To tell you up front, this Spotlight is less about highlighting good work and more about scrutinizing the oft-quoted “voluntourism”. Having volunteered with the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children (FIMRC), I can provide insight into how such organizations function and question the goals they have set.
Founded in 2003 by Vikram Bakhru, FIMRC has spread to universities across the United States, establishing chapters and attracting pre-medicine students and others interested in public health. These chapters organize trips of 15-25 volunteers to any of Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, India, Nicaragua, Peru, or Uganda, where they support operations for providing access to health care professionals. As 90% of their revenue is acquired from volunteers, there is no large necessity for external funding.
Having participated in one of these trips, I can say FIMRC trips perfectly represent what it means to be “voluntouristic”. With little preparation beforehand to understand in-country context, impersonal administration of minimalistic health care, and multiple trips to “explore the culture”, this had all the ingredients to indicate no serious desire to make a lasting impact. Even the portion where volunteers are supposed to lecture children and their mothers about a chosen aspect of health care seemed contrived. We interacted with the children long enough to get our photos to show people back home, then left.
Even a cursory glance at their FAQs indicate their focus on volunteers rather than measures of real progress or impact. The entire FAQ sheet is about how to volunteer; they have nothing about measures of progress and verifiable impact being made.
Perhaps I am misled about the purpose of their organization. If they stand to only provide such inconsequential health care to the impoverished, then they have succeeded. But then, we must question the validity of such work. While this non-profit touts its passion to provide improved healthcare to the impoverished, their efforts to do so, first, fall far short of the mark. And second, if they are looking to provide truly improved access to quality health care, their mere presence within these countries can have detrimental effects to the policies which the government may be implementing. Even assuming complete governmental approval of their efforts, external organizations must be extremely considerate of the impact they have even residing within a country.
Organizations such as this may begin with people’s best interest at heart, but their methods and even their existence need to be seriously considered before potentially disrupting the crucial developments of the health care sector in these countries.