Mistakes – let’s learn from them

By Sallie Grayson. Filed in good and bad practice  |  
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A voluntourism gal blog link  started me thinking.

She asked  Share Your Mistakes – Who’s Game? .

I have to admit I have always been a little concerned about how smug some of us in the “responsibletravel” industry /movement – call it what you will – particularly those of us in the “responsible volunteering” indusrty/movement can be. We seem to spend a lot of time talking about how others should act as we do and by implication  improve their act.

The press has been full of questions volunteers should ask to prevent them from making mistakes. Again by implication suggesting its volunteers who make mainly make the mistakes. As Randy LeGrant of Geovisions says” Stick A Thousand Needles In My Eye

I was talking heatedly about this to Ron Mader and he said ” Why not address it on the planetavolunteer wikispace

So in my humble opinion ( or am I being smug?) I want to suggest that if there there is a question left to ask then its “Where can we do better” all of us –  volunteers, sending organisations, receiving organisations and communities….oh and lets throw in the media too.

Lets start from the grass roots eh  – an all too rare approach I think you will agree.

Mistakes the community make ( again –  in my humble experience)

  1. when thinking about volunteers “They know best” No they don’t – they know different and they will know more about some things and they will know things that you don’t know – BUT they do not know best and you certainly know a lot that they don’t know – including most important of all your community!
  2. “All volunteers are rich” – Oh no they aren’t – not in their own communities –  most have had to work darn hard and save in order to make the trip to be of sevice to you.
  3. “Phew we have a volunteer – we don’t have to work so hard” Wrong  – you will need to work even harder than usual – you will need to do your normal job, train the volunteer in your ways and work with them if you are going to gain any long term benefit from their presence.
  4. “ The volunteer is giving us so much we cannot take money from them for food and accomodation”  – oh yes you can – if you don’t then who will go with out to pay for it and how long will you be able to afford to host volunteers.
  5. “ The volunteer is nothing but good news for our community” – not if the leaders of the community don’t prepare the community they’re not. How will sections of the community who are not benefitting from the volunteers efforts feel – excluded is my guess – how will they feel if you don’t address the economic gains some but  not all will make – pissed off is my guess
  6. “ We must not say no to a potential volunteer – they are honouring us with their presence” – oh yes? What about the badly prepared ones who come into your community and disrespect your culture and worse who endanger your children?

….what are the other biggies I’ve missed

In my next post I think I’ll address mistakes receiving organisations make….if someone doesn’t beat me to it.

Oh and I promise there will be a post that is dedicated to the mistakes Kate and I have made at people and places! I think I will save that one til last!

One Comment

  1. Comment by npegler1:

    This is precisely what we need, dialogue about responsible volunteering!
    As Sallie said we all have our own idea of what it is and the best way to do it, and I am as guilty as anyone else, as my article about voluntourism in the last newsletter proves!
    As volunteers we all try to do the best we can but we are not experts, so we need information and help on the best way to go about volunteering.

    Sallie`s comment about the community you volunteer in thinking that volunteers know best is spot on, I found as a volunteer that I learnt just as much, if not more, from the community than they did from me!

    At the end of the day we all, volunteers and volunteering organisations, are trying our best. We all make mistakes but as a BT advertisement used to say “it`s good to talk”, showing my age there I think!

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