Tag Archives: abroad

Volunteers Along Immigrant & Refugee Journey

refugeesLast year, e-Volunteerism, a publication by Energize, Inc. and Susan Ellis, featured an article about volunteers at the front lines of the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, and how their impassioned scramble to help—though often inefficient and always insufficient—nonetheless addressed grave needs and sent a message to governments to respond. But the images of these orange-vested volunteers, often entirely self-funded and pulling refugees from boats and greeting them with blankets on Mediterranean shores, represent just a fraction of the diverse volunteer sector that serves the needs of immigrants and refugees worldwide. And these borders and shorelines are not the end of the journey; for the immigrants and refugees, they are where new journeys begin. While some immigrants’ first steps inside a country are more perilous than others, even immigrants who arrive safely at an airport are still plunged into uncertainty and vulnerability. Settling into a new life, a new job, new customs, a new language, and the new experience of being a racial, ethnic, or religious minority can often be a more daunting journey than getting to the country in the first place.

A new e-Volunteerism Voices article by Kerry Martin explores how volunteers engage with immigrants and refugees at every stage of their journey. It focuses on the current situation in the USA (which has relevant implications for other countries) by assessing the nature of volunteer services for three distinct groups: 1) refugees formally resettled through government and other authorized organizations; 2) recent immigrants (non-refugees) who are undocumented, at risk of losing their immigration status, or in need of support due to poverty, exploitation, abuse, etc.; and 3) refugees unrecognized by the U.S. and not formally resettled, primarily those fleeing from gang violence in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

The full article is available to subscribers of e-Volunteerism and it’s worth subscribing to read this article!

Also see:

Reality Check: Volunteering Abroad / Internationally

Funding Your Volunteering Abroad Trip (& where to find credible volunteering abroad/work abroad programs)

How to Pursue a Career with the United Nations or Other International Humanitarian or Development Organizations, Including Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

Vanity Volunteering: all about the volunteer

Promises & Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering

Dr. Judith Lasker, a professor at Lehigh University, published Hoping to Help: The Promises and Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering” in January 2016. I have not read it. According to The New York Times review of the book, Dr. Lasker presents data from a few hundred programs that coordinate mostly short-term assignments (lasting weeks rather than months), gleaned from several surveys, dozens of interviews and some brief trips of her own. She did not look at large organizations like Doctors Without Borders , which are organized differently and generally do not use unpaid volunteers or, if they do, require much longer commitments for assignments.

“There is little evidence that short-term volunteer trips produce the kinds of transformational changes that are often promised,” Dr. Lasker finds. Of course, not all short-term volunteering is the same, but Dr. Lasker says the criticisms must be taken seriously, and that the most frequently published critiques have appeared in medical journals, which address the ethical problem of allowing medical students to work far beyond their training in communities with few resources. I would love to see some of these academic articles!

Sadly, few of these programs have been evaluated in terms of their impact on the communities where they serve. While the impact of surgical programs can be obvious and dramatic, efforts at screening for disease and disease prevention are often far less so. A representative of one program memorably told Dr. Lasker that they “just know” their work makes a difference, while a sizable minority of programs attempt no formal analysis of their achievements. Lasker asked for such and was in for a shock: “I did not expect how often the evaluation question seems to take people by surprise.” According to the Times, more than one of Dr. Lasker’s sources mused that the most beneficial aspect of the volunteer effort might be the cash infused into a community from the fees volunteers usually pay.

In addition, this short-term volunteering can lead to LESS understanding by volunteers of poverty. In an interview about the book, she notes that some participants come back with what she calls “bad learning,” and saying: “Poor people are so happy; they smiled, and sang and danced, and they don’t mind being poor”, stereotypes about poverty “based on spending a week where you don’t understand the language and where you only talk to people through translators.” (Also see: Extreme poverty is not beautiful)

“The developing world has become a playground for the redemption of privileged souls looking to atone for global injustices by escaping the vacuity of modernity and globalization.”

Dr. Lasker says, “Ultimately, my goal is not to advocate for all volunteering or to call for its dismantling. Rather, I hope to contribute to making it more effective and valuable to all concerned.” I feel exactly the same when I write about such.

Also see this story about lessons from the book Dr. Lasker teachers in one of her classes. And this blog by Dr. Lasker, “Orphanage visits–are they ever okay?”

And also see my own blogs on similar subjects:

humanitarian stories & photos – use with caution

whitesaviorbarbieIf you are going abroad, particularly to developing countries, even just for vacation rather than a humanitarian mission, be really careful and respectful in what you write for the public about your travels, including your use of social media – blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. -, and what photos you take and post. Think about a post or photo carefully before you publish: is it accurate? Is it enlightening? Could it be seen as patronizing? What would the people I’m talking about say if they read what I said/saw my photos? Would it be acceptable for a stranger to talk about your community, and share photos of your children, on their blog in the way you are about to?

Earlier this month, National Public Radio did a story about how Zambians, other Africans and aid workers are using social media to show factual errors and condescending remarks in a memoir by British actress Louise Linton about her gap year. The hashtag being used is #LintonLies.

An excerpt from Linton’s book:

I still sometimes feel out of place. Whenever that happens, though, I try to remember a smiling gap-toothed child with HIV whose greatest joy was to sit on my lap and drink from a bottle of Coca-Cola.

Really? THAT moment was that child’s GREATEST JOY?! And that is the kind of circumstance that makes you feel not out of place? She also talks in her memoir about child soldiers in Zambia – something that is not actually an issue in Zambia. Throughout her book, she confuses Zambia with Congo and Rwanda. The Zambian embassy in London has even called her out.

And then there’s actress Debra Messing, who seems similarly confused about Africa being a country, and posted photos online recently that gave people the impression that her message was more about “look where I am!” than the people she was supposed to be there FOR on behalf of two NGOs, as dissected by a commentator at Jezebel.

It all looks like ‘White Savior Barbie’ come to life – White Savior Barbie is an Instagram account that hilariously parodies volunteer selfies in developing countries, as highlighted in this article on the Huffington Post. There’s also an article in the satirical magazine The Onion that mocks voluntourism , joking that a 6-day visit to a rural African village can “completely change a woman’s facebook profile picture.”

I actually have a little bit of sympathy for Messing. I know that they had good intentions. And we’ve all done things out of ignorance that we later, often quickly, regret. We all make cultural missteps. We all make communications missteps. And aid workers can get quite carried away in an ongoing and very smug game of more-in-tune-with-people-and-not-acting-privileged-than-thou when they mock volunteer humanitarians and others, and that can be just as bad as the missteps they mock. I’ve been called out a few times for things I’ve written my blogs from developing countries – sometimes I haven’t agreed with those criticisms, sometimes I have. But I hope I’ve never come from a place of “look at me going to save all these poor people!”

I also hope these missteps don’t stop people from sharing their adventures online, including photos:

UNICEF recognizes the enormous power of visual imagery such as this to engage, inform and inspire audiences – and to advocate for children’s rights. Photographs or film footage that depict real life situations of children, and UNICEF programmes supporting supporting them, are one of the most effective ways to communicate these issues. — UNICEF Guidelines: Protecting children’s rights in corporate partner image use, viewed online in July 2016. More UNICEF photo guidelines here

I learn so much reading various posts on social media from people working in developing countries. It’s brave to put yourself and your thoughts and opinions out there, for public consumption. But be ready to revisit what you’ve said and thought online when it comes under public criticism.

And aid agencies, PLEASE train your workers, including volunteers and celebrity representatives, on how to use social media – and what not to do – before they start their work abroad or go on a field visit.

Check out this code of conduct resource from Child Rights International Network regarding taking photos of children in developing countries (really, anywhere).

Update October 21, 2016:  “a hot mess” of “neo-colonialism, racism, hypocrisy and privilege.” A Christian ministry feels the backlash of a very ill-thought video of their impressions of Uganda. Another story about the video from NPR’s Goats & Soda.

Also see:

Problems in countries far from home can seem easy to solve

globeProblems in countries far from home can somehow seem far easier to solve than problems in your own country. They aren’t. Western do-gooders need to resist the allure of ‘exotic problems.’ It’s yet another excellent piece from the Guardian Development Professionals Network. It’s a must-read for all those that want to volunteer abroad, are seeking a career in international humanitarian aid and development, or want to donate to such causes.

The aforementioned piece is a good companion to my earlier blog on vanity volunteering.

So I guess I’m vanity blogging… but then, aren’t we all?

Also see:

Reality Check: Volunteering Abroad / Internationally

and

transire benefaciendo: “to travel along while doing good”

Misconceptions re: VSO, UNV & Peace Corps

Based on comments I’m reading on Facebook and emails I get, there are some misunderstandings among a lot of people about three major volunteer-sending organizations: VSO, UN Volunteers and even Peace Corps. These misunderstandings lead to frustrations about what these organizations are looking for in candidates, and also leads to some perfect candidates not even considering applying to any of these organizations. I’m going to try to tackle some of these common misconceptions into today’s blog:

I’m going to try to tackle some of these common misconceptions into today’s blog. But please know that none of the following statements are official statements by any of these programs. These are my views, based on my experience working with these organizations and observing their work for more than a decade:

  • Each of these organizations require at least a six-month commitment, and most of their assignments require a two-year commitment. These aren’t programs for “I want a feel good work abroad experience for a few weeks” – these are real humanitarian assignments that require a longer-term commitment than an extended vacation.
  • These organizations are not for unskilled people who want to “try out” humanitarian work. You need to have a great deal of real work experience and/or a Master’s degree to be in any of these programs. The average age of a UN Volunteer was 38 when I worked at HQ a decade ago, and I don’t think it’s gotten any younger. The average age of a Peace Corps volunteer, at the time of this blog’s publishing, is 28, but 7 percent of volunteers are over 50. You need an area of expertise and/or a project you have lead successfully that proves you could do a field assignment – and that project doesn’t have to be something you did outside of your homoe country – in order to be accepted in any of these three programs.
  • UNV, VSO and PeaceCorps are excellent options for seasoned professionals from the for-profit sector that want to apply their skills in the developing world – but you will need much more than just that experience to make the cut and get to be a part of these programs. You need to represent on your application work that you’ve done, paid or as a volunteer, with high-poverty communities, people with low-literacy skills, people that are at-risk for poverty, crime or exploitation, populations different from the one you represent, religiously-conservative communities, etc. These organizations want to know that you have experience that will help you get through the challenges in a developing country, that every circumstance abroad won’t be utterly foreign to you.
  • The application process for each of these organizations is highly competitive and the organizations reject MOST of the people that apply. These organizations want people who have résumés that show experience that proves applicants can do the job that is asked for. While I got a job at UNV HQ in 2001, I actually would NOT have qualified to be an actual UN Volunteer in the field at that time, because I lacked the experience to do so; I could support UN Volunteers, but I’m really not sure I could have been one myself at that time (now, I do feel I’m qualified, and have been accepted into the roster).
  • Demand for volunteers through these programs changes frequently. There may suddenly be a need for people that have a great deal of experience working in government, that can help a country transition after conflict or independence. There may suddenly be a need for civil engineers. And just because someone with HIV/AIDS education for teens, or someone that’s run a vocational program, or someone with experience creating farming CO-OPs isn’t needed today doesn’t mean such won’t be needed in the next two years, so it’s a good idea to apply for these programs now even if they aren’t asking for someone urgently with your particular area of expertise.
  • You might get accepted into the UNV program roster but never get a placement. Placement consideration starts with what skills are needed, and then recruitment or placement staff look at qualifying candidates in terms of a variety of factors, including nationality; if a particular country is funding a particular UNV assignment, they may want the chosen candidate to be from their particular country. It also can take many months between the time you are accepted as a candidate to the time you get a placement (if ever).
  • You will be paid if you are accepted and get a placement in any of these programs. All of these agencies like to stress that these aren’t jobs and you don’t receive a salary, but the reality is: you are paid. Your travel and accommodation expenses will be paid, you get medical insurance, and you will receive a living allowance to meet reasonable living expenses in-country during your assignment. In fact, as a UNV, you get a stipend that is often the same of what a local government worker in the country where you would serve would get. However, most would agree that the stipend is not enough to have money left over to send home, pay debts you have back home, etc.
  • You aren’t limited to the title “Peace Corps Volunteer” or “UN Volunteer.” You will, in fact, have a role that doesn’t have the word “volunteer” in it. You will be a maternal health care nurse, a clinic manager, an ESL teacher for women and children, a fisheries advisor, a communications manager, a public health educator, an IT manager, etc., with a local NGO or government agency in the country where you serve. You will have a specific role, and that’s what should be on your résumé or CV when you complete the assignment – that you did it under a UNV contract or whatever should be in your job description, because that is the contract under which you worked, but that title or role that describes what you did is what’s most important to a potential employer.

If the participants in these programs do receive compensation, what makes them volunteers? As someone who believes volunteer is merely a pay rate, and that it doesn’t have anything to do with level of skills, level of responsibility, motivation or commitment of a person doing that volunteer assignment, it’s a question I’ve struggled with. This is the conclusion I’ve reached: the United Nations, the US State Department, and various other entities that work overseas have different types of worker contracts. And in those agencies, when you call something a “job”, even just a “consultancy”, it comes with certain expectations on the part of the worker in terms of monetary compensation, because the people in these roles are doing this work full time as their careers, for many, many years. It’s how employees and consultants are paying for homes, putting their kids through school, paying family expenses, saving for retirement, etc. The vision of Peace Corps, VSO and UNV, at least on paper, is that the people that are volunteers through their programs aren’t necessarily people who are career humanitarians; they are professionals or highly-skilled people willing to give up six months to two years of their careers and fully compensated work in such to, instead, work as a part of a humanitarian endeavor overseas. Why do these agencies want these people? On paper, they say it’s because these programs can involve people in humanitarian work who aren’t career humanitarians, bringing in much-needed talent and experience that career humanitarians might not have – a bakery owner who goes to Africa for six months to help train local people in food safety and modern baking techniques, for instance. Or a police officer who goes to Afghanistan for six months and trains local police on recognizing and appropriately responding to domestic violence. The reality? I’m sorry to say that, for many agencies, it’s a way to save money; contracts through UNV, VSO and PeaceCorp are far, far cheaper than hiring someone as an employee or consultant outright.

A reminder that none of the aforementioned statements are official statements by any of these programs. These are my views, based on my experience working with these organizations and observing their work for more than a decade.

Also see:

Isn’t my good heart & desire enough to help abroad?

Using Your Business Skills for Good – Volunteering Your Business Management Skills, to help people starting or running small businesses / micro enterprises, to help people building businesses in high-poverty areas, and to help people entering or re-entering the work force.

How to Get a Job with the United Nations or Other International Humanitarian or Development Organization

Ideas for Funding Your Volunteering Abroad Trip – for those who want short-term volunteering opportunities abroad and who don’t have the high-demand skills needed for VSO, Peace Corps, UN Volunteers, etc.)

How to help Nepal

I’m already seeing these posts online:

How can I go to Nepal and help regarding the earthquake?!

Unless you have specific areas of expertise regarding post-disaster situations, speak Nepalese, and can go under the auspices of a respected non-governmental organization or your own government, DO NOT GO. And please don’t start collecting things to send to Nepal either.

When a disaster strikes, thousands of people start contacting various organizations and posting to online groups in an effort to try to volunteer onsite at the disaster site. If the disaster happens in the USA, some people jump in their cars and drive to the area.

But what most of these people don’t realize is that spontaneous volunteers without specific training and no affiliation can cause far more problems than they alleviate in a disaster situation, particularly regarding disaster locations far from their home. Consider this:

  • In many post-disaster situations, there is NO food, shelter, services or gas to spare for volunteers. Many volunteers going into the Philippines, Pakistan, Haiti, Japan, even the Gulf Coast states in the USA after Katrina or states affected by Sandy, had to be absolutely self-sustaining for many, many days, even many  weeks. No shelter or safety measures could be provided to these volunteers by the government. Those volunteers who weren’t self-sustaining created big problems and diverted attention from local people in need.
  • Just because you have some equipment does not mean you are ready to volunteer: inexperienced people have been killed using chainsaws after hurricanes and other disasters, by falling limbs and live electrical wires, during their DIY clean up efforts. Responding to these people when they get themselves into a jam takes away from the needs of local people.
  • In disaster situations, you are going to be encountering disaster victims. They are going to be stressed, maybe desperate, and maybe angry. As a trained volunteer or paid staff member working with a credible organization, you are going to know how to comfort these people and direct them to where they can get assistance, and how to convince them that you have to save this person over here instead of their relative over there. If you are untrained and unaffiliated, you may become a target of their anger, because you cannot provide them with appropriate assistance, or because you provide them with incorrect information.
  • What will you do when you are accused of stealing from someone? Of harming someone? Of making a situation worse? What do you know about local customs and cultural taboos that, if you violate them, could taint all outside volunteer efforts? Aid workers have been arrested, even killed, because of cultural missteps. Who will navigate local bureaucracies to save YOU in such situations?

I could go on and on – and I do, on this web page about how to help people affected by a huge disasterDisasters are incredibly complicated situations that require people with a very high degree of qualifications and long-term commitment, not just good will, a sense of urgency and short-term availability.

Also, more and more agencies are hiring local people, even immediately after a disaster, to clean rubble, remove dead bodies, build temporary housing, rebuild homes and essential buildings, and prepare and distribute food. Hiring local people to do these activities, rather than bringing people in from the outside, helps stabilize local people’s lives much more quickly!

If you want to help the people of Nepal, donate to CARE International’s efforts in Nepal and/or UNICEF’s efforts in Nepal and/or Save the Children’s efforts in Nepal (all of these organizations serve all people, not just children).

Here’s more about donating Things Instead of Cash or Time (In-Kind Contributions).

If you want to go abroad to help after a disaster, then here is advice on how to start pursuing the training and experience you need to be in a position to do that – it will take you about 24 months (two years) to get the minimum of what you will need to apply to volunteer for such scenarios.

Also see:

Tourism as a tool for economic & community development

I’m an aid and development worker.

I’m also an avid traveler.

And in engaging in both of those activities, I’ve seen firsthand how tourism is a major driver of economic growth and sustainable development.

Tourism as a tool for economic and community development has been of interest to me for several years, and something I’ve researched on my own, as my time and resources allow. I’m particularly interested in

  • how local people and small businesses learn to attract both domestic and international tourists,
  • how they learn to attract and cater to non-luxury travelers: budget travelers, backpackers, motorcycle tourists, etc., and
  • how they learn to attract and cater to women. 

I’ve compiled a web page of both my own resources related to tourism for development and links to some of my favorite resources. Have a look and, if you would like to contribute info, by all means, do!

Also, I use social media as a traveler:

Jayne A Broad Facebook page
This Facebook fan page is where I follow USA state parks, national parks, national forests, and organizations focused on sustainable tourism, getting children, women and under-represented groups outdoors, and related international organizations and sites. My travel-related tweets from the my jayne_a_broad twitter feed (see below) get posted here automatically. It’s about learning and sharing regarding tourism as a tool for economic and community development – and the importance of travel for our personal and educational growth.

@jayne_a_broad Twitter feed
This Twitter feed is focused on my own experiences traveling, camping, riding my motorcycle or my bicycle, taking mass transit (buses and trains), commuting by walking or bicycling, and various other mostly-personal interests, including politics. If you are a woman motorcyclist, a non-spandex-wearing bicycle commuter or slow girlie-bike rider, an international adventure or budget traveler, a motorcycle traveler, a mass transit advocate, a writer or researcher regarding any of these subjects – or someone that wants to cater to such travelers – you might enjoy following this Twitter feed. Note that it’s completely separate from my professional Twitter feed.

In defense of skills over passion

I say this regularly on various online groups, and I’ll say it again here: your desire to help others, or your desire to travel, or your ambition, are not enough to make a difference in the lives of the poor and vulnerable in other countries.

In addition, people do not get to be stock brokers, doctors, architects or lawyers just because they want to; for most professions, you have to also work over many years to acquire the skills and expertise needed. Why would working in international development?

And don’t people in developing countries deserve people with skills and expertise, not just people with a big heart?

I’m not disparaging people with big hearts – but I believe that it’s much more beneficial and economical to local communities in poor countries to hire local people to serve food, build houses, educate young people, etc., than to use resources to bring in an outside volunteers to do these tasks. I believe the priority for sending volunteers to developing countries should be to fill gaps in local skills and experience, not to give the volunteer an outlet for his or her desire to help or the donor country good PR – that doesn’t mean I think all volunteering by unskilled people should be banned, but it does mean that that such volunteering shouldn’t be the priority in helping people in the developing world.

So, on that note, I really liked this blog by Marianne Elliott, Why Your Passion Is Not Enough:

My point is that passion, perseverance and innovation are sometimes highlighted at the expense of professionalism… much more than passion is needed in order to make a positive difference in the world… Just as passionate persistence without professional skills won’t get you a part in The Hobbit, good intentions without professional skill won’t result in doing the good you intend.

Also see:

The realities of voluntourism: use with caution

Reality Check: Volunteering Abroad

Volunteering To Help After Major Disasters.

How to Make a Difference Internationally/Globally/in Another Country Without Going Abroad

Ideas for Funding Your Volunteering Abroad Trip.

How to Get a Job with the United Nations or Other International Humanitarian or Development Organization

transire benefaciendo: “to travel along while doing good.”

Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011 (for Kate Puzey)

The USA Senate unanimously passed the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011. The legislation, which is named for a Georgia Peace Corps volunteer who was murdered in 2009 while serving in Africa, would provide better security and protection measures for Peace Corps volunteers. The legislation is named in honor of Kate Puzey, a 24-year-old Peace Corps volunteer from Cumming, Ga., who was murdered in 2009 in the West African village of Badjoude, Benin, soon after she had reported a colleague for allegedly molesting some of the young girls they taught.

The legislation provides whistleblower protection for Peace Corps volunteers, a safeguard that is currently in place for federal employees but not for Peace Corps volunteers. This type of protection would have given Kate more protection when she reported her allegations.

In addition, it requires the Peace Corps to develop sexual assault risk-reduction and response training and protocol in consultation with experts that complies with best practices in the sexual assault field. The training also is to be tailored to the specific countries in which volunteers serve.

For background, see Peace Corps must better address assaults and murders of members.

Also see this story from ABC news about the passage of this very important legislation.

Setting criteria for quality volunteering abroad programs

The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) and Planeterra, a non-profit foundation dedicated to sustainable community development and environmental conservation through travel, are collaborating to develop a set of criteria that will help international voluntourism providers plan and manage their programs in a responsible and sustainable manner.

The research project will incorporate a global survey program to be undertaken in May 2011 and stakeholder meeting, which will be held Sept. 19-21 during the upcoming Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference organized by TIES in Hilton Head Island, SC. TIES will produce the final draft for expert committee review and publication in early 2012.

If your organization places volunteers in developing countries, you should contact the project organizers immediately and get involved in this initiative. If you have ever served in such a program, you should contact this initiative as well. Let your voice be heard!

Also see:

  • A listing of the more-than-30 member organizations of the International Volunteers Program Association (IVPA) that is a good place to find reputable volunteer-for-a-fee programs.
  • For people in the United Kingdom, there’s the Year Out Group, an association of gap-year-abroad organizations that meet certain standards in order to be a member. The Year Out Group does not however organize or arrange year out programs, but it’s a good place to find reputable programs.
  • Reality Check: Volunteering Abroad: a detailed resource for those who dream of volunteering abroad. Provides a great deal of detail on what you need to do to make a great candidate for the PeaceCorps, VSO, UN Volunteers, etc.
  • The realities of voluntourism: use with caution: Voluntourism is really awful and really good. I’m totally against it and I support it. Confused yet? This opinion piece is my attempt to explain why voluntourism sometimes works and why, very often, it’s dreadful.
  • Vetting Organizations in Other Countries, for those who are negotiating directly with an organization in another country.
  • Hosting International Volunteers: More and more local organizations in developing countries are turning to local expertise, rather than international volunteers, to support their efforts. However, the need for international volunteers remains, and will for many, many years to come. This resource provides tips for local organization in a developing countries interested in gaining to international volunteers.
  • transire benefaciendo: “to travel along while doing good.” Advice for those wanting to make their travel more than sight-seeing and shopping.