Tag Archives: international

Short-term deployments with Peace Corps & UNV

From February 2001 to February 2005, I worked at the headquarters of United Nations Volunteers, in Bonn, Germany. Sometimes, people outside the UN would say, upon learning where I worked, “Oh, you’re just a volunteer?”

My UNV colleagues would get this comment too, and would visibly bristle at the idea that anyone would think they were a volunteer!  They would quickly assure the person that they were not merely a volunteer – they were, in fact, a fully-paid staff person with a UNDP contract!

By contrast, here’s how I would answer such a comment:

Oh, no, I’m not a UN Volunteer. I don’t think I’m qualified to be a UN Volunteer. I would probably be turned away if I applied. International UN Volunteers are experts in their professional field, highly skilled and experienced. I’m just an employee at headquarters, and my role is to support UN volunteers out in the field, doing amazing things.

A UNV HQ colleague was with me once when I said that, and her eyes became huge when she heard my response. Later, she told me she’d never thought of UN Volunteers the way I had talked about them, and that it had never dawned her that, in fact, maybe she wasn’t qualified to be a UN Volunteer either.

I know of two UNV HQ staff, both my colleagues and dear friends, who decided to apply to become international UN Volunteers themselves, were accepted into the UNV roster, and were deployed for two years to a developing country. Both of these colleagues worked in ICT. After those in-the-field experiences, they went on to be employees at other UN agencies, and I thought it was a shame UNV hadn’t worked hard to entice them back to HQ, as they would have brought a much-needed perspective to headquarters.

As I was leaving UNV HQ, where I managed the UN Online Volunteering service and helped manage the United Nations Information Technology Services (UNITeS), I decided to apply as an international UNV myself. I decided that maybe I had acquired the qualifications at last to be a UNV. I was delighted when I was accepted into the UNV roster – the UNV staff that decided which applications to accept were in Cyprus, I had no personal relationship with them at all, and there was no policy (and still isn’t) on automatically accepting UNDP staff as UN Volunteers. I was available only for six-month assignments, however, and those were, and are, few and far between. I interviewed for two such assignments – and didn’t get either. Which should just go to show you how competitive the process to be a UNV is. I eventually got a six-month UNDP gig in Afghanistan, but it was as a consultant, not a UN Volunteer.

Now, at this time in my life, I can no longer do a full six-month assignment, so I doubt I’ll ever deploy as a UNV. When you read about me going to abroad for a UN gig now, it’s for less than four months – like in Ukraine – and, again, it’s as a UNDP contractor (which I love – great colleagues, fascinating work and the pay is good).

But there is this part of me that still really wants to go abroad as a volunteer.

So, for more than two years, I’ve been watching listings at the Peace Corps Response web site. This is a program by the Peace Corps that places highly-skilled volunteers in short-term assignments abroad, from four to 12 months. It’s open to US citizens. I’ve been looking for an appropriate four-month gig and, at long last, I’ve applied for a position. I think it fits my expertise perfectly. But I also know that this is a highly-competitive program, and I may not even make the interview round. Still, it was fascinating to go through part of the Peace Corps application process. I’ve also been a reference for a friend that applied for the regular Peace Corps, so I’ve seen that part of the online process as well.

Fingers crossed!

One last note: the Peace Corps Response program, the entire Peace Corps program, and all United States Agency for International Development (USAID), are under threat of severe cuts by the current Presidential administration in the USA, as well as by current Congressional leadership. I encourage you to write your US Congressional Representative, your US Senators, national media and your local media, and let them know what you think of these proposed cuts.

Also see:

 

What effective short-term international volunteering looks like

I’m not kind when it comes to discussions of pay-to-serve international volunteering. Most programs out there are voluntourism, focused on an unskilled volunteer paying to have a feel-good experience abroad, doing an activity that would be oh-so-much more effective by local people being paid to do it themselves, and spending just a few weeks somewhere – not at all enough time to make a sustainable, positive impact on local people or the environment. Voluntourism is primarily about the volunteer, not the people in the developing country, who would prefer to be paid to build a school for their children themselves, care for the community’s orphans themselves, help take care of local wildlife themselves, protect their own environment, etc.

That said, not all pay-to-serve programs are purely voluntourism: there are some terrific programs that require volunteers to pay their own way, such as Bpeace traveling business mentors and Humanist Service Corps (more on pay-to-serve programs I think are worthwhile here). There are also examples like this: students from the College of Engineering at Oregon State University going to Kenya to help a small village create a series of water projects to give them sustainable, ongoing access to clean water; the local Kenyan people benefitted from the project because they defined what they wanted, and they worked alongside the students so that they could take on more and more responsibilities themselves.

In contrast to pay-to-serve programs, there is the Peace Corps Response program, which is part of the Peace Corps, and that places highly-skilled volunteers in short-term assignments abroad, from four to 12 months. Participants do NOT pay to participate. It’s open to US citizens, and it represents what effective short-term international volunteering can look like: volunteering that’s focused on building the capacity of local people rather than just doing things for them.

In doing some research on the program, I found this terrific blog by Brenna Mickey, who did a four-month assignment in the Peace Corps Response program in Port Vila, Vanuatu, and whose experience represents what a short-term, effective volunteering experience can look like. It’s also a great example of what a tech-related volunteering gig can look like anywhere, at home or abroad. Her specific job title was web design and development consultant for the Ministry of Youth and Sports. Among other things, she worked

  • “as the project manager or product owner, creating a scope of work and requirements documents after meeting with stakeholders of the website, managing expectations and deliverables.”
  • “as an UX strategist, working with the department in the Ministry through card sorting, developing a site map together, sketching out wireframes and talking through user flows on our website.”
  • “not only as the designer of the site, but the developer as well. I taught myself a new content management system and dove in headfirst to writing responsive CSS and HTML5 instead of handing over my designs and CSS to the developers.”
  • “But most importantly, I worked as a teacher, making sure knowledge was transferred to my coworkers in Vanuatu during the web design process, including how to update the CMS after I left.”

Also, “I happened to be in town during another Peace Corps Volunteer’s project, which had been under development for more than two years. The SMART Sistas ICT Camp for Girls was a week-long camp where girls were brought to the capital and taught the fundamentals of informational technology. I was asked to teach an Intro to Web Design course during this camp.”

Please note that Peace Corps Response initiative, and the entire Peace Corps program, and all United States Agency for International Development (USAID), are under threat of severe budget cuts by the current Presidential administration in the USA, as well as by current Congressional leadership. I encourage you to write your US Congressional Representative, your US Senators, national media and your local media, and let them know what you think of these proposed cuts.

Also see:

The harm of orphanage voluntourism (& wildlife voluntourism as well)

You see the posts on the subreddit regarding volunteerism, on Craigslist, on Quora, on LinkedIn groups, etc.:

Come provide care, love and attention to orphans! Help provide daily care to these orphans, help prepare meals, help watch over them, help with homework, participate in playtime activities, and be a child’s best friend in Africa… You’ll also be the shining light for the children and bring about a fresh and positive energy in the orphanage. You’ll also play the role of a friend and mentor to the children, turning them into confident individuals capable of believing in themselves. The love and attention that these children get from volunteers will uplift their spirits and put a smile on their faces.

Those are all actual statements combined from two different sites that sell volunteer trips to help orphans.

Think about it: these organizations are claiming that foreigners, who may or may not be appropriate to be around children, who may or may not have any experience working with children, who may not even speak the local language, should come interact with orphans, and that an ever-changing group of foreign volunteers, coming in for a few days or weeks at a time, can somehow transform the lives of vulnerable children. Or wildlife. The only thing those foreign volunteers need is the ability to pay all of their transportation, accommodation costs, and program fees to the trip organizer. No criminal background check, no verifiable, needed skills – just money and will.

There are so many Westerners ready to pay big bucks for these feel-good experiences and all the selfies they can take with third world children that many NGOs have popped up with fake orphanages: the children have parents, but the parents are given small fees by the NGOs for their kids to pretend to be orphans for foreigners.

Friends-International, with the backing of UNICEF, has launched this campaign to end what is known as orphanage tourism. This is from their web site:

Voluntourism can be a program that invites tourists (for a specific fee, or through an NGO directly recruiting), to volunteer at an organization. In most cases, these organizations do not require candidates to have relevant qualifications or previous work experience in social work or childcare. At worst, some organizations do not require or conduct proper background checks of volunteers before placing them in direct contact with children.

And then there is this incendiary report by South African and British academics that focuses on “orphan tourism” in southern Africa and reveals just how destructive these programs can be to local people, especially children. From the report:

The term ‘AIDS orphan tourism’, describes tourist activities consisting of short-term travel to facilities, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa, that involve volunteering as caregivers for ‘AIDS orphans’. Well-to-do tourists enrol for several weeks at a time to build schools, clean and restore river banks, ring birds and other useful activities in mostly poor but exotic settings… Well-to-do tourists enrol for several weeks at a time to build schools, clean and restore river banks, ring birds and other useful activities in mostly poor but exotic settings. AIDS orphan tourism has become a niche market, contributing to the growth of the tourism industry…

As in other countries undergoing social or other changes, non-family residential group care (orphanages) in southern Africa has expanded, perversely driven by the availability of funds for such facilities, and the glamour that media personalities have brought to setting them up. However, many orphanages are not registered with welfare authorities as required by law, and most face funding uncertainties and high staff turnover, making them unstable rather than secure environments for children. Moreover, children taken in by orphanages are usually from desperately poor families rather than orphans – the case of David Banda in Malawi is a case in point.

There is also this May 16, 2016 report from The Guardian that volunteers from the west are fueling the growth of orphanages in Uganda. Voluntourism has been linked to damaging local economies and commodifying vulnerable children. It also can perpetuate harmful stereotypes about the so-called “third world”, while also promoting neo-colonialistic attitudes. There’s also this blog from a person who paid to volunteer in an orphanage, and realized just how unethical it was.

A legitimate NGO serving orphans would never solicit come-one-come-all-as-long-as-you-can-pay volunteers via a general web site like Quora. Rather, they would have a proper, detailed Terms of Reference posted to credible humanitarian recruitment sites, like ReliefWeb or DevelopEx. That post for volunteers would detail the education and experience the volunteer would need to have and details on how the volunteers’ credibility would be investigated. And for legitimate programs, not every applicant would be accepted just because they’ve got the money to pay to the program organizer; in fact, many applicants would be turned away because they lack the necessary skills.

In short: unless a program overseas is recruiting volunteers who have many years of experience working with children, certifications, references and criminal background checks, has a web site that details how its programs are evaluated to show impact of their programs, and has endorsements by well-known international organizations,  stay away from the program. And don’t be Savior Barbie.

As for supposed conservation volunteering in another country: why would legitimate wildlife sanctuaries allow untrained foreigners to work directly with wild(ish) animals for a few weeks? No credible zoo in the USA would ever do that. The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee doesn’t let volunteers interact with the elephants! Before you rush off to an animal sanctuary in a foreign country, do a tremendous amount of research to make sure this is truly a sanctuary, not a place that goes out and captures baby animals so that tourists will pay to care for them and have photos with them.

Update: a voluntourism / orphan tourism company is trying to fight back via Reddit.

Also see:

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)
and
Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Canberra, Australia
Centre of Sport, Tourism and Leisure Studies (CoSTLS)
Eastbourne Campus
Denton Road
Eastbourne
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.