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The problem is that aid projects come at a cost to the recipients. Whether it's time that could otherwise be spent caring for families or earning money, political capital expended in selling a potentially bad project, or money invested in the project.
There are other ways to learn about the world that aren't aid and that don't have the inherent risk of failed aid projects. Theses include study abroad, WOOFing, ecotourism, etc...
June 21, 2010 at 04:56 PM
Agree that the average person descending on another country to bestow benevolent volunteer presence can be self-righteous and counterproductive. However, there are those of us who DO think getting to know the world is a supreme value, for its own sake, not for "helping." That is to say, of COURSE students from China and Kenya should show up in my neighborhood if they want. And if they ask to do a random project? Well sure. I wouldn't expect them to, but if someone from anywhere showed up to brainstorm ways to deal with the rats running through my Chicago alleys, I'd be thrilled. I think everyone should go to all sorts of countries for all sorts of random reasons all the time. No, it's not for development work and not how aid work should be done. It's more like - camp. When we go to summer camp at age 13, how deep of a wilderness experience do we really have? But it helps us to grow up, slowly, in baby steps. I think if world travel were required/done by all, the world would be a better place. So in that sense, why not have people hang out and do projects as part of their travels in addition to going to restaurants, hiking, nightclubs, cafes, museums, festivals, etc?
June 21, 2010 at 04:51 PM
In essence I agree with your example. I would be very skeptical of any Chinese grad student coming into my community thinking he can solve our homelessness problem in just six weeks. However, would I turn him away and stop him from trying? No. The problem is not the desire to help, but rather coming into a situation with false or unrealistic expectations.
To tackle this problem organizations need to enhance the training they provide to volunteers prior to their departure. All volunteers need to understand the situation and their specific role in fixing the problem in order to be effective. This responsibility should fall on the organization and its program managers.
Dunkle Andrew |
June 20, 2010 at 05:17 PM
Excellent point about working in one's community. Old adage, Think Globally, Act Locally.
June 20, 2010 at 11:57 AM
A single drop,
It could work with simple manual labor or stuffing envelopes, which is what a lot of voluntourism companies do. But if it's in a country with low employment rates, you would need to look at the moral issue between flying someone overseas to do simple manual labor versus hiring someone locally. Hiring a local person gives them money to feed and care for their family.
It's important to always bear in mind who it is for, the aid recipients or the volunteers.
June 17, 2010 at 06:56 PM
Really interesting thought exercise Saundra, and really helpful, at least for me, to understand how voluntourism _could_ work.
It could work in situations where manual labor or work that requires minimal training is involved (community farms come to mind, as do habitat for humanity type work).
It could work where the volunteer has some previous experience (language ability, of course, being critical).
In general, it could work where there is an organization that really literally just needs an extra pair of hands (to help with manual labor, stuff envelopes, proofread, whatever).
But, I do think that your essential point does still stand: that's not what voluntourism is marketed as. It's not glamorous and it actually involves quite a lot of stipulations on the organization-end for it to work.
Anyway, thanks for the great post!
June 17, 2010 at 06:40 PM
As always, Saundra, you wrote compellingly and eloquently on issues that I feel strongly about but fail to express as clearly. Thanks for giving me someone to send everyone who asks me about voluntourism. I'm grateful.
June 17, 2010 at 06:29 PM
I agree that there are many betters ways of bringing in volunteers to help that put less of a strain on the local community. However I disagree that voluntourism is necessary for building a greater understanding and to build relationships. There are other ways to experience and learn about the broader world that do not include "helping" them. My post http://informationincontext.typepad.com/good_intentions_are_not_e/2009/07/guideline-3-for-volunteering-overseas.html discusses this. Working with the poor in your own community can help build that understanding without the problems caused by language barriers.
Also those relationships that are build are often far more beneficial to the volunteer than they are to the people being helped. I think we Westerners/Northerners put far too great of a stock in how much "hope" our involvement in projects really brings to the people we're helping.
To see another perspective on this read Ivan Illich's "Too Hell with Good Intentions" http://ow.ly/1ZTnj
In the end, aid has got to be about what's best for them, not what's best for us. There are other ways of meeting our own needs.
June 17, 2010 at 12:09 PM
Your points about the demand "voluntourists" place on local resources is important and I agree with it completely. But I differ with you on the idea that only "experienced" people should be going to places to help. "Newbies" working through an umbrella of a locally-engaged, long-term-committed NGO with in-country, permanent organizers who minimize the demand on local resources and properly funnel aid resources and labor to maximize the benefit to the community in need can be of great value. Under that kind of oversight, I would say it is absolutely imperative to bring people from affluent countries into needy communities so they can gain an understanding of conditions and to allow those people to engage and build personal relationships with those they can help. Those relationships bind the affluent and needy communities, giving hope to the poor and a higher purpose to the more the affluent than a simple tax deduction.
I guess my point is that there are useful models for appropriate engagement that work. Healthy communities who want to help others need to work locally, as you point out, but they also need to engage bigger problems as well or they become myopic. It is by doing what we can at all levels, local, regional, national and international at the same time that we are most effective. Not because the local need is not great, but because by framing that need within the larger, global need, our local problems become less overwhelming and more manageable.
Jay Mumper |
June 17, 2010 at 10:43 AM
Good point and thanks for bringing it up. I don't mean that once you're a profession you should work internationally, as you can see there's plenty of need for skilled professionals in our own community. Just that if your goal is to work internationally that you should start by learning at home.
June 16, 2010 at 10:56 AM
Brilliant. a really important topic. please keep attention to this. There's a but, if only a small one.
At the end of your article you say local activity is "where you got your start"....this sets up where you are now as somewhere further down the career path and therefore more 'advanced' than where you started,locally. This might complicate understanding for some people and set a distinction between local and international that you're not at all intending; that you apprentice with local and professionalise internationally.
June 16, 2010 at 10:53 AM
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