“Putting responsibility back into responsible volunteering” by Kathryn Burrington

By Sallie Grayson. Filed in media, people and places in the news  |  
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“I was really delighted when I heard that The Gambia Experience were teaming up with the award-winning

Dianne with a  school principal

Dianne with a school principal

volunteer organisation, people and places. The day before my last trip to The Gambia I met up with Sallie, Katie and Diane from people and places and I was really impressed, not just with what they do, but also with the way they do it.

Why volunteer with people and places?

As a volunteer organisation they take their responsibilities to both the local community and the volunteer very seriously, ensuring that both benefit from the experience. The volunteers always work alongside the community and never instead of. The volunteering is all about exchanging skills. For example, volunteer teachers always work alongside a local teacher and if the local teacher doesn’t turn up for a few days they are under strict instructions not to work until they return. This ensures that the school hasn’t dismissed the teacher thinking that the volunteer will do the work. responsible volunteering Its all too easy for a volunteer to do what they think a community needs rather than what the community actually needs. The host community is too polite to say ‘no’ and will say ‘yes’ to any suggestion, irrespective of whether they actually think it will be useful. Not so with people and places who always consult fully with the community on possible projects, finding out what the community thinks it actually needs help with. In each country people and places work in they have a local partner, chosen in part because they have an understanding of the volunteer’s cultural background as well as that of the host community. This ensures that they will understand what preconceptions and concerns the volunteer may have. In The Gambia the local partner is a well-known sustainable tourism expert Adama Bah. Both he, and his assistant Lamin, have studied in England so are familiar with our culture.

Why do you have to pay to volunteer?

Applying to be a volunteer through people and places probably takes longer than any other volunteer organisation but that is because they do their homework, from finding out about the skills that a potential volunteer has to offer to discussing with their in-country partner how that volunteer may be used. Inevitably there are administration costs involved with this but it is an essential part of the process. Each volunteer also donates £200 to the project that they will be working with. The project, the volunteer and the local partner decide together how the donation is to be spent. Further more people and places are the only overseas volunteer organisation that I know of who, at their own request, has had an independent advisor audit their organisation to show that they are actually doing what they promise to do, from looking at their accounts to see that money goes where they say it will go to following the email trail showing that the local community have been fully consulted and in agreement with every volunteer project. Ensuring continuity between volunteers New volunteers are given access to all the reports from previous volunteers to that project so that they can understand what work has been done and build upon it. This is also useful for returning volunteers so that they can see what has been done since they last visited.

Volunteers are encouraged to talk to each other and be that on the phone, by email or face to face at social events. I’ll be going to one in November and I’m really looking forward to meeting some of the volunteers and finding out about their experiences.

For further information on volunteering opportunities with people and places, winners of the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Award for Best Volunteering Organisation in 2010, please visit Gambia.co.uk/volunteering

This article first appeared here http://www.thegambiablog.co.uk/2013/08/putting-responsibilty-back-into-responsible-volunteering/

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