I went through much of this same process and questioning before/during/after my own Nepal service trip. Like much of my (our?) lives, we have to constantly be balancing our desire to help others, with selfish motivations.
Some of us dedicate our entire existence to helping others. We spend our lives volunteering and living impoverished lives ourselves, and build life profiles that have no discretionary income or time.
Others give nothing and amass an intense amount of wealth (discretionary income and time abound).
How are those extremes to be judged?
When it comes to these service trips, as with everything else in life, you get out what you put in. If you treat it like a vacation, then that’s what you’ll get (and what those you’re “helping” will perceive you to be doing too). If you help them, then it was indeed a trip of support.
We can endlessly play with the financial ratios of giving-to-taking, and that ultimately leads to the question of whether or not you’re donating enough of your annual income to non-profits or not. But wait!!! What is the overhead-to-distribution ratio of the organization you’re contributing to to begin with!?! And on and on and on.
Is my donation to life/earth bigger by dropping out of the income generating system and instead volunteering my physical labor, or by earning a high income and donating all of it to other causes?
All these answers are circumstantial of course and different for most people.
Now, to your “home” vs “abroad” donation point/question. Our own country is indeed swamped with its own set of intense challenges. Sometimes I think it’s easier to help others that don’t look like you (color, language, economic model, government) because you don’t have to look in the mirror per-se and admit to yourself how awful some things are. In general, should our foreign service efforts be re-channeled to the home front? Many of them probably should. *But* many people do want something for their effort, and that often conveniently comes in the form of personal vacation experiences alongside/intertwined with the service trip. Does that tip the receive-to-give ratio in the wrong direction? For some, sure.
For my Nepal trip, I went so far as to take advantage of being on the other side of the world, to visit other countries and connect with old friends and enjoy foods and experiences I’d been wanting to try. Completely selfish stuff. My personal ratio may not be liked by others, but I know what I put in when I helped rebuild a few homes. I helped others that needed help; I saw it in their eyes and heard it in their words, and tasted it in the food they made me in thanks.
My children with do service trips abroad, and donate time/energy here at home. I hope I’ll have taught them how to be giving humans, that help others, despite their own circumstances.