Sigh – an all too rare article about volunteering on the comments page of The Observer and The Guardian and yet again, lots of buzz words and inflamatory language but no real advice for potential volunteers to help them navigate their way thru the plethora of volunteer opportunities out there. Here is my response
Whilst I welcome this article for warning potential self funding volunteers I am disappointed that there is no concrete advice for them.
Tho’ this article would have you believe otherwise – there are good volunteer recruitment organisations out there – finding them amoungst the smoke and mirrors created by marketing and journalism hype is not easy.The large senders have the budget to market themselves and get to the top of a Google search and thats about as far as many journalists look.( thats my press coverage out the window!)
We at people and places have been running awareness campaigns for potential volunteers for 5 years – indeed we started people and places to campaign for ethical and responsibler volunteering. Badly served communities and badly served volunteers are all too common.One of our first campaigns was “Questions you should ask” and we included guidance to ascertain whether the questions were just plain whitewash – dont just ask how the money is spent – ask where it is spent….it is all too easy for oranisations to allocate large proportions of the chief execs large salary to “project development” well meaning volunteers usually assume that “project development” is spent in the host country – this is often not the case.
We underwent an independant audit of our claims, particularly our core values of
Not replacing local employment
Work with not instead of local people
No volunteer is subsidised by local people ( they even pay for their farewell gift themselves!)
Yes it is completely inappropriate “volunteering as caregivers for ‘AIDS orphans'” – which are the exact words used in the report by the way,
But please talk to one of the two orphanages we work with – they will tell you that our volunteers, health, early childhood education, IT, business and organisation – have helped them build their capacity – shared skills to which they would never otherwise have had access – and equally as important built lasting bonds of friendship. –
Ian Birrell is right – there is rapid growth in this market – that is because there is real demand for “holidays” that engage more with local people. We all need to take responsiblity – providers, volunteers and press – ask the questions.
Please post your opinion/experience – here as a comment and on the Guardian site – this should be the start of a real campaign to better serve communities and volunteers