An important part of my job is updating social media, to share interesting things and form relationships with other organisations. This leads to a lot of trawling the internet, searching about volunteering. Today I noticed some articles that looked upon volunteering negatively. They argue that volunteers may cause more harm than good, and are a short-term fix that certain countries may even become reliant upon. As I work for a volunteer company, I admit my opinion may be biased. However, it also means I have an insider’s opinion, with first-hand experience. These negative articles do speak some truths, there are badly organised projects in the world that lead to the exploitation of the local people and there are people that gain nothing more than a good selfie from the project. However you cannot tar everyone with the same brush.
These articles claim that volunteers have a sense of false heroism and that they think they are ‘saving the world.’ I have met quite a lot of volunteers in my life and I have to say the majority of my friends have volunteered at least once in their lives. None of us are under the impression that we have saved the world and no one leaves a country thinking ‘job done, I’ve solved poverty, the animals are saved and I did it all in one month.’ I cannot speak for everyone, but the reason I have volunteered is to better myself and gain useful skills that will allow me to do good things through the course of my life, not just the brief time I spent in the country. Obviously I hope to make a small difference, maybe make someone’s life a bit easier or bring a fresh perspective to a community. There are also people in this world who can make a huge difference in one trip, our generation is filled with innovative individuals that have incredible ideas and make incredible changes, who is to say that, that cannot be you. I am sure there is an endless list of organisations, campaigns, projects and community growth that would not exist if international volunteering did not.
I am sure there are international volunteering companies that will take a large portion of profits and the communities themselves will see little of the money, this is the case in almost all sectors, especially tourism. However, volunteers can be careful about who they travel with and this does not have to be the case. Atoll volunteers was founded and is run by Maldivians, the international staff are not paid. All money is funnelled back into the community and the NGO Naifaru Juvenile that aims to develop the community, focusing on gender equality, youth empowerment and anti-drug campaigns. In the Maldives, the community benefits from the volunteers’ time and money and I am certain that there are other projects similar to us.
As travel and communication becomes easier, communities and cultures are integrating. We (the human race) have become far more open minded and prejudices are being squashed all the time. They do still exist though and there is a hell of a long way to go. So I commend anyone who wants to take their time to experience a different culture, to gain more knowledge about the world we live in and to find out how much there is left to learn. No matter how many books you read or tv programmes you watch about another culture, until you experience it, you will not have a real understanding. Holidays in fancy resorts are great and I have had my fair share, but I do not think you leave the country being a lot more informed than when you arrived. I think volunteers are changed for the better and will add more to their communities at home as a result.
As a volunteer you become more confident, you meet great people, learn new skills and learn a lot about yourself! You may bring skills, a new perspective or just some more joy and fun to a community. If you select a good project with a good company (such as Atoll Volunteers ) there is far more positives than there is negatives.