leap, I usually recommend four options: go for weeks (or months) rather than days; go with the intent to learn, not to "save" anyone; don't displace the local private sector with your work; and identify a local community organization and continue to raise money for them when home. Sending children to school is a fine idea. But helping families or community organizations to set up income-generating activities (a small poultry or piggery operation, a grinding mill, a brick-baking outfit) is inexpensive yet can generate a stream of income for years of school fees.