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There has been much criticism of volunteer travel – and “voluntourism” recently. (Where and how the two differ and the confusion caused by the subjective use of the two terms is fodder for a whole other post – I must do that one day soon!)
We at people and places are leading much of that criticism – I like to think that we campaign by demonstrating good practise and highlighting bad practise…. but I am concerned that we may be getting the balance wrong.
Some musings by Sallie as published by Volunteer Forever -( a great site for info and fundraising for your volunteer trip. and how clever is the graphic!)
This is my take on the most common mistakes made BEFORE, DURING and AFTER volunteering.
I want to precurse by stating clearly that I believe the vast majority of people who volunteer are doing so with the best of intentions. Our work at people and places brings us into contact with some pretty blooming marvelous people – some of whom may have made some of these mistakes, some of whom made none – oh shut up and get on with it Sallie…
1. (And most important of all) – not asking questions – just about every organization that recruits volunteers now lists questions volunteers should ask…..
2. Believing just because an organization tells you the questions you should ask that they are going to answer them fully. Beware smoke and mirrors! The answer to “where does the money go?” is easily whitewashed by allocating a whole load of costs to “project development” – yea but what does that mean and where does it happen… in the host country or in a cozy office in the UK or USA? Is the well paid chief exec’s whole salary allocated to project development? (if you need a reminder about the questions you should ask, Click Here)
3. Taking “stuff” – let’s face it, luggage allowances are low and if you are going for a month or so you will need the whole of the allowance for yourself . Please do not be tempted to take things with you for your project unless you have been advised to do so by the project or placement organization. In many instances the “stuff” can be purchased locally for at least the same price if not lower – and you are adding to local wealth – BUT most important of all is it sustainable? – will the project be able to repair it or replace it when you are gone ( so often we hear that perhaps a battery driven appliance would be a good idea if the project has no electricity – mmmmm but who’s paying for the batteries?) and indeed do they have the skills to use it? Is it culturally appropriate? – you see it’s a minefield!
4. Making unrealistic plans – our advice to our volunteers ( who are usually highly skilled professionals) is to “take what you think you may achieve and halve it – then halve it again – and then reduce it by 50%”….and remember, your reality is not necessarily the reality of the project you will be working with. You have skills but just about without exception you do not have MORE skills than local people just DIFFERENT skills from local people – and many of your skills just ain’t relevant skills in that environment. Read the rest of this entry »
There is much debate about the ethics of volunteering in orphanages – we at people and places are leading a fair bit of it! Yesterday on twitter @pandpvolunteer I “met ” Mandy who for some of her childhood lived in a children’s home – below is her story – it is a powerful voice for the children and carries invaluable advice for volunteers. Thanks so much Mandy
When I was sixteen and my brother eleven, we were taken out of home by social services and put into a group home. Adoption and fostering were not an option because our mother still played an active role in our lives and so I stayed there until I finished school and my brother until he moved back home at the age of fifteen.
My experiences in the home were overwhelmingly positive. I was finally able to get the nourishment, clothing, material and emotional support to finish school. The same charitable trust paid for me to go to university and everything from fees, books, accommodation and pocket money were paid for. A generous donation from an anonymous benefactor also enabled me to purchase my first car and put down a deposit on my first home.
The cycle of poverty was truly broken but that is not why I am talking to you today. I’d like to talk about visitors to the home and the often negative experiences we had of them. Because my gratitude far exceeds my desire to complain, I will frame this in terms of what we can learn about these experiences.
Let me start off by saying that my home had a lot of visitors. The number of children in the home was understandably large in the post-World War II period and many of those people returned to the home as adults with their children and grandchildren. In addition, the committee was comprised of old residents and members of the community were welcome during religious occasions, festivals and special events.
Be careful what you say to vulnerable children and the labels you apply to them. During one festival, a woman I had never seen before was standing with her very young daughter when a bell went off. The child asked what the bell was for and the mother replied that it was to tell the orphans that it was time to eat. Out of all the children in the home at that time, only one was actually an orphan while the rest of us had living but dysfunctional parents. I cannot begin to tell you how offended I was by being called an orphan, so much so that my indignation still feels fresh over 20 years later. Read the rest of this entry »
Many of you will have heard of Tribes Travel – they are award winners. A small, personalised tour operator run by husband and wife team Amanda and Guy, Tribes specialise in personal service – for the traveller and for the communities they visit.
“… we believe that the very best tailor made holidays are the ones which not only make you feel special and help you engage with the places you visit, but which, at no extra cost to you, also allow the destinations (people, places and wildlife) to benefit from your visit.”
Which is why, year after year, Tribes wins awards for sustainable travel.
Well now people and places wants to say a big “thank you” to Tribes – look at what they have gone and done! http://www.tribes.co.uk/volunteering
Support like this from another award-winning responsible tour operator warms our hearts –
….if you are researching a holiday – and not planning to volunteer with us !!! – you couldn’t do better than talking to these guys –