Voluntourism a Setback for South Africa’s Orphans

I’ve always been against volunteers working in orphanages, but this is the first article that has come out stating that as well. Is the tide turning on orphanage projects? So often the feel good best seller of many volunteer companies? If you do offer orphanage projects how do you ensure it operates responsibly and doesn’t end up like the below?

Read the full article at: http://www.timeslive.co.za/opinion/editorials/article739070.ece/Voluntourism-a-setback-for-SAs-Aids-orphans

In the Human Sciences Research Council report “Aids Orphan Tourism”, author Linda Richter criticises this kind of new tourism, saying it merely adds another level of abandonment for the children.

“Many of the children they [volunteers] leave behind experience another abandonment to the detriment of their short- and long-term emotional and social development,” Richter writes.

The tourism ministry did not want to comment on the story published on Page 6 of this newspaper, saying it was too new a trend.

But should we view voluntourism as a potential boon for our tourism industry?

The image of volunteer tourism – of well-heeled, well-bred First World folk descending on the suffering children of Africa – is an exceedingly uncomfortable one to summon.

Already there’s been the phenomenon of celebrities dropping in on developing countries to adopt a toddler or two.

Those who might support voluntourism would say that the orphans are at least getting some attention.

But orphans are not abandoned animals that can be cuddled and then dropped when the fun starts wearing thin. To ship in for a few weeks, only to ship out again holds the potential of emotional trauma for the children.

While our tourism industry – in a post-recession world – might need all the help it can get, there are some visitors who might be somewhat problematic and voluntourists fall into that category.

Our children – the many who have been abandoned and orphaned – need help, but it is highly debatable if they need this kind of help.

Voluntourism on the Amazing Race

Did everyone catch the voluntourism stint in Ghana on the latest Amazing Race? They had the volunteers do the classic ‘paint the school’ project – what are your thoughts on painting projects? Feel good projects for the volunteer because they see the results of their work? Or generally beneficial to the community because they wouldn’t have the time or resources to paint it themselves, uplifts spirits, etc?

Voluntourism & The Millenium Development Goals – Part 1

This week we’re lucky enough to have Phill Klamm writing a series on Voluntourism and the Millenium Development Goals – great stuff so be sure to tune in M-F this week for more installments! Thanks Phill!

Extreme poverty, universal education, gender equality, child mortality, maternal health, HIV/AIDS, environmental sustainability, and global
partnerships: sound like a tall order? This is what is on the plate of the UN next week as they address the first 10 years of the Millennium
Development Goals (MDGs) and rev up for the final 5 years of these measurable and time-bound targets.

In the year 2000 the UN Member States issued a Millennium Declaration that announced the MDGs to the world. These goals are, in essence, a
measuring stick in the efforts to alleviate poverty and improve the lives of every global citizen. Up until now this effort has only been pursued
by governments, billionaires, and large non governmental organizations (NGOs). It is time for that to change.

J.P. Getty is quoted as saying, “I would rather have 1% of the effort of 100 people than 100% of the effort of one person.” If Getty is correct we need to stop counting on a few ‘big’ players and instead concentrate on the masses to produce real change.

Einstein said, “The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”

What if all of the information we need to achieve the MDGs is available now? What if the money that we seek is there and we have been looking in
the wrong places?

I am not implying that there is one solution to the major problems facing our world today. Instead, could I just suggest that the power to help is
in the hands of everyday people like you and I – from every corner of the globe?

Let me tell you a story of a group of people that stumbled on an answer and didn’t know the question.

It was 2005 and two college roommates had just returned from tsunami-stricken Sri Lanka. Riding an emotional high, they were searching for
their next project when one of them researched his biological family (he’s adopted) and learned his father was from Kenya. Over a year later
these two and four others were on a voluntourism trip to Kenya building five stone classrooms, creating strong relationships, and altering their
futures.

Who are these six people and what progress have they made towards the MDGs?

Three teachers, a teacher’s aide, a farmer, and a financial advisor…and progress…that can wait until tomorrow.

By Phill Klamm
Co-Founder Wrestling the World www.wrestlingtheworld.org
Founder International Villages www.internationalvillages.org
Facebook www.facebook.com/klamm

How do I know if I’m adding value at my volunteer placement?

A great post from Ms. Daniela Papi on her blog lessonsilearned, she’s asked me to share it with everyone - let’s see if we can start some dialogue.

As for your second question, what can YOU do, a nearly-17-year-old, intelligent, worldly, education-seeking, student?  Well, there is a LOT you can do.  I just don’t think that these “pay to teach English in an orphanage” programs are it.  First off, my advice is:

a) Start off by volunteering at home. There is a quote that says something like “We go abroad to stare at the same people we ignore at home.”  We have homeless shelters at home, big brother/big sister type programs where you can mentor a younger child who might not have someone as loving and intelligent as you to believe in them, refugee service programs where you can be matched with a refugee family coming in from South East Asia (if that is where your interest lies) and you can help show them the compassion and welcoming feelings you received when you were in Cambodia.  There are a LOT of ways to do great things every week at home (libraries to read to young kids in, fundraising projects at school, writing online about the lessons you learned on your travels to share with others, etc).

b) Look into NGOs to volunteer abroad where your skills are needed and/or you can provide support to programs you believe in without going through a profiteering middle-man. At PEPY, we take volunteers for 6 months, but the difference from the typical “Volunteer Abroad” programs is, they usually work in our OFFICE, not with students, not building things, not teaching English in orphanages.  Hence, the work seems a lot more “boring” than the “go abroad and change a child’s life” ads some volunteer programs are using.  BUT, there are indeed things that someone with your skills could help do at PEPY or elsewhere – and they might be similar to things you would do interning at home in an office such as editing copy in English, reading through and sorting data and English information that our Khmer staff might have difficulties with, donor relations and thank yous, etc. No, not glamorous, but yes, a chance to learn. 

When evaluating a volunteer placement I would consider:

1) Do my skills match the stated need? Are you being sent out as a Peace Corps volunteer in “Guatemalan Small Business Development Planning” when you majored in English and have never been to Guatemala?  Hmm…. maybe it’s not a great fit?

2) Does the stated volunteer position seem like I will be adding to the sustainability of the organizations overall work? If the core problem the program claims to be solving is English language education, does your short term visit seem like it is a good long-term solution?  If instead, you are teaching TEACHERS English to improve their native pronunciation so that they can be more effective teachers in the long-term, that would seem to me to be a slightly better fit.

3) Does the job seem like one fit for a short-term outsider? An organization based in a foreign country and working in a different language than your own will hopefully not place you in a program management position in a community.  If they are, you should go back to a) and analyze if your skills match the need.  If they are placing you in an administrative or support position, see if yours is a role that would make sense for an outsider to do.  Could a local person fill your role?  If your role is editing English copy in grant writing proposals, perhaps it is a good fit because you are able to add value through a skill you have, you would have the chance to teach the long-term staff how to improve their work, and if there is no one there to fill your role once you leave it is still possible for the organization to continue on and be successful, with perhaps slightly less editing support.

4) Where is your money going? If you are paying a “fee” to volunteer, whose salaries are you paying?  Are you paying for a UK office of a volunteer sending program?  If so, consider if the value they have provided is worth the fee you are paying.  Do they seem like they are “selling” you something or are they taking the time to honestly answer your questions and guide you to a fit that is best for you?  Is the local partner paying to have you there?  If so, do you think the value you are able to provide is worth the money they are paying to have you, or would their funds be better spent on their programs? These are questions you will need to answer based on each individual case.

I hope this is helpful!  If there are others out there reading this, I’d love to see comments with additional thoughts or other advice you would give a young person looking to volunteer!

Mother Teresa and Voluntourism? Seriously?

An article came out in the CS Monitor recently that was brought to my attention by the awesome folks at EthicalTraveler.org. In the article the author says, “Mother Teresa faced criticism over the years from those who said the work did little to address the root causes of grinding poverty” and then links this to voluntourism and the debates that rage about whether or not we are doing good.

Another part of the article said, “Mother Teresa’s program was a precursor to VolunTourism,” says David Clemmons, founder of voluntourism.org, by e-mail. “There was no grand, long-term commitment. The program was crafted to allow for movement and flow of volunteers. And if individuals wished to volunteer for a day or two and then go sightseeing elsewhere in Calcutta … they were free to do so. In this way, Mother Teresa was ahead of her time.”

Is having volunteers volunteer for a day or two and then go sight see as Mr. Clemmons suggests really helping anyone but travelers feel better about themselves? Is it OK to NOT have a ‘grand, long-term commitment’???

Do you think this is all a little far fetched and reaching or does it have some realism in it???

Read the full article: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-South-Central/2010/0826/How-Mother-Teresa-s-work-spurred-growth-of-voluntourism

Share Your Mistakes – Who’s Game?

I’d love to run a series on biggest mistakes – who’s brave enough to share? The best way to learn it seems to me is often to fail and then take away from the situation some real knowledge on improvement. So here’s my challenge to you all: Share a mistake, a blunder and what you learned from it in the comments section.

If we want to improve the industry we have to start be admitting our faults and learning from them.

My bet? PEPY and Geovisions will be among the first to share.

Teaching English Projects – Realistic in the Short Term?

Michael Kaye, CEO & Founder of Costa Rica Expeditions & Nicaragua Expeditions sent me a note about his recent blog entry, he brings up interesting points about teaching English projects that we all have heard but never address.

- Can teachers be trained in a short time and be effective teachers?

- Must there be a set curriculum they follow to keep progress moving throughout a long string of volunteers?

- Will volunteers want to spend a week of their vacation teaching?

- How short is too short and useless for the child?

(OK, some of these are my questions not his but…)

Read his full blog post here – let’s get the discussion started! Below is a snippet.

“So that’s the background.  Here’s the question:  If there were a very fast and easy to learn teaching method that after 20-30 minutes of reading would allow new teachers to jump in and pick up where former teachers have left off share knowledge of English with a child and indicate the child’s proficiency level to the next teacher, do you think you find rewarding spending at least two hours on your next vacation to the non-English speaking world sharing your knowledge with a local child?  Do you think other people would?”