people & places talk at King’s College London – a report from volunteer and KCL alumna Anke
In early March, Sallie, Dianne and I were invited to give a talk to tourism and development students at King’s College London. The idea for this shared event developed through a couple of meetings with the Tourism, Environment and Development course Leader Dr. Ruth Craggs, who is very interested and supportive in building bridges between students and practitioners, and creating opportunities for sharing knowledge and experience from King’s alumni, such as myself.
What I liked most about the session is that everyone made us feel very welcome and that the students seemed really engaged and asked lots of interesting questions, creating an open and vibrant atmosphere.
The afternoon started with Sallie setting the scene by providing some background on responsible volunteering, which ultimately seeks to ‘maximise positive impacts and to minimise negative ones’ (Cape Town Declaration 2002).
She then gave practical tips about how to easily distinguish responsible volunteer organisations from the black sheep in the industry, for example checking if there is full transparency where volunteer and project money is spent or how quick booking functions without requesting background checks or any professional or personal information are a sign of an irresponsible volunteer company.
I know from my own volunteer experience that the thorough skill matching process people and places undertake before they confirm any placement is vital for the success of any volunteer project, for both, local partners and for the volunteer.
Dianne then gave an overview about the several countries where people & places offer volunteer opportunities. She explained some projects in detail, including what skills are needed by local partners in the various destinations.
Her presentation highlighted that creating tailor-made volunteer projects to meet the needs of both, the community and the volunteer are at the heart of what people & places are doing.
I personally found hearing about the boarding house projects in Morocco, where girls from the Berber tribes in the Atlas mountain region receive secondary school education, very inspiring. It’s a fantastic achievement that the pass rate in 2014 was 93%, and that eight girls went on to university.
The Gambia’s ‘Wealth creation through tourism’ project is another great example how volunteering can support local education providers, businesses and communities. The Gambian people involved, especially Adama Bah and Lamin Bojang, are very close to my heart after I had the opportunity to collaborate with them for my Master research in 2013.
In the final presentation of the day I reflected on my own experience as a volunteer and researcher, which brought Sallie and Dianne’s examples to life, and confirmed that people & places actually do what they say they do.
I gave an insight into how my research topic developed, what the challenges and benefits were in conducting research framed in a volunteer placement in rural Gambia, and finally how this all resulted in an award winning Masters dissertation, and consequently in a rewarding career in Responsible Tourism, plus more recently in a PhD studentship.
The students and Ruth confirmed that they very much enjoyed the talks, and we enjoyed being surrounded by bright, inquisitive and enthusiastic people. The students found the information provided useful for planning future volunteer trips, either as part of their degrees or as skilled volunteers outside university.
I would like to encourage more universities and other organisations to provide the opportunity for events like this, as hearing about how volunteering can be done responsibly, what can be achieved when skilled volunteers support local project needs, and how this can lead to long lasting fruitful relationships, provides the encouragement and factual background many people might be looking for when considering volunteering.
P.S. from Sallie – Anke went on to volunteer with our local partner in South Africa – read a paper they wrote together here