As temperatures increase from anywhere below zero to now well over the teens, it can only mean one thing: Summer is just around the corner. And with that comes the tedious hunt for a summer job. While most students find themselves filing away papers, slathering sunscreen on squirmy kids or mastering another language in some far away land, some feel it is their duty to save the world and become heroes.
Within the last 60 years, major travel programs have been created that bring groups of students to different countries over the summer. One highly acclaimed and well-known program is Putney Student Travel. While this specific program is only available to students completing grades nine through 12, there are several others out there that cater to students of all ages.
Putney Student Travel offers trips to many different destinations, all with a focus on community service. Putney sends travelers to the western coast of South America in Ecuador, Vietnam in East Asia and many countries in between. No community service trip is listed that travels to the ruins of New Orleans, however, or to any of the other poor inner cities in our own United States.
One of the most popular trips that Putney offers is to Tanzania. The students stay there for a month or more, assembling a classroom by hand, helping educate the children and then engaging in and enjoying a thrilling one-week safari through Ngorongoro Crater and Tarangire National Park.
But this fun-filled adventure doesn’t come for free. It costs $6,690. Taxes not included.
Is that what community service is all about? Does helping people now come with a sky-high price tag?
When did the norm of community service change from the classic volunteering at soup kitchens to flying thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean?
Don’t get me wrong, I think helping underprivileged children in Tanzania is a great thing and should not go undone. But I don’t think those in Tanzania are any more important than those in our own country, especially when all of the money that is spent on travel and funding the physical trip, with all of its amenities and safaris, could be spent a whole lot wiser.
Then there are the pompous people who did spend their money on a service trip, and now see themselves as heroes that think they are somehow above the rest of us now that their great deed is done. They boast about it, write it up in résumés, and think that spending that sum of money will better qualify them for any sort of college or job application. But does it really prove anything more than how much money they have?
Because of the cost of Putney trips, and community service trips abroad in general, only a select number of people can participate. Does that mean people who can’t afford it can’t help? That they can’t be as recognized or appreciated for just volunteering locally?
Community service, by definition, is voluntary work for which you don’t get paid, so why should spending money be any requirement for the act of helping people?
To me, those nearly seven-grand trips are nothing more than vacations simply polished up with a philanthropic title.