Tag Archives: international

5 ideas erróneas que personas tienen sobre lo que implica hacer un voluntariado internacional

5 ideas erróneas que muchas personas tienen sobre lo que implica hacer un voluntariado internacional

A lo mejor la imagen de voluntarios internacional jugando fútbol con niños en África, construyendo una escuela, cocinando con las mujeres de una aldea o dando clases a una comunidad. Pareciera que la participación de una voluntarios en un proyecto en que se lleva a cabo en países en vías de desarrollo, lograra grandes y duraderas transformaciones, pero no es así. Este artículo presenta 5 ideas erróneas que muchas personas tienen sobre lo que implica hacer un voluntariado internacional. Esta información es de Hacesfalta. No hay un mejor lugar para encontrar información sobre todo tipos de voluntariado que Hacesfalta. Si usted está interesado en voluntariado internacional o micro voluntariado, este es el sitio para usted.

(Perhaps you picture the image of international volunteers playing soccer with children in Africa, building a school, cooking with the women of a village or teaching a community. It may seem that this kind of participation of volunteers in a project in developing countries will achieve great and lasting transformations, but it is not so. This article presents five misconceptions that many people have about what it means to volunteer internationally. This information is from Hacesfalta. There is no better place to find information in Spanish on all types of volunteering than Hacesfalta. If you are interested in international volunteering or micro volunteering, and you are a Spanish speaker, this is the place for you.)

And for my resources on this subject, in English:

  • Volunteering Abroad / Internationally: a Reality Check
    A review of the four different types of volunteering abroad programs, and how to improve your profile to be chosen by highly-competitive programs, such as the PeaceCorps.
  • transire benefaciendo: “to travel along while doing good.”
    Advice for those wanting to make their travel more than sight-seeing and shopping. This may be a better, cheaper option for you if you want to have an international experience and make a difference in some way.
  • Volunteering Abroad / Internationally: a Reality Check
    A review of the four different types of volunteering abroad programs, and how to improve your profile to be chosen by highly-competitive programs, such as the PeaceCorps.
  • Ideas for Funding Your Volunteering Abroad Trip
    If you need to raise money to pay for a short-term volunteering gig abroad, here are realistic ways to do so. Also has advice on how to choose a credible program.
  • Vetting Organizations in Other Countries
    A resource that can help you evaluate volunteer-placement organizations that charge you for your placement as a volunteer, as well as for people interested in partnering or supporting an organization abroad but wanting to know it’s a credible organization, that it’s not some sort of scam, or an ‘organization’ of just one person.
  • 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.
  • Volunteering To Help After Major Disasters
    Whenever a disaster strikes, hundreds — even thousands — of citizens in the USA start contacting various organizations in an effort to try to volunteer onsite at the disaster site. But what many of these people don’t realize is that spontaneous volunteers with no training and no affiliation can actually cause more problems than they alleviate in a disaster situation, particularly regarding disaster locations far from their home. If you want to be a part of the mobilization for a future disaster, here are tips to help you get into “the system,” get training, and be in a position to make a real difference.
  • Tax credits for volunteering (for residents of the USA) – includes information on tax deductions for volunteering abroad

UN mobilizes volunteers to research contribution of volunteerism in fragile communities and post-conflict environments

The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme, in partnership with ActionAid, the Association of Voluntary Centres (in Russian), the Beijing Volunteer Federation, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO), is deploying 15 national and international volunteer researchers to collect evidence on the contribution of volunteerism in fragile communities and post-conflict environments.

The volunteer researchers are currently deploying to 15 countries to gather evidence for the 2018 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report (SWVR) on the theme of “Resilient Communities: The Role of Volunteerism in a Turbulent World”. The volunteer researchers will spend up to six months living with different communities in Bolivia, Burundi, China, Greece, Guatemala, Egypt, Madagascar, Malawi, Myanmar, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Russia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Tanzania to generate evidence and data to inform the report.

More details of this deployment and research project.

Follow @UNVolunteers on Twitter to stay up-to-date on this project and know when the report will be released.

Previous reports from UNV include the State of the World’s Volunteerism Report 2015: Transforming Governance and the State of the World’s Volunteerism Report 2011: Universal Values for Global Well-being.

Also see:

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

Consortium re: volunteers & SDGs, coordinated by Brookings Institution

BBCBANNER_optOn June 14, 2016, people from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), faith-based organizations, corporations, universities, the Peace Corps, and United Nations Volunteers (UNV) came together at the Brookings Institution to answer the question on how to achieve impacts on the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through international service. This was also the 10th anniversary gathering of the Building Bridges Coalition, a multi-stakeholder consortium of development volunteers, coordinated by Brookings. The event included the announcement of a new Service Year Alliance partnership with the coalition to step up international volunteers and village-based volunteering capacity around the world.

(note: in this case, the word development has to with humanitarian aid that is focused on building the capacities of humans for improved health, improved education, improved income generation, improved life choices, etc., on community development, institutional development, environmental development, country development, etc.)

According to a summary article about the events by David L. Caprara, “Volunteerism remains a powerful tool for good around the world. Young people, in particular, are motivated by the prospect of creating real and lasting change, as well as gaining valuable learning experiences that come with volunteering.”

Brookings Senior Fellow Homi Kharas, who served as the lead author supporting the high-level panel advising the U.N. secretary-general on the post-2015 development agenda, noted the imperative of engaging community volunteers to scale up effective initiatives, build political awareness, and generate “partnerships with citizens at every level” to achieve the 2030 goals.

Kharas’ call was echoed in reports on effective grassroots initiatives, including Omnimed’s mobilization of 1,200 village health workers in Uganda’s Mukono district, a dramatic reduction of malaria through Peace Corps efforts with Senegal village volunteers, and Seed Global Health’s partnership to scale up medical doctors and nurses to address critical health professional shortages in the developing world.

Civic Enterprises President John Bridgeland and Brookings Senior Fellow E.J. Dionne, Jr. led a panel with Seed Global Health’s Vanessa Kerry and Atlas Corps’ Scott Beale on policy ideas for the next administration, including offering Global Service Fellowships in United States Agency for International Development (USAID) programs to grow health service corps, student service year loan forgiveness, and technical support through State Department volunteer exchanges. There were also representatives from Global Citizen Year, America Solidaria, and International Young Leaders Academy.

The multi-stakeholder volunteering model was showcased by Richard Dictus, executive coordinator of UNV; Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet; USAID Counselor Susan Reischle; and Diane Melley, IBM vice president for Global Citizenship. Melley highlighted IBM’s 280,000 skills-based employee volunteers who are building community capacity in 130 countries along with Impact 2030—a consortium of 60 companies collaborating with the U.N.—that is “integrating service into overall citizenship activities” while furthering the SDGs.

The key role of colleges and universities in the coalition’s action plan—including  linking service year with student learning, impact research, and gap year service—was  outlined by Dean Alan Solomont of Tisch College at Tufts University; Marlboro College President Kevin Quigley; and U.N. Volunteers researcher Ben Lough of University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

These panel discussion produced a resolution that highlighted five major priorities:

  1. Engage service abroad programs to more effectively address the 2030 SDGs by mobilizing 10,000 additional service year and short-term volunteers annually and partnerships that leverage local capacity and volunteers in host communities.
  2. Promote a new generation of global leaders through global service fellowships promoting service and study abroad.
  3. Expand cross-sectorial participation and partnerships.
  4. Engage more volunteers of all ages in service abroad.
  5. Study and foster best practices across international service programs, measure community impact, and ensure the highest quality of volunteer safety, well-being, and confidence.

Caprara noted in his article, “Participants agreed that it’s through these types of efforts that volunteer service could become a common strategy throughout the world for meeting pressing challenges. Moreover, the cooperation of individuals and organizations will be vital in laying a foundation on which governments and civil society can build a more prosperous, healthy, and peaceful world.”

In addition, the Building Bridges Coalition produced a webinar on the role of volunteers in achieving the SDGs.  Here is a slide show from the event, as well as the audio.

The Building Bridges Coalition is an all-volunteer 501(c)3 non-profit organization. The coalition encourages international volunteer organizations, large and small, to become members, as well as individuals interested in international volunteer service; there are fees associated with membership. As of the start of 2016, the BBC has seven working groups addressing the issues of greatest interest to coalition members.

secular-based short-term humanitarian volunteer initiative working in Ghana

There is secular-based short-term humanitarian volunteer initiative called the Humanist Service Corps (HSC) that launched fairly recently, and they’ve already had a big success with one of their first projects: HSC has been running a medical records/medical screening to provide free health screenings for the rural community of Kukuo in Ghana’s Northern Region. In the process, HSC volunteers have trained local people to create a bilingual medical records system that simplifies and increases healthcare access for an entire community. As the HSC fundraising page for this project notes, “For the first time in their lives, the 1,250 residents of Kukuo will have access to their health information in a language they understand.”

The project is more than you might think: “Results as of April 6th, 2016: 681 patients screened, 67 cases of malaria, 27 cases of hypertension, 116 malnourished residents, 19 children missing vaccinations, two cases of Type II diabetes. Additionally, our medical outreach has helped uncover two child brides and five teenage girls kept out of school to help their families.”

The project involved training local people themselves to collect and organize paperwork, input the information into computers, double-check work and organize data. Since their training by HSC volunteers ended at the end of April, the local Kukuo Health Screening Volunteers have been running every aspect of the project themselves, with an HSC volunteer available to supervise, troubleshoot, and support. According to this blog about working with the Ghanaian volunteers, “They check each other’s screens for errors, sort and file all the screens during processing, maintain lists for future follow-up, and are working to create the digital and paper copies of the much-anticipated Kukuo Census.” Each of the local volunteers was also helped by the HSC volunteer to create his or her own an email address, write a resume, understand and discuss their letter of recommendation from HSC and be able to talk about what they did for the project and the skills that they have mastered… All of the volunteers did very well with this additional training, especially considering that many were touching a computer for the first time.”

But the work is not done. “We need to fully fund the project by June or we will not be able to screen the entire Kukuo community.” You can donate to this HSC project here. Or, you can become a monthly donor to HSC.

Shortly after the HSC volunteers first arrived in Ghana, they sat down with the HAGtivist Podcast to share their motivations and expectations for the year of service. Great idea to do a podcast with volunteers!

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

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersAn email below that I got recently, which I’ve edited here for brevity and to protect everyone’s identity:

My daughter is 16, and she has saved her money to travel and volunteer.  She is partial to working with animals/conservation and/or children.  We have looked at a ridiculous number of programs, but we haven’t decided on any particular one.  She hasn’t traveled alone before, and she is sheltered, but she is completely consumed by the idea of traveling and volunteering.  I have discussed various tricky situations that she might encounter, but I don’t want to scare her away from an opportunity to learn and grow.  So many programs seem so helpful on the surface – like volunteering at orphanages or helping the elephants in Thailand – but there really can be a” dark underbelly” to many of these programs. I am just curious if you know of any reputable organizations that offer travel/volunteer trips for teens (even the sheltered ones). One program says its an elephant camp but it seems more like a theme park than a sanctuary. What advice would you give to a 16-year-old girl who wants to travel and “help and do something important”?  We are looking into local volunteer opportunities as well – she has volunteered at a local humane society, a non-profit movie theater, and done yard work/clean-up for a local YMCA camp.

Here’s what I wrote in response (also edited for my blog):

I’m going to be blunt, even harsh, and I am probably going to hurt your daughter’s feelings:

There are no reputable organizations serving children or animals abroad that need a 16-year-old from the USA. None. The programs she finds that say she will be able to help animals or children are going to be just what you said: “more like a theme park than a sanctuary.” Legitimate organizations serving children or animals in developing countries do not need 16 year olds – legitimate organizations serving children need certified and experienced teachers, school administrators, child psychologists, child nutritionists, etc., that speak the local language. Legitimate organizations serving animals need people with degrees and experience in wildlife biology and environments.

Many of pay-to-volunteer programs that say they help animals, such as elephants, capture animals specifically so they can make money from Westerners willing to pay big bucks for their feel good experience (and photos with the elephants they are “helping”.)

I’m assuming you’ve seen this: Reality Check: Volunteering Abroad / Internationally? This web page has the only pay-to-volunteer programs I’m willing to endorse.

If your daughter isn’t willing to use the next 6-10 years volunteering and working locally to get the experience she needs to work and volunteer abroad, and studying at least one other language in that time, then I recommend she forget trying to volunteer abroad and, instead, simply travel abroad and see some lovely sights, meet local people, maybe take some language classes, etc. But forget trying to help people while she’s traveling. Legitimate orphanages will NOT let her visit – just as in the USA, a foster home would never allow people to “come see the orphans”, this is the same policy for legitimate orphanages abroad. Sanctuaries that truly care about animals won’t let her interact with the animals either – while not in a developing country, the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee is a great example of this – people can volunteer on the site, but they are kept away from the elephants! That’s as it should be.

So, with all that said, if I were in your daughter’s place, what would *I* do, right now? These are all things I didn’t do, but wish I had, adapted somewhat for your daughter:

  • I would create a local project for a cause or community I believed in. I would learn just what it takes to create something that helps others, recruit people to help with it, lead it, overcome challenges, adapt plans, etc. And successful completion of a project would look great on my applications for university – and, eventually, the PeaceCorps – some day. I wrote this page of leadership volunteer project suggestions for Girl Scouts looking for ideas for their Gold Awards, but almost of any of them could be undertaken by anyone. Lots are animal-related, because, when I was young, that’s what I cared about (and still do).
  • I would do everything I could to learn a second language. I half-heartedly took Spanish classes in high school. I didn’t seriously try to learn Spanish until I was 35. If I’d really applied myself earlier – or taken French instead – I would be oh-so-much farther in my career now – I could have started this path so much earlier and there would be a massive amount of jobs I would now be qualified for that I’m not now.
  • I would have tried to do more locally what I dreamed of doing internationally. Your daughter has the Internet – she can use VolunteerMatch or Guidestar to find most of the nonprofits in your area. Forget whether or not they are looking for volunteers – look at the mission of these organizations. I would look for organizations that do the kind of work locally I want to do internationally, look at their web sites thoroughly, and then call or visit each – me, not my Mom – and ask if I could volunteer, and I would have an idea of what I wanted to do as a volunteer. So, if I wanted to help children, I would look for programs that mentor or tutor young people, and if I wasn’t old enough to be a mentor or tutor myself, I’d volunteer in the office just to see how things worked. Right here where I live now, in a small town in Oregon, there is a group, Adelante Mujeres, that is doing work locally that is exactly the same kind of work done by the United Nations overseas. If I wanted to help animals, I’d contact humane societies and animal rescue groups – the ideas I have about helping animals on that aforementioned “gold award” page represent all of the things I now wish I’d try to do when I was a teen to help animals.
  • I would research the three AmeriCorps programs – AmeriCorps State and National, AmeriCorps NCCC, and AmeriCorps VISTA – and I’d orientate myself into getting into one of them eventually, maybe even delaying college for a year to do one of the programs. NCCC takes people as young as 18 for their environmental projects – but you need to apply months in advance. There’s also this AmeriCorps summer program, which also accepts 18 year olds. Doing these programs greatly prepares you for eventually joining PeaceCorps, VSO, etc.

So, that’s my advice. If your daughter would like to talk further, she’s welcomed to email me.

A few things I didn’t write:

  • I’m a researcher and trainer regarding volunteer engagement. I’m also a humanitarian aid worker. Those two fields often clash when I get inquiries like this and, when they do, I almost always defer to the latter. For me, volunteering internationally should ALWAYS be about what local people and environments need and want, and that’s expertise from abroad, not young inexperienced people with a good heart. Hence why I can sound so harsh on this subject.
  • I have to admit I loathe emails from parents looking for volunteering opportunities for their children if those children are 16 or over. If your child wants to volunteer, without a parent, entirely on his or her own, that child should be able to write me directly and ask for advice him or herself. I’ve even had parents writing me for their children that are in their 20s, desperately needing community service hours for a drunk driving conviction. If your child can’t write me him or herself, he or she isn’t ready to volunteer without you right there onsite as well.
  • I’m a meanie.
  • I really do hope she takes my advice.

What got me into trouble with this young idealist was this web page of mine: transire benefaciendo: “to travel along while doing good”.

Also see:

International Sport Volunteering – Call for Chapters

A Call for Chapters for a new book project. Posted at ISTR-L, and email-based group by the International Society for Third-Sector Research. Chapter proposals are due by May 1, 2015. And I’m guessing British English must be used.

Begin forwarded post:

International Sport Volunteering

Editors: Angela M Benson, University of Brighton and Nicholas Wise, Glasgow Caledonian University (eds)

The study of volunteering is well documented with sport voluntarism hailed as a valuable contribution to society, particularly within the western world. In terms of scale and the range of such opportunities, international sport volunteering is not only replicated through mega-sporting events, as seen in Beijing and Sochi at recent Olympic Games, but through sport development initiatives/programmes in remote communities in Africa and South America. As such, the research into sport volunteering within national boundaries is reasonably well developed, and therefore more research is needed to evaluate the impact and assess sport volunteering in international contexts at a range of scales to critically frame/ successes and limitations to the wider body of volunteering literature. International sport volunteering is often contextualized as part of sport tourism or volunteer tourism research, which is an embryonic but growing field of study. Therefore, the purpose of this timely special issue is to tease out and address conceptual uncertainties and challenges associated with international sport volunteering, pertinent to various dynamics and diverse approaches/understandings.

Linking volunteering and sport within an international (and therefore, tourism related) context is a more recent phenomenon with much of the research focusing around events; according to Baum & Lockstone (2007), even this area lacks a holistic approach and again is concentrated on predominantly national volunteers. More recent research by Nicols (2012) suggests that sport volunteering now plays a significant role in sports policy and the current demands and pressures placed on society are encouraging international volunteering. Bringing together a collection of papers adds diverse scope into the holistic and interdisciplinary nature of contemporary sports volunteering. The field of sport volunteering in an international context is clearly both dynamic and diverse with a range of opportunities and challenges emerging. For instance, a growing number of volunteer tourism organisations are offering ‘sport volunteer projects overseas’; colleges and universities are travelling with volunteer sport students to engage with communities in a sporting context; mobility of sport volunteers is occurring at events, with volunteers travelling both domestically and overseas to take part. These burgeoning opportunities however, raise a plethora of questions and issues (see below) and it is evident that the current literature offers few answers. While these questions are inherently geographical and sociological, nascent understandings inform policy, practice and performance, thus offering greater insight to better manage future sports volunteering programmes that attract internationals.

More research needs to consider sport volunteering in an international context, especially in an era where people continually seeking opportunities abroad whilst engaging in familiar activities through what are often deemed as altruistic experiences. Consequently, this special edition seeks to provide an opportunity amongst academics and practitioners to explore the relationship between these two phenomena and present ideas that capture the dynamics and diversity of international sport volunteering. Interdisciplinary and international approaches are particularly welcomed.

We, therefore, invite chapter proposal on topics that include, but are not limited to:

  • Understanding the sport volunteer in an international context (who is the volunteer in regards to their behaviour, motivation, experience, gender, contribution, impact?) To what extent are they similar or different to other international volunteers (volunteers on projects such as humanitarian, conservation, medical)?
  • Intercultural perspectives on international sport volunteering (a recent advert stated that ‘sport is a universal language’; is this true?  If so, what affect does it have on adaptation, culture confusion and cultural exchange?  If not, what engagement is happening?
  • Supply side (which sectors are involved – private, public or third sector organisations? To what extent are partnerships being formed?)
  • Sponsorship, funding and payment (how is international sport volunteering being funded?)
  • Impact (social, economic, environmental) (is it sustainable?) upon people and places (host communities, volunteers, cities, townships) (are host communities in western cities less impacted than host communities in developing countries where international sport volunteering takes place?)
  • Social development aspects (whose development the volunteers and/or the participants?)
  • Legacy of volunteering in international sport volunteering – tangible and intangible (whose legacy – the country where the volunteering took place or the country the volunteers return to?) (To what extent do relationships continue after volunteers return home?) (Do episodic volunteers become long-term volunteers?)
  • Management of key stakeholders (what are the issues related to the management of international sport volunteering?)
  • The media is full of articles regarding the quality of volunteer tourism should the current academic debates and discussions around this include international sport volunteering.
  • Critical reflections of self, including auto-ethnographies where the international volunteer critiques their role/position during the process of volunteering and conducting research

We are happy to discuss and consider other areas and case-studies related to the main topic area of international sport volunteering.

Chapter proposals should be between 300-500 words in length and should be emailed to both Angela M Benson amb16@brigthon.ac.uk and Nicolas Wise Nicholas.Wise@gcu.ac.uk by the 1st May 2015.

We have already discussed the proposal with a publisher who is keen to work with us on this.

Angela and Nick

Dr Angela M Benson
Principal Lecturer in Sustainable Tourism Management and Development
Director of Postgraduate Studies (Integrated Doctoral Framework)
Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Canberra, Australia
Centre of Sport, Tourism and Leisure Studies (CoSTLS)
Eastbourne Campus
Denton Road
East Sussex
BN20 7SR
Tel: +44 (0) 1273643621
Fax: +44 (0) 1273 643949
Email: amb16@brighton.ac.uk

ESRC Seminar Series – Principal Investigator for “Reconceptualising International Volunteering”. Partner institutions University of Kent and University of Strathclyde. 2013 – 2015. http://about.brighton.ac.uk/sasm/research/researchevents/reconceptualising-international-volunteering/

Special Issue (forthcoming):

Theme Editor: Dr Angela M Benson. Worldwide Hospitality and Tourism Themes   – Why and how should the international volunteer tourism experience be improved?  Volume 7 Number 2  2015 Information about the themed issue can be found at: http://www.emeraldgrouppublishing.com/products/journals/news_story.htm?id=5976

Latest Papers (2014):

Darcy, S., Dickson, T. J., and Benson, A.M. (2014) London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games: Including volunteers with disabilities, a podium performance?  Event Management. 18 : 431-446.

Benson, A.M., Dickson, T. J., Terwiel, A. and Blackman, D. (2014) Training of Vancouver 2010 volunteers: a legacy opportunity? Special Issue: The Olympic Legacy; Contemporary Social Science: Journal of the Academy of Social Sciences. 9(2): 210-226.

Dickson, T. J., Benson, A.M. and Terwiel, A. (2014) Mega-event volunteers, similar or different? Vancouver 2010 vs. London 2012. International Journal of Event and Festival Management. 5(2): 164-179.

World Humanitarian Day is TODAY

Here we are again: it’s World Humanitarian Day, August 19, an annual day, designated by the UN General Assembly, to recognize those who help others regarding humanitarian issues – addressing human welfare, help people facing a natural or man-made disaster, helping in post-conflict situations, helping improve the lives of marginalized groups, etc. It’s a day to honor of aid workers who have lost their lives in the line of duty, as well as to celebrate the lifesaving work that humanitarians carry out around the world every day, often in difficult and dangerous circumstances, where others cannot or do not want to go.

I encourage you to blog about the work of aid and development workers today, and to use a Facebook status update and a Tweet today to celebrate humanitarian workers as well. #humanitarianheroes is the official tag of the day, though I think a lot of folks are reluctant to use it when talking about themselves as humanitarians. Also, be sure to like the official Facebook page: World Humanitarian Day.

Recently, while hiking in a state park in Utah, I got into a conversation with another visitor. When she found out I had worked in Afghanistan in 2007 (because of my t-shirt), she said, “Thank you for your service.” Since I have heard this comment by people from the USA only for people in the military, I said, “Oh, ma’am, I wasn’t in the military. I was an aid worker.” And she said, “You should still be thanked for your service.”

While there’s nothing at all extraordinary about my work in Afghanistan, Egypt, Germany, or Ukraine, there are some amazing humanitarian workers out there. They spend years away from their families and risk their lives to do their work. Some are injured. Many are harmed long-term, emotionally and mentally, by the stress of their work. Some are kidnapped. Some are killed. I knew one of the people killed in Iraq on this day in 2003, in the bombing that targeted the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq created just 5 days earlier; we’d sat in a meeting together in Bonn when he was in a different role in a different country, and when he heard me tell about the UN’s Online Volunteering service, he stopped me from speaking, called his assistant back in the country where he was serving, and said, “Look into this web site; we’re going to be doing a lot with it soon.”

These people not only help with immediate help during and after disasters, providing food, heath care, housing, etc. – that’s often the easy part. Humanitarians also help local people rebuild their governments. They help local people engage in activities to bring about peace and reconciliation – something that is never, ever easy. They do the stuff that isn’t easy to take a photo of or put on a poster – but that’s every bit as important as any other aspect of humanitarian aid.

Thank you, colleagues. Thank you, humanitarians. Thank you for your service.

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

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

What a work day is like – so far

A few of you have asked what my work day here at the UN is like. So, for those interested:

I have a driver that takes me to the office every day, something my host, an American that’s lived here for many years, so generously arranged. I don’t think he’s an official taxi, but he gets the job done. It’s a 5-10 minute drive, or a 40 minute walk. I’m keeping the car for my entire time here to drive me to work, but once it cools off, I’ll start walking home every day.

I try to get to the UN offices a few minutes before 9 a.m. To me, that’s a really late start to the work day – at home, I often start before 8! Because of the time difference with the West, you get much more out of your day here in Kyiv at the UN HQ, in terms of being able to connect with people outside the country, if you work later rather than earlier. Because of that late start to the day, I can do a lot from home before I come into the office:  check my personal email and other personal communications, then my own professional email for my consulting, etc. I also check my UN email before I come in, to see if there is anything urgent, but I don’t reply to anything, unless it’s urgent, until I’m in the office. I prohibit myself from personal social media activities at work. I’ll post work-related items to my Facebook page and a bit to Twitter – and reading those is a good way to be most up-to-date on what I’m working on – but anything fun has to happen outside of work hours (some things do sneak in over lunch here).

I share my office with the UN communications manager, who is from Ukraine. I go through several tasks as soon as I plug in and start up my computer to catch me up-to-speed for the day:

First, I read ReliefWeb’s updates from various resources about Ukraine. Sources are from all over the spectrum: from the International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Russia Today, Amnesty International, UNICEF, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Guardian (in the UK) and more. This let’s me know what my colleagues are going to be dealing with most urgently, what the press or donors might be calling about, etc. I don’t have to deal with the press or donors, but I’ve got to be ready to help my colleagues do so. My colleagues can’t wait for me to get up-to-speed in a meeting – I’ve got to come into the meeting with a basic understanding of current happenings. This is how I do it.

Then I glance through the tweets of everyone on my Twitter list for Ukraine. This further educates me about what’s “hot” in the country right now, particularly regarding political opinion, something that’s vital to know, as public opinion influences government and donors. Again, my colleagues can’t wait for me to catch up in meetings – I’ve got to come in already understanding ever-changing contexts.

I also look at some Twitter feeds specifically, in the morning and afternoon:
@UN_Ukraine (my office mate manages this account)
@UNDPUkraine (manager of this is just down the hall)
and I do a search on OCHA Ukraine (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) to see what comes up. This keeps me up-to-date on what all the various UN offices are doing, in terms of communication and public programs. I’m here for just two months, and there’s no time for weekly meetings – this is how I stay up-to-speed on what’s going on so I can make appropriate recommendations regarding communication, especially in reports to donors.

And amid all this, or after it, I work on various projects: writing something, editing something, researching something, meeting with someone – as directed/needed by colleagues. I never know when a project or meeting will demand my attention until just a few minutes before it arrives, usually. I always makes sure that I have a project to work on in-between the sudden spurts of urgent things to do – I’ll create one if I have to. That’s essential in this work, to always be able to look for something to do – not just busy work, but something needed, that will actual help colleagues in some way.

In my first two weeks I’ve:

  • Drafted a very important strategy briefing document (took a LOT of research and rewrites and meetings)
  • Drafted a Twitter guide to help ramp up and evolve Twitter activities by UN offices here (also took a LOT of research), and bugged my communications colleagues with “try this” emails regarding immediate adjustments to make re: social media.
  • Advised on an app to help citizens report infrastructure issues to the government
  • Researched whether or not our offices might need a policy re: editing Wikipedia (such editing is easily monitored by citizen activists and even some hostile “bodies”, and conflict of interest editing can turn into a PR nightmare; I doubt anyone is editing Wikipedia from the office, but this is a VERY tech savvy country – I’m trying to think preventatively).
  • Had various ideas bounced off of me by the communications staff here for various events, announcements, activities, etc.
  • Participated in various meetings, mostly about coordination of humanitarian and aid programs.
  • Asked a lot of questions, listened, taken a lot of notes, listened to drafts of speeches, read lots and lots of information so I can write about various topics when called upon, read and responded to a lot of emails…

Unlike Afghanistan, I have complete freedom of movement here, there’s consistent electricity, everyone has a smart phone (not just a cell phone), no one has asked me for a bribe, and the country’s most urgent aid and development needs – and they are urgent, and sad, and often horrific – seem so far away… and that makes this experience surreal at times.

The first week, I left every day at 6, but this week, I’m leaving at 6:30, and next week, who knows, perhaps I’ll stay even later. The car is waiting for me and takes me home, and my work day is done – though I admit to checking work mail one more time before bed, and responding as needed.

That’s how my days have gone my first two weeks here. The glamourous life if aid and development work…

What do NGOs understand that USA nonprofits don’t?

Last week, I got to be a part of the program for a group visiting Portland through the US State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). It was the fourth time I’ve gotten to be a part of the program over the years – the first time was in Austin, Texas, back in the 1990s. This time, visitors were from Egypt, Afghanistan, Liberia, Tunisia, Latvia, Greece, Mexico, El Salvador, Morocco, South Africa, Cameroon, the Philippines, Ethiopia, and more.

Talking with leaders of NGOs from all over the world is incredibly energizing – for me, it feels like coming home. Many are stunned that I’ve been to their countries – or that I even know where their countries are, what language they speak there, etc., in contrast to so many people in the USA. I’m sorry to sound the snob, but my fellow citizens are notorious worldwide for our ignorance about the rest of the planet, and not even having a passport, and I’m proud to be in contrast to that stereotype.

(just last week, I had to explain to a very close friend what the European Union was – she’s a very intelligent person, but if none of the news outlets ever mention the EU, how would she know what it is?).

This time with the IVLP, I was part of a small group of members from the Northwest Oregon Volunteer Administrators Association (NOVAA); instead of a traditional workshop, we divided up and each spent time with three people, for 20 minutes, talking about volunteer engagement, and would switch to a new group every 20 minutes. It allowed me to get one-on-one time with more than half the NGO representatives, and that’s always delightful. Many of the problems they face regarding volunteer engagement are the same as anywhere: trouble mainitaining volunteer motivation, volunteers not finishing assignments, too many volunteers one day and not enough another, etc. I hope they found my references helpful – hard to address everything in just 20 minutes!

One moment for me that I particularly loved: how integral social media is for many of these NGOs in working with volunteers. I loved hearing about all the ways they recruit, interact with and support volunteers using various social media tools, reaching volunteers via their phones as much, if not more, than via their computers – all said that, for the most part, email is dead for their young volunteers (people under 40) altogether. These NGOs haven’t needed workshops or conferences to convince them these tools are valuable; they’ve seen their value immediately. When I told them just how many nonprofits here in the USA refuse to use Facebook, Twitter, or other social media tools to work with volunteers, about how, if nonprofits here do decide to use such, they often give social media responsibilities to interns and senior management stays away from such, and how often I’ve had hostile reactions to the tech practices that these NGOs, by contrast, have fully embraced, they were floored. And they laughed. A lot. And when I told them that, in Oregon, in the supposedly oh-so-tech-savvy Portland area, I have had women younger than me say, “Oh, I don’t have email, so send that to my husband’s/daughter’s address, and he/she will print it out for me to read,” their jaws dropped.

True, many of these NGOs aren’t recruiting ethnic minorities, religious minorities and other marginalized groups as volunteers in their countries – and don’t see why they should have to make volunteering more accessible to such. They don’t see who they might be leaving out as volunteers by totally abandoning offline recruitment and support methods. In short, their volunteer engagement is not perfect and needs to further modernized, especially in terms of being inclusive – but what they are doing in terms of leveraging networked technologies in recruiting, involving and supporting volunteers is far, far ahead of what most nonprofits are doing in the USA. And all I can say is: WELL DONE. And keep teaching me!

Another big emphasis for these NGOs in particular is involving young people as volunteers – young people who are unemployed or under-employed, people under 40 with some education but who cannot find jobs. These NGOs see volunteer engagement with young people as a way not only to build the skills of those young people so that they can get jobs – or even start their own businesses – but also to give these young people a sense of civic responsibility and community connection beyond protesting in the streets. I was happy to help address some of these ideas in my very limited conversations, and welcomed their online inquiries so I can send them to further resources.

And, finally, I apologize to the guys from West Africa who were offended I hadn’t been to any of their countries yet (I’m trying!), and if the guy from the Philippines does not send me the photo he took of myself and the guy from Afghanistan wearing the cowboy that he bought in Texas, with both of us making the “hook ’em horns” sign, I will be DEVASTATED.

POSTSCRIPT: Not devastated.

For more information about my training.