Volunteering overseas to help empoverished or orphaned children leaves little room for criticism, doesn’t it?
This blog entry undoubtedly has a different feel to that of my last ‘leader in the field’ update from Sucre. It may well make a difficult read for some as I do not intend to hold back from some hard truths.
Throughout my time travelling in South America and Africa I feel able to correctly state that the popularity of volunteering overseas is as strong as ever. It should be fantastic, inspirational and indeed motivating to think that so many people are willing to sacrifice their time, energy and money to support causes they deem important. Yet I am left feeling bitter and resentful.
Recent experiences in the Bolivian cities of Sucre, Cochabamba and La Paz have confirmed my fears. All is not well in the volunteering world.
So many projects are mismanaged, irresponsible and fail to attempt, never mind achieve, long term development or goals. I shall give one example, however fear not, I will not labour my (hopefully clear) point!
While staying in Sucre I made friends with a girl who had just completed a months worth of Spanish lessons. She then informed me that she was to continue (along the seemingly conventional route of) volunteering at an orphanage.
Within days she was left in charge of approximately 15 children aged between 5 and 8. The stress and emotional fatigue of such a sudden level of responsibility, without sufficient prior experience or training, was clear for everyone to see. Obviously much sympathy was given for finding herself in such a helpless situation.
However, here is the harsh reality: she had not researched what she would be doing, she had not considered the impact of her actions for herself or for the vulnerable, orphaned children she had hoped to help.
My friend is not alone. She is just one of many who are left scarred from what should be a life-changing experience, where you are able to truly see how volunteering really can make a difference to SO many people struggling throughout the world.
I am a proud team leader for Quest Overseas. I consider one of my most important jobs to be ensuring that our teams leave a positive impact on our projects. How do we achieve this? Phone our office right now and ask. As an organisation we have nothing to hide and are rightly always happy to discuss what positive impact we leave at EVERY project we support. Whether helping children, struggling communities, abused animals or damaged environments our aim is the same: long term, sustainable development.
It is not all doom and gloom! There are also many companies, organisations, projects and individuals who conduct amazing, life-changing work overseas. Although, in my opinion, there are simply not enough!
Whether you are looking to volunteer overseas independently, or through an organisation, I beg you, as volunteers, to research EVERY last detail of what you are going to do. Check out organisations that have been approved by Fair Trade Volunteering to ensure that your money and presence benefit the local community.
It is your responsibility.
Matty over and out.