Where were my manners!

By Sallie Grayson. Filed in good and bad practice  |  
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I have had a rant – it’s been that kind of a day –

this is the article  http://tinyurl.com/6zywwwe

and here is my comment – what do you think ? _ I am getting tired of repeated airings of the symptoms – surely its time for diagnosis if not a cure?

It was at a fair very similar to the one you describe that we at people and places started the
” Questions you should ask” campaign –
yep i know many organisations post such advice but believe me back in 2007 they didn’t and we made a lot of exhibitors unhappy with the list we armed potential volunteers with.
Take a look at http://travel-peopleandplaces.co.uk/About.aspx?category=20 for our latest suggested questions that any volunteer should ask and also how we have had our answers independently audited
. Managing responsible volunteer programmes is the most challenging work I have ever done and without the invaluable input of our local partners who are in and of  and already doing amazing work in their communities we would get it so much more wrong ( sorry very bad grammar)
there is real demand for short term volunteer travel – if those of us that are trying to be responsible and ethical simply say we will not manage volunteer programmes we will create a vacuum and the unethical will fill that very quickly and believe me there are already way too many of them out there – so lets encourage the good guys
and out the bad guys –
the organisations who offer the opportunity to hug children for 2 weeks and even worse to counsel them!,who tell communities they should not expect to be rewarded fairly for hosting volunteers because the volunteers are just that volunteers – the organisations that lead volunteers to believe that the majority of their funds reach the host country when they dont – the organisations that do no checks on the volunteers – the organisations that employ people to post bogus positive reviews on websites – the organisations that threaten 18 year olds with court action if they criticise them publicly -the organisations that sack local teachers because they know a volunteer will teach for free – and maybe worst the organisations that do not do due diligence on the orphanages they work with – enabling local charlatans to “exhibit” children who are not orphans – YES – all of the above does happen.
There are some very good volunteer recruitment organisations out there – they are usually small and cannot compete with the marketing bucks of the big guys.We need more naming and shaming by the two customers of this product – the volunteers and the communities they seek to serve
Sorry rant over

3 Comments

  1. Comment by Justine:

    Hi Sallie,

    Commented back on your post from my blog but will repeat again here…

    I checked out the “Questions You Should Ask” page and it looks really great! Those are definitely the sort of questions that people should be asking before they go out on these trips! But are they? Because the people I found myself with at that fair definitely weren’t. Many just wanted a quick and easy way to go somewhere exotic while doing good. How do we start getting people to ask these sorts of questions though? There needs to be a paradigm shift as your organization says on its website, “there is a chasm between marketing and reality in a significant number of volunteer offers”.

    I don’t doubt for a second that there are responsible volunteer programs out there. And we both agree that there is a burgeoning demand for short term voluntourism opportunities…which is why I said in my last line…where we take voluntourism and how we approach it will determine if it’ll be a positive force. I never said to wipe out voluntourism entirely, that would be unfeasible and well, counterproductive. The approach to voluntourism just needs to be responsible, accountable and sustainable. I don’t work in the voluntourism industry so I don’t have the answers or solutions but I can see that there are orgs working towards this.

    I checked out your website and I really love the emphasis on ensuring a smooth transition between volunteer placements. That’s incredibly important especially with the short term placements, the high turnover must be such a headache for local organizations. Keep it up and good luck!

  2. Comment by Sallie:

    Thanks Justine, Sorry its taken a couple of days to get your comment up.
    I agree with you wholeheartedly – the responsibility lies with us the gatekeepers to ensure that the “voluntourism” product is responsible.For me it’s all about education – we keep on keeping on – getting the message out there.
    A single faceted campaign to bring about change won’t work – not only do we need to educate the traveller and the sending organisations- the destinations need to take responsibility too – there needs to be greater awareness in country of the damage some volunteer programmes are doing. That’s a toughie – when hard pressed projects need to balance the immediate financial benefit with long term sustainability.

  3. Comment by Sallie:

    and here is a southern hemisphere view posted on the article mentioned above – valid and thought provoking comment as ever Paul

    An interesting enough article, but for those of us who have been pounding the path of ethical and responsible volunteering in the developing world, not merely academic questions. We work as project manager on a community care and slum schools project in South Africa. For us the questions are more about the impact on communities, the issues of ist world gappers using development as a playground for self advancement, and positioning of genuinely ethical projects in the market space – without being polluted by the many unethical sending agencies. Indeed, Sallies list of questions are important. And if you dont ask them, we wont accept you on our placements. See, we are interested in how much you get out of the experience, but we are more interested in how much those that we serve will get out of it. We don’t want you to come, just because you can pay. No, we want to know your skills level, your reason for coming. We screen you/. Because our community partnerships are precious, and built on trust over years and years. My point is simply this: As an organisation that hosts volunteers we are playing our part in ensuring ethical volunteering. As the consumer, as the right questions. And as we talk up the line to placement agencies………….we keep asking them to work with us to screen volunteers. Few do – for most all you need is a credit card. For us, that is not enough. So yes, our values and commitment to the communities restricts our access to the market – but that is the price we must pay, to ensure long term sustainability, and long term meaningful realtionships with the communities we serve, and quality volunteers.

    As an aside note, it great that all these questions are asked. Bur sometimes I feel that volunteer tourism is held up to an extremely critical analysis – often academic, and often from a developing world perspective. A bit like NGO 30 or 40 years ago. Today we know that had many well meaning NGO’s and UN agencies stayed out of Africa, it would be a much better place. But this realization dawned from within the South. And the critical voices of volunteering are still predominantly from the North. posted by Paul Miedema

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