This has been on my mind for a few days.
I really didn't meet many independent travellers in Sri Lanka. Most fit into one of two categories:
1. Package Tourists (tickets+hotel included in one price)
2. Tsunami Aid Volunteers.
It is this second category that concerns me the most.
I met at least 10-15 people in this category, and I know there have to be hundreds.
The usual deal is as follows:
A westerner pays for a flight over to Sri Lanka, volunteers to build houses in tsunami damaged areas for 1-4 weeks, travels around sri lanka for a few weeks of holiday, and then goes home, feeling warm and fuzzy.
Here is the problem. There is no shortage of workers in Sri Lanka. It's not as if the Tsunami killed all the able young bodied men (as a war would). What there is, is a shortage of money...
It is just plain ineffecient to bring a westerner over to Sri Lanka to build houses, esp. a student/yoga teacher/librarian/other do-gooder who has no previous building experience, when there are lots of unemployed sri lankans with building experience.
Worse - the cost of the flight alone - 700-1000 dollars could easily pay for 3 people to work nearly a year in building projects.
Now, given that I'm a tourist, I can't claim to be doing that much to help - other than spreading my tourist dollars around - which actually is quite useful.. However, i'm here to explore other cultures, and to relax.. not to get a warm fuzzy feeling because i'm helping people. The fact that a poor family has a bit more money because i'm eating at their guesthouse is a side benefit...
If these aid volunteers -really- wanted to help - they should either donate their money to a non-crappy charity (admittedly, these are hard to find), or group up, and send one person, who will spread around the money that the others would have spent on flights.