A missed opportunity – again!

By Sallie Grayson. Filed in good and bad practice, volunteering in the news  |  
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Sigh – an all too rare article about volunteering on the comments page of The Observer and The Guardian and yet again, lots of buzz words and inflamatory language but no real advice for potential volunteers to help them navigate their way thru the plethora of volunteer opportunities out there. Here is my response

Whilst I welcome this article for warning potential self funding volunteers I am disappointed that there is no concrete advice for them.
Tho’ this article would have you believe otherwise – there are good volunteer recruitment organisations out there – finding them amoungst the smoke and mirrors created by marketing and journalism hype is not easy.The large senders have the budget to market themselves and get to the top of a Google search and thats about as far as many journalists look.( thats my press coverage out the window!)
We at people and places have been running awareness campaigns for potential volunteers for 5 years – indeed we started people and places to campaign for ethical and responsibler volunteering. Badly served communities and badly served volunteers are all too common.One of our first campaigns was “Questions you should ask” and we included guidance to ascertain whether the questions were just plain whitewash – dont just ask how the money is spent – ask where it is spent….it is all too easy for oranisations to allocate large proportions of the chief execs large salary to “project development” well meaning volunteers usually assume that “project development” is spent in the host country – this is often not the case.
We underwent an independant audit of our claims, particularly our core values of
Not replacing local employment
Work with not instead of local people
No volunteer is subsidised by local people ( they even pay for their farewell gift themselves!)
Informed consent

Yes it is completely inappropriate “volunteering as caregivers for ‘AIDS orphans'” – which are the exact words used in the report by the way,
But please talk to one of the two orphanages we work with – they will tell you that our volunteers, health, early childhood education, IT, business and organisation – have helped them build their capacity – shared skills to which they would never otherwise have had access – and equally as important built lasting bonds of friendship. –
Ian Birrell is right – there is rapid growth in this market – that is because there is real demand for “holidays” that engage more with local people. We all need to take responsiblity – providers, volunteers and press – ask the questions.

Please post your opinion/experience – here as a comment and on the Guardian site – this should be the start of a real campaign to better serve communities and volunteers

2 Comments

  1. Comment by thevoluntourist:

    Sallie,

    Good to know that others are posting responses to Mr. Birrell’s piece. Here’s my response: http://blog.voluntourism.org/?p=745

    It appears that not only are there approaches to volunteering abroad that prove exploitative, but now you have a few journalists and bloggers doing the same thing by categorically generalizing their remarks to target ALL voluntourism practitioners and the ‘industry’ itself. Most of these pundits have no experience with voluntourism so to provide real, substantive advice on the subject is, well, nothing short of setting themselves up for a tremendous embarrassment by further demonstrating their ignorance. Not that they are completely failing to do this with their present commentary, but the overarching dilemma for me is: Why are these posts being re-transmitted, in some cases with additional vitriol and condemnation?

  2. Comment by Sallie:

    Here is a response from our local partner in Peru

    “Excellent Article, sadly the facts are akin to knowing about wallstreet fraud. Its always a couple of bad apples spoiling the batch, i bet most of you still have bank accounts that have funds invested with some of the bad apples. The system works that way, once something gets momentum, everyone jumps on the band wagon and then you get bad apples mixed in. Volunteering is both a voyage of discovery and a crusade to participate for the volunteer, a learning and living involvement that aims to create a better world. The beneficiaries should receive support to improve the quality of their life, health and education or environment as well as work with volunteers expanding their knowledge of other cultures and meeting really wonderful people. Projects that are created to attract volunteers should be obvious, stay away from those ones, both home or abroad!! Projects that use volunteer skills, passion and abilities and connect them to ongoing projects should be easily discernible if you spend the rime to research correctly. Volunteering isn’t for everyone but remember if you are to pay for volunteering, doing your homework is the best investment. Great volunteers will find great projects, spend more time researching it, and yes there are great projects in the UK, but what is wrong with the selfishness of wanting to volunteer in a sunny, beautiful location (no offense to the UK intend). If you are in doubt call the company, ask to speak to the owner, if you can’t get him chances are they don’t need you! To everyone heading out to volunteer, don’t over expect. Get involved and stay involved longer than your time at the place. Volunteers are a special breed and i for one am thankful for their time, funds and drive to shape the world into a better place. Most of them achieve that and have the experience of a lifetime….”

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