Service Trips Aren’t a Social Media Opportunity

Digital Illustration by Posy Brown.

Last year, I went on a service trip over spring break. For one week, I worked at a public children’s hospital in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, spending most of my day playing with and comforting sick children as they awaited medical care. Despite many parents taking pictures of me with their children, I didn’t post any of them on social media. 

Yet as I scrolled through my Instagram feed this summer, I was met with countless posts of mission trips. Seeing these photos prompted me to think about why I didn’t post any photos, and I soon came to the conclusion that posting mission trips is inherently wrong as it not only diminishes the purpose of the trip, but also leads to the exploitation of the children. 

I recognized that my work and impact lay in spending time with the children rather than a post on social media with comments of praise. While I understand people want to share their experiences with others, it’s crucial for students to recognize that service trips should not revolve around personal glorification or garnering praise on social media for saving a child or community. Posting pictures of yourself helping people in need feeds into the white savior complex, shifting one’s focus from advocating for true transformation to an emotionally charged ego boost. 

Service trips are popular among the GDS community. Over the course of a few weeks, students participating in service trips dedicate themselves to the improvement and uplifting of a community in a developing country. 

Service trips can be monumental in the lives of high schoolers, leading them to share their experiences through social media. Yet despite their best interests, the act of posting on social media pictures of children and communities from your service trip can inadvertently exploit the kids and dilute the true purpose of the journey, which is to help communities in developing countries.

A nurse does not post a picture of their patient, detailing the private and often challenging circumstances of their patient. The same thinking can be applied to the posting of children on service trips. Children of developing countries warrant the same level of respect and privacy that a patient is entitled to in the United States. 

With every post captioned #lifechanging and comments of praise, it’s vital to recognize the true extent of one’s impact. While building a house or spending a day with children at a school is important, you must remember that your impact is still temporary. You didn’t save a child and aren’t entitled to a comment telling you so. 

Service trips are, undoubtedly, an excellent opportunity to make a positive impact on a community for a limited period of time. I strongly urge my peers to continue to help other communities while still being conscious of the photos they post during their trips.