Thought I’d share parts of a paper written by by Andrea Atkinson, Urgent Service Director at Elevate Destinations. Their trip to Haiti won a Nat Geo Tour of a Lifetime Award in 2011 so below is a little about how they did it.
Is it time for everyone to open Haiti up as a destination? Probably not. But are there ways to do it effectively? Yes, see below as an example.
Effective Volunteer Travel Creating Relationships for Meaningful Service in Haiti & The Gulf
Volunteering and service abroad have become very popular for individuals and groups. Developing a volunteer program that both benefits a community as well as positively impacts volunteers is not as easy as just sending a group of people into a “community in need”. In order for one to two week stints of work to be effective and create meaningful change, it is important for travel providers to know how to create experiences that actually give back as well as provide a platform for travelers to serve in solidarity.
Effective Volunteer Program Components
Address sustainability: Understand the environmental, economic, and social benefit for communities. Sustainable development is a norm of the development world. When we bring volunteers into the service world – we need to prepare them for this direct contact. It is important to ensure that the work being done provides a well-rounded and aligned support of sustainable development goals.
Assess long-term impact and ensure that the programs supported have plans for positive impact in the long-run. There are so many programs that have been started and then abandoned by well-meaning volunteers and organizations. Find an organization with a long-standing commitment to the country and cause and find out what their long-range plan is.
Work with well-established organizations: Work with well-established non-profit organizations that have track records of success, transparency and long-term commitment to the community.
Help raise funds: Provide fundraising support to non-profit partners. Each of our travelers is tasked with raising $500. Some have raised over $4000. This has multiplied their effect in the program. Our initiative has raised over $30,000 for causes in Haiti and has engaged hundreds of small donors that now have invested in Haiti.
Employ and engage locals: Employ local labor, making certain that local jobs are not displaced. Volunteering to get something done that could be done by a local employed to do a job is not effective. Neither is bringing in an expert to get a job done and then not providing transfer of knowledge (ie not teaching a or many locals some of the skills to provide this service in the future as well as not learning from locals).
Work in solidarity not superiority: Working side-by-side with locals, learning from them and supporting them while maintaining respect for their culture and knowledge. Developing cross-cultural relationships is one of the most effective things that can come of a volunteer program. It is important to create introductions and work with locals to develop real relationships and create solidarity.
Haiti Case Study:
A year and a half after the January 12 Haiti Earthquake, Haitians are still picking up the pieces, making a new life out of less than the little most people once had. The emergency stage is over, and the long-term rebuilding has begun. Ensuring Haitians have the resources for education is one of the critical elements of long-term recovery. Community engagement in Haiti offers the opportunity to participate in rebuilding a nation, one school and orphanage at a time.
Programs we have developed in Haiti support the rebuilding of orphanages and schools as well as support youth empowerment and the environment.
Elevate the Gulf Case Study:
On April 20th, 2010 over 185 million gallons of crude oil began a three-month gush into the waters off the Gulf Coast of the United States. So began a national tragedy that not only affected marine and coastal flora and fauna, but an entire fishing economy, culture and ecosystem. The sheen on the water has dissipated, as has the media attention, but the long-term repercussions have only begun.
Programs we have developed in the Gulf are in partnership with The Ocean Foundation, to support an area of our country that has suffered economically, culturally and ecologically. Volunteers have worked on replacement or restoration of the oyster reef, seagrass bed and coastal marsh habitats has long-term benefits in helping to improve on-going problems in Mobile Bay.