TO CAMPAIGN OR NOT TO CAMPAIGN – WHY I HAVE DECIDED TO GET INVOLVED
As you will know, there are two connecting strands to the work
people and places does. We send volunteers on placements where their skills and experience have been carefully matched to local needs, and we campaign for responsible practice in volunteer tourism – and both these categories have been reflected in awards people and places have won, for Best Volunteer Organisation and
Up until now I have preferred to focus my time and energy on the volunteering side of things, helping our local partners identify needs and helping to prepare volunteers to do their bit to meet these needs. I have not wanted to get involved in the campaigning side of our work as I am personally uncomfortable with the rather negative and critical connotations of some forms of campaigning (not necessarily ours) and I prefer to focus on the positives of trying to make our volunteer placements as successful as possible for all concerned. However I have always taken an interest in the issues raised through our campaigning, particularly those involving children and child protection. I have therefore followed with interest all the publicity around the negative impact of volunteers working in, and foreigners supporting, children in orphanages. One of the articles published as part of a recent ‘blogging blitz’ on the dangers of orphanage tourism really made me think. The writer of the article was talking specifically about student volunteers going to orphanages as part of a gap year experience, and he made the point that we are wrong to criticise these young people for taking part in a misguided form of volunteering because we have never taught them that it’s an inappropriate thing to do. As a teacher that really struck a chord, and fits in exactly with my views – I don’t want to criticise bad practice but I do want to raise awareness about what some of the issues are and how to make good choices when volunteering or supporting people in developing countries.
In fact, having once thought this, I now feel it would be irresponsible of me to know something about the issues and not to spread the word.
“The challenge is certainly not to stop supporting children in developing countries – the need has not decreased – but to make sure we are doing this in ways that genuinely help and are not designed simply to make us feel good – and that requires real thought.”