Tag Archives: poverty

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:

 

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.

Also see:

A plea to USA nonprofits for the next four years (& beyond):

speak upAttention nonprofits: stop believing that you automatically have some kind of magical, wonderful reputation because you “do good.”

Your organization’s future over the next four years depends on your organization rapidly becoming a much, much better advocate for its work as well as the work of the entire mission-based sector.

Over the next four years (and beyond):

Please dramatically improve how you communicate why your organization is necessary. Define it well, and say it repeatedly, in a variety of ways – in press releases, on your web site, in every speech you make, on your Facebook page, etc. Ask the spouses and partners of people that work and volunteer for your organization, people who have NOT volunteered or worked there themselves, to come in for coffee and donuts and a short discussion – and ask them why your organization exists, why it is necessary. Be prepared for them to have no specifics, just a possible, general idea. Use their feedback to create a plan to improve your communications, internally and externally, and to make sure it is clear to anyone and everyone why your organization is necessary. Make it a priority for the next four years to constantly and dramatically improve communication about what your organization does and WHY it exists.

Please dramatically improve how you communicate as to why there is poverty, or domestic violence, or homelessness, or unemployment, or a need for live theater, or whatever it is your nonprofit is concerned with addressing. Please don’t just ask for help for an issue without explicitly saying why the issue exists. And please say so more than once. This is another good opportunity for a focus group to find out just how much you need to improve regarding your messaging. This should also be a top priority.

If your organization does not address a critical humanitarian issue, then you must be even more explicit about why your mission is important. You cannot assume people know why a theater organization, a dance organization, a community choir, an art museum, a history museum, a chalk art festival, a historical society, a cultural festival, etc. is important to a community. Have hard numbers ready, in terms of economic impact, on what your organization contributes to your city or county. Have data on the impact of performing arts on health, school grades, crime, and any other quality of life issue and think of ways to get that data out there, repeatedly, via your web site, social media, press interviews, and on and on.

Make sure your volunteers know why your organization is necessary, even volunteers doing just one-time gigs or micro volunteering, and including your board of directors. Every volunteer, even those coming in for just a few hours as part of a group effort, must be given at least a short introduction to why your organization exists. All volunteers, past and present, microtasking volunteers and long-term volunteers, should be invited to public events. You must turn volunteers into advocates for your organization and nonprofits in general to their friends, family and colleagues.

Please correct volunteers and donors, even very large donors, who misspeak about your mission, or why the issue exists that you are trying to address. For instance, if your nonprofit helps the homeless, and a donor says that people are homeless because they are lazy and do not want to work, correct him and her. Make a list of myths about the issue you address, and the counters to those myths, and go over those myths with all staff, all board members, all leadership volunteers, and all long-term volunteers, at the very least.

If your budget is going to be cut because of actions by the President and Congress, you owe it to your community and to all you serve to say so. And you owe it to those same people to say how these cuts are going to affect your programs and, in turn, the community and those you serve. If cuts are going to hurt your clients, say so. This isn’t being political – this is being factual.

Stop talking about volunteer value primarily in terms of their hourly monetary value. When you do that, you justify a government saying, “Cut your paid staff and just get volunteers to do that work.” Governments HAVE done this, and it’s very likely the incoming USA federal government will do it too, and that this thinking will trickle down to state governments as well. When you talk about volunteer value primarily in terms of an hourly monetary value, you are saying that their PRIMARY value is that they work for free.

Use your web site to be absolutely transparent about who runs your organization, what it does, how much money is in its budget, where the money comes from and how it spends the money it gets. AND KEEP IT UPDATED. And be proud of it – no apologies for paying competitive salaries, for having offices that have adequate parking and lighting, for having clean offices, etc.

Make sure politicians know and appreciate your organization. Have a representative from your organization at every local public meeting by your state’s US Congressional Representatives and US Senators, and send those officials press releases about your organization’s accomplishments and impact. Invite representatives from their offices to every public event you have. Here is more advice on how to get a Congressperson to listen to you, which notes that posts to social media are largely ineffective because they are so easy to ignore, that paper letters are more effective than email, and that phone calls RULE. You need to do similar outreach with your state legislative representatives and senators – in fact, they should be much easier to meet with, in-person. Go in front of your local city council at least once a year to speak during the public comment: announce a new program, remind the council of something you are doing, tell them what a budget cut is going to do in terms of how it will affect your clients, etc. You have about two minutes: use it.

Make sure the nearest weekly and daily newspapers, and the nearest CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox affiliate TV stations know why your organization exists, what it accomplishes, and the underlying issues it addresses. And when they get a story wrong about the causes of homelessness, addiction, unemployment, domestic violence, poverty, etc., CALL THEM and SAY SO. Volunteers can help you monitor the media and look for opportunities for correction.

During the 2016 election, a worldwide audience, not just the USA, heard repeated disparaging remarks by the two main Presidential candidates about each other’s philanthropic bodies. Regardless of the truth or not of their attacks, many people have been left with the impression that all philanthropy – all nonprofits, all charities, all NGOs – is corrupt and conducted primarily with the goal of achieving more power and a good public image, rather than a genuine desire to improve people’s lives, improve communities or help the environment. Every nonprofit has to keep that in mind as it looks at the financial information on its web site and annual report, as well as in addressing the aforementioned communication issues.

Henry Berman said, in an article for an article for The Chronicle of Philanthropy, “We must tell our stories and the stories of those who benefit from our philanthropy, lest we allow the unchecked rhetoric of the campaign trail to define who we are, what we accomplish, and how we operate.” I couldn’t agree more.

You will not have your nonprofit status revoked for doing any of the above. Do not let anyone threaten such a thing. The aforementioned is all mission-based work. You aren’t endorsing a politician or a political party, and you are not directing people on how to vote, things that are strictly forbidden for 501 (c) (3) nonprofits.

Also see

“Every nonprofit organization and nonprofit cause or mission that relies on federal regulation, executive orders, or other non-legislative approaches to implementation is at risk of profound change or elimination when Donald Trump takes office in January.” An excellent warning from the Nonprofit Quarterly.

It’s Day One of the Trump Era: Let’s Defend Philanthropy

How Will Trump Presidency Affect Humanitarian Aid & Development?

My consulting services (I can help you with your communications strategies!)

January 6, 2017 update: Forbes has this excellent article on how corporations should have a crisis communications response in case Trump attacks them. It is a step-by-step guide on what that planning should look like. Have a look and think about how your nonprofit or government agency should create a similar guide for your mission-based initiative. If your mission has a focus on LBGTQ people, on helping immigrants, or helping women access abortion services, or is affiliated in any way with the Clinton Foundation, or has any Islamic affiliation, or works to help refugees, or has any other focus “relevant to the president elect’s hobbyhorses,” your organization REALLY needs to read this Forbes article.

February 27, 2017 update: With aid under attack, we need stories of development progress more than ever – from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), the UK’s leading independent think tank on international development and humanitarian issues.

Kentucky, Tennessee, other parts of USA need digital access help

logoBack in the 1990s, I got into a heated debate somewhere online with someone who said community technology centers and computer literacy programs would be gone by the turn of the century. I knew there would always be a need for such groups, at least in my lifetime. And, sadly, I was right.

I love my home state of Kentucky oh-so-much. I lived there until I was 22, and really enjoy visiting whenever I can. I plan on retiring there some day. I think it’s an amazing state. But I also know that Kentucky has quite a few people who are under-educated, even illiterate, that are living in poverty, that are struggling with nutritional needs, health care, dental care and more. And when it comes to Internet speed, Kentucky is stuck in the slow lane – this story is from 2014, but not much has changed 2 years later.

But in addition, Kentucky, and its neighbor, Tennessee, don’t have many computer literacy projects or digital equity programs outside of its grade schools. Seniors, people in their 40s and over struggling with unemployment, and many others in those two states lack computer literacy skills: they don’t know how to use word processing programs, they don’t understand the Internet, they don’t understand online safety, and they may not even understand what’s installed on their smart phones. The nearest NetSquared group for Kentucky or Tennessee? St. Louis. Chicago. Columbus. Atlanta. Hundreds of miles away for most people in those two states. SeniorNet doesn’t serve either state. There is nothing in Kentucky or Tennessee – and probably a lot of other US states – like there is in big US cities known for their tech-savviness, or even like there is in many large cities in Africa. Portland, Oregon has FreeGeek and an NTEN Nonprofit Tech Club, Austin, Texas has Austin FreeNet and also an NTEN Nonprofit Tech Club, and San Francisco has more programs helping various communities with digital empowerment than I care to try to list here. Heck, I even discovered the Crook County, Oregon Mobile Computer Lab in Paulina, Oregon on a motorcycle ride a few years ago.

Not that there aren’t organizations expressing the need for such in these two states – and others, probably. ElderServe in Louisville needs a volunteer to teach basic computer skills such as how to operate a computer, email, Google, Facebook, etc. to its senior participants. The Louisville, Kentucky public library hosts computer literacy classes at many of their sites. Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee has computer classes for clients. in Nashville.

Does the University of Kentucky do anything regarding building the digital literacy of high-poverty communities or under-served people? Western Kentucky University? Eastern Kentucky University? Murray State University? University of Tennessee? Middle Tennessee State University? University of Memphis? Vanderbilt? Not that I could find. I used the names of these universitys, or the largest cities in these two states, and phrases like digital literacy, computer training elderly, and computer literacy at-risk teens to search.

Computer literacy projects, digital equity programs, “access for all” groups, geeks4good initiatives – even in 2016, these kinds of initiatives are still needed, not just in developing countries, but right here in the USA, and not just in Kentucky and Tennessee. I have no doubt that such initiatives could easily recruit qualified, committed onsite and online volunteers in these areas, and attract funding. There are lots of people that would love to teach classes, market the classes, find places for the classes, and build web sites for programs providing these services. Photos of seniors, rural people, at-risk youth and others engaged in these programs, and their testimonials after their participation, would be oh-so-attractive to sponsors.

If you want to start such a program in Kentucky, Tennesee, or wherever you are, there are lots of resources to help you:

  • NetSquared
  • Start a Cyber Seniors program
  • See the San Francisco Bay Area’s Community Technology Network for a model program
  • Archived web pages from CTC Net and its members: go to archive.org and search for www.ctcnet.org and look at any of the web pages from mid 2005 and look up the CTCNet Center Start Up Manual and the CTC Toolkit, with resources regarding
    preparing a business plan, identifying potential partners, determining program focus, staffing, evaluation, budgeting and funding
  • United Nations Information Technology Service (UNITeS) contributions to the UNESCO Multimedia Training Kit, a list of the content UNITeS provided UNESCO in 2005. The overall kit was meant to provide trainers in telecentres, community media organizations, civil society organizations and the development sector with a set of modular training materials on information communications technologies; the materials were intended for use by trainers in face-to-face workshops rather than for self-instruction by learners. UNITeS contributions were regarding volunteer engagement in these community tech initiatives.

And I hope if you do start such an initiative, you will share information about such in the comments below!

Update: for clarification, I’m talking about digital literacy and access for all citizens – I’m not talking about a company hiring people to code or expanding its company operations in either state.

April 17, 2017 update: on a related note: “Tennessee will literally be paying AT&T to provide a service 1000 times slower than what Chattanooga could provide without subsidies.”

Perspectives on Volunteering: Voices from the South

A new book on volunteer activity is in the making for the ISTR Book Series: Perspectives on Volunteering: Voices from the South. The aim of this volume is to articulate and examine theories, and perspectives on volunteering in the “South”, meaning presenting various angles of volunteer activity in countries considered developing countries and countries in transition. Comparative issues of all countries are welcome as well as examples of volunteering in  North/South or South/South experiences.

There is a group authors already involved in this publication. “We are interested in would be authors that are working on these issues. To researchers with an interest in this topic, this is an open invitation  to attend a meeting at the ISTR conference in Muenster [Germany]. For those who cannot attend and are interested, please contact the editor.”

Place: University of Muenster (Germany). Room Vom Stein Haus  VS-17
Time : Friday, July 25.   12:30 PM.
parallel to the International Society for Third Sector Research (ISTR) International Conference

Editor:  Jacqueline Butcher, Ph. D
RSVP: jacqueline.butcher@ciesc.org.mx

More info:

The chapters in this book approach volunteering through a series of essays and case studies that present recent academic research, thinking and practice on volunteering. Working from the premise that volunteering is “universal” this collection draws on experiences from Latin America, Africa including Egypt and selected parts of Asia. There is a focus on developing countries and countries in transition documents a fresh set of experiences and perspectives on volunteering. These accounts complement the conventional focus in the literature on ‘the developed’ world – largely northern or western experiences from Europe and North America. While developing countries and countries in transition are in the spotlight for this volume, the developed country experience is not ignored. Rather it is used in this anthology, as a critical reference point for comparisons, allowing points of convergence, disconnect and intersection to emerge.

The primary aim and contribution of this anthology will be to articulate and examine the opinions and perspectives on volunteering in the South. The second objective is to provide a counter point to the dominant conceptual and empirical account of volunteering. Consequently, in identifying chapters the proposed editor did not discount evidence from northern and western countries and rather included this where possible in survey and quantitative studies as a useful reference point and basis for comparison. Finally, the tertiary objective promotes the fuller complexity and texture on volunteering, highlighting its promotion through an appreciation of its potential and promise for expression and impact in different cultures and contexts.

Authors and suggested chapters to date:

Section 1: Volunteering: An introduction and theoretical framework

Chapter 1: Volunteering: a complex social phenomenon
Jacqueline BUTCHER

Section 2: Patterns of Volunteering

Chapter 2: The economic value of volunteering: Comparative estimates among developing, transitional, and developed countries.
Lester SALAMON and Megan HADDOCK

Chapter 3: The effects of volunteering on poverty and development in China, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nepal and the Philippines
Volunteer Services Overseas (VSO) and the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex University.

Chapter 4: Youth, service and volunteering: A comparative perspective in developing nations.
National Youth Service (NYS)

Chapter 5: The global perspective in corporate volunteering: a focus on the South.
Ken ALLEN

Section 3: Empirical approaches

Chapter 6: Organic/ indigenous practices of volunteering in Uruguay: The influence on Public Policy.
Analía BETTONI and Javier PEREIRA

Chapter 7: Solidarity and Volunteering: a Mexican Study.
Jacqueline BUTCHER and Gustavo VERDUZCO

Chapter 8: Individual volunteering and giving: How and why ordinary individuals give in the context of South Africa: a case study of Gauteng Province.
Susan WILKINSON-MAPOSA

Chapter 9: Promising practices from national programs across the African continent: Preparing youth for citizenship , employment and sustainable livelihoods.
Helene PEROLD and Karena CRONIN

Chapter 10: A typology of local and International volunteering experiences from Tanzania and Mozambique.
Helene PEROLD

Chapter 11: Volunteering at the grassroots: Celebrating the Joy of Volunteering in India
N. DADRAWALA

Chapter 12: Beyond images and perceptions: How important is voluntary action in Buenos Aires?
Mario ROITTER

Chapter 13: Employee volunteering in South Africa.
Fiona BUDD

Chapter 14: Models, developments and effects of trans-border youth volunteer exchange programmes in eastern and southern Africa.
Jacob MATHI

Chapter 15 : Volunteerism and the state: understanding the development of volunteering in China
Ying XU and Ngai PUN

Chapter 16: NGO management of volunteers: the case of Egypt.
Hisham EL ROUBY

Section 4 Conclusions -Volunteer participation.

Chapter 17: Conclusions about experiences and perspectives that come from the South.
Jacqueline BUTCHER

More information about the editor:
Dra. Jacqueline Butcher García-Colín
Directora, Centro de Investigación y Estudios sobre Sociedad Civil, A.C.
conocimiento  para la acción social
Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Ciudad de México
Escuela de Humanidades y Ciencias Sociales

Extreme poverty is not beautiful

(a version of this blog first appeared in March 2009)

I was in a convoy heading to the Pansjir Valley in Afghanistan once upon a time, when a non-Afghan man in the back seat, a fellow aid/development worker, started talking to a colleague about how beautiful and simply the people lived in Afghanistan, how idillic it was, how it was a shame to bring them aid and development if it meant they would have to give up their beautiful, simple life.

I wanted to stop the SUV, throw him out of it, and let him see how he liked living “simply” for a few weeks.

Being poor is NOT the same as living in extreme poverty.

Dolly Parton and my grandmother grew up poor in Tennessee and Kentucky, respectively: there was no money to buy new clothes when they were children and, often, their mothers made clothes from whatever they could find (such as used potato sacks), their families had to grow most of their food, their families didn’t have a car, etc. But they were resource rich: they could grow and raise their own food, they had access to free, clean drinking water, they had access to doctors for emergency medical care (though a long walk to such), the fathers lived at home most of the time rather than having to live far away for most of the year to send money home, the families never went hungry or suffered from extreme cold, and they had access to wood for the stoves in winter. They never had to sell any of their children in order to feed the rest of the family. There was no danger of a rival tribe or religious zealots or a mafia looking for money or revenge breaking down the door and killing everyone or taking all their animals. Yes, there were hardships: many babies died in infancy, many women died in childbirth, diseases and injuries that are curable/treatable now were deadly back then, many children had to work rather than go to school, people died young compared to today, etc. But often, there was freedom and time for children to play safely around their homes. The whole family could read by the time they were teens. Talk to people who grew up like this, and they will tell you stories of hardship, but also of laughter and family and dreams.

By contrast, there’s nothing at all beautiful about extreme poverty, especially in Afghanistan. Extreme poverty means a family that has no means to grow its own food and, therefore, starves without the means to purchase food or attain food aid. It means women who die in childbirth, and babies that die in infancy, at rates that far exceed most other places on Earth. It means children sold as child brides or slaves in order to raise money to feed the rest of the family for a few weeks. It means a life expectancy of around 40. It means having no resources to build a fire or cook food — if there was food to cook. It means few people, if anyone, in the family being able to read, which means less of a chance of accessing health care and food assistance that MAY be available. It means people dying by the thousands regularly from preventable diseases. It means being a repeated victim of criminals and having no protection or justice because there’s no money for the bribes the police or the militias require. It means absolutely no way, on one’s own, to ever improve life for the family. It means no freedom, no time and no safety to play or dream or plan. It means no control over your life at all.

I’ve never forgotten that guy’s comments. And what’s sad is that I heard it again just recently in a video by someone I consider a dear friend . That there can be any confusion between living off-the-grid and living in extreme poverty is astounding to me.

Want to help combat poverty? There no better organizations than these, IMO, to donate to, and to spend your time reading their field updates:

Also see:
*Another* Afghanistan Handicraft program? Really?

Tourism as a tool for economic & community development

I’m an aid and development worker.

I’m also an avid traveler.

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

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

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

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

Also, I use social media as a traveler:

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

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

Dec. 5: International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development

December 5 is International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development, as declared by the United Nations General Assembly per its resolution 40/212 in 1985.

This is not a day to honor only international volunteers; the international in the title describes the day, not the volunteer. It’s a day to honor, specifically, those volunteers who contribute to economic and social development. Such volunteers deserve their own day. Such volunteers are part of the reason I bristle at all the warm and fuzzy language used about volunteers.

What does it mean – volunteers contributing to economic and social development? It means volunteers who help create and support activities that help:

  • poor or economically at-risk people access microfinance programs or get out of debt or better manage their money
  • poor or economically at-risk people become successful farmers
  • people use sustainable animal husbandry practices
  • women learn to read and learn skills
  • people understand how to protect their local environment while still making a living for themselves
  • create understanding, acceptance and support of people with disabilities in all aspects of society, including paid work
  • develop environmentally-appropriate and historically-respectful tourism that helps local economies
  • train local restauranteurs in developing countries to become more sustainable and more attractive to a wider clientele
  • create and support schools
  • celebrate the arts and bring access to theater, dance, song, paintings, sculpture or other arts to any group or community
  • use the arts to educate about any economic or social issue
  • contribute in some way to any of the Millennium Development Goals
  • give children and teens alternatives to negative/destructive activities

and on and on.

Cultural organizations, vocational programs, education programs, girls-empowerment programs, anti-violence programs, agricultural programs, schools – all of these and more contribute to economic and social development, even if they don’t say so in their mission statements. And if these organizations involve volunteers, then their volunteers also contribute to economic and social development.

How are you going to leverage the International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development?

  • Will you blog about what your volunteers are doing to help your local communities economic health or social cohesion/inter-cultural understanding or community health, showing that your volunteers aren’t just nice and good-hearted, but filling essential roles and being the best for those roles?
  • Will you create a message on YouTube or Vimeo addressing your volunteers specifically, but sharing it with everyone, talking about how volunteers contribute to economic and social development?
  • Will you write a letter to your local newspaper to be published on December 5 and talking about how volunteers contribute to economic and social development in your community?

Don’t make this hug-a-volunteer-day. Don’t turn the day into just another day to celebrate volunteering in general — there are plenty of days and weeks to honor all volunteers and encourage more volunteering; keep December 5 specifically for volunteers who contribute to economic and social development, per its original intention, and, therefore, keep it unique and interesting and something worth paying attention to!

And just to be clear: by volunteer, I mean someone who is not paid for his or her service, or, if he or she has a “stipend”, it covers only very essential expenses so the volunteer can give up employment entirely during his or her stint as a volunteer, rather than the stipend being as much, if not more, than some mid and high-level government workers of a country are making. Yes, that’s a dig at a certain organization.

Here’s how I volunteer – and economic and social development is actually a primary motivation!