Dismantling Voluntourism: Evaluating the Effects of a Global Health Supplemental Curriculum on Undergraduate Volunteers Travelling to Haiti

Jun 23, 2020 | NURJ x EXPO 2020 Presentation

Jehannaz Dastoor

AdviserDr. Peter Locke
DOI: 10.21985/n2-fe0f-kp78

Jehannaz Dastoor graduated in 2020 from Northwestern University’s College of Arts & Sciences with a major in Anthropology with a biological concentration. At Northwestern, Jehannaz became an EMT, worked as a lab intern in the Department of Preventive medicine, founded a medical service student organization, and was a Sergeant on the executive board of Northwestern Emergency Medical Organization. She is passionate about global health, and has worked in Jacmel, Haiti with a Haitian community health organization for five years. Jehannaz completed her research project with the support of Northwestern’s Academic Year Undergraduate Grant. She will be obtaining an MD at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and an MPH concurrently at The Graduate School at Northwestern. She hopes to continue pursuing her interest in global health, and aims to practice as a physician and contribute to community health efforts both in the U.S. and internationally.


In the era of international volunteerism, mounting evidence suggests that the presence of unskilled and culturally unaware volunteers in the Global South fosters “voluntourism”, and endangers the very populations and institutions that volunteers want to help. Northwestern does not enforce a pre-trip curriculum for student organizations that coordinate private service trips, leaving the students to independently prepare themselves for their trip. This spring, eight students including myself intended to volunteer in Haiti through a Haitian-based non-profit, coordinated by a Northwestern student organization. Taking this opportunity, I implemented an eight-week pre-departure global health/ethics curriculum, and assessed the students to determine if a supplemental curriculum was effective in establishing competency in global health, ethical service, and Haitian history/culture. Students were evaluated through qualitative methods and quantitative evaluations. This study found that the curriculum was sufficient in establishing cultural sensitivity, historical awareness, and basic global health/ethics competency. Students also developed a critical lens of service in the Global South, and heightened awareness of how their privilege would affect their engagement in Haiti. Students preferred a supplemental curriculum to a for-credit class, and cited their schedules as barriers to taking global health classes or choosing university-sponsored international programs. Participants admitted that without the curriculum, they would not have individually sought out this information. The results of this study suggest that a country-specific supplemental curriculum is effective in creating a cohort of culturally and ethically sensitive student volunteers, and should be a minimum requirement for undergraduate service efforts in the Global South.