Partnerships For The Goals: “Voluntourism” – Good or Bad? Lets find out… #sdgs #globalgoals #2030Now

This article from guest  Francesca Rhodes asks if short-term volunteering overseas is good for the fight against poverty.

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The industry for combining volunteering with travel (or ‘voluntourism’) is booming. But the sector is controversial, accused of irresponsibly promoting the idea that tourists can make a real difference to development by spending a few weeks of their time at a project.

According to the critics, this approach purely serves the needs and aspirations of the volunteer, and can have negative effects on the local communities that have to host and direct people who have little or no experience in the work they are carrying out.

One volunteer company doesn’t seem to shy away from this assumption, allowing potential volunteers to search through its projects with the questions, ‘Where do you want to go?’, ‘What do you want to do’ and ‘How long do you want to go for?’. If the volunteer is there to ‘make a difference’ to local communities then surely it should be ‘What can you do?’, ‘What are your skills’ and ‘Where are you needed?’.

Voluntouring isn’t cheap either. Volunteers usually shell out for flights, insurance, transfers, food, visas and vaccinations as well as the volunteer placement fee, which can be up to £400 a week.
The critics (including a character in our recent ‘aid worker’ video), argue that this money could be better spent if it was donated straight to the project, for example it would last a lot longer used as a salary for a qualified local worker to take the place of the volunteer.

But sometimes these criticisms can all feel a bit cynical. Surely there are lots of projects that would benefit from enthusiastic volunteers committing their time and energy, even if only for a short time? And isn’t there huge potential for utilising volunteers who return from their trip inspired, better informed about the world and looking to contribute more?

From my experience volunteering abroad, I would say that both sides of the argument have truth in them. The key to making sure your volunteering abroad is useful, efficient and positive for both parties is being honest about what skills you really have to offer as a volunteer, and careful research into where these skills might be used most effectively.

When I was 18 I volunteered as a teacher in the South Pacific country of Vanuatu. I hadn’t been much further east than Norwich before and had no experience teaching or working with young people. But, I had always dreamt of living on a tropical island – ever since seeing ‘The Beach’ aged 14 it had been a bit of an obsession. I believed that if placements were on offer there then these poor people must need me. Before I arrived I pictured myself surrounded by happy smiling children whose life chances had been drastically improved by my imparted wisdom and English language skills.

The reality was of course quite different. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my time living on an amazing tropical island steeped in history and culture, and I met some of the most welcoming and friendly people on the planet. I had an amazing year and my experience still influences me personally and professionally. What troubles me is that I could have experienced these things without taking up that particular teaching placement, and the arrogance in assuming children ‘needed’ to be taught by an unqualified and inexperienced westerner.

My school already had an English teacher, Lizzy, who was from the island and had stuck it out through high school and Uni to qualify – and she was really good at her job. When I arrived I took over her classes, and as I was completely new to teaching and had minimal (one week) training, it took me quite some time to get into it, and frankly I was never going to be as good as her. It would have been far better for me to have played an assistant role to Lizzy in her classes, or to have focused on helping students with their conversational English. However when I had seen teaching assistant placements advertised in the volunteer brochure, I turned them down in favour of full teaching as I thought I would make more of a difference that way.

It was partly the volunteer organisation’s fault, they should have had a better understanding of the education system in Vanuatu and the local community to know what their needs really were and weren’t. But it was also my fault for choosing a placement based on what I wanted to get out of it, not what I could honestly offer at the time.

I don’t have a problem with people wanting to see more of the world through voluntourism, it can provide links to communities which most tourists will never interact with, and these relationships can be mutually beneficial. I don’t have a problem with people shelling out thousands of pounds for placements which could be arranged locally for a fraction of the price, some people wouldn’t be confident doing so and would therefore never go. I don’t have a problem with qualified western teachers working in developing countries where there is a need (although this is a short term solution to a long term problem).

What I do have a problem with is volunteering projects which are not locally needed, not culturally sensitive and focus more on the aspirations of the volunteer than the community they are trying to help. There are some great ways to volunteer out there, but as volunteers we need to be honest and humble about what we can provide, and we need to challenge the sector to provide sustainable and effective ways to contribute our time.

So, if you’d like volunteer overseas for a short period, here are some sites and resources that I feel are approaching things the right way:
– Ecoteer offers community based, low cost volunteering projects committed to environmental, economic and socio-cultural responsibility. 100% of the programme fee goes to the project and projects do not pay to list opportunities on the site.
– 2 Way development is a specialist international volunteer agency, placing skilled volunteers with sustainable development projects.
– Volunteer 4 Africa is an independent, non profit organisation providing a database of low cost volunteering projects.
– Volunteer Latin America is an information service connecting volunteers to non profit organizations seeking independent volunteers in Central and South America.
– Volunteer Thailand provides instant access to organizations in Thailand actively seeking international volunteers.

If you’re interested in spending longer overseas and have strong skills to offer, then check out VSO in the UK, AVI in Australia or Peace Corps in the USA.

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MEMO: Older People’s Day O.P.D (Celebrating their Contributions, Achievements & More!)

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International Day of Older Persons

The United Nations’ (UN) International Day of Older Persons is celebrated annually on October 1 to recognize the contributions of older persons and to examine issues that affect their lives.

What Do People Do?

International Day of Older Persons is a special day for older persons or senior citizens all over the world. In many countries, politicians make speeches, particularly those responsible for government departments that focus on senior citizens, at this time of the year. Some radios, televisions or newspapers publish interviews with senior citizens on various issues such as achievements they made to create a better society.

Other activities surrounding this day include: displays of promotional material on the International Day of Older Persons in schools, tertiary institutions, office buildings and public notice boards;  media announcements on the day and activities that promote older persons; and inter-generational cooperation on voluntary activities focused on the environment, health, education or community services.

The World Health Organization (WHO), which is the UN’s directing and coordinating authority for health related issues, and other groups have been actively involved in promoting public awareness and attention on the International Day of Older Persons. Discussions are centered on topics such as: ageing populations and the provision of adequate healthcare for aged persons; volunteer work; social care; and ways to be more inclusive of older persons in the workforce.

Public Life

The International Day of Older Persons is a global observance and not a public holiday.

Background

On December 14, 1990, the UN General Assembly made October 1 as the International Day of Older Persons, following up on initiatives such as the Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing, which was adopted by the 1982 World Assembly on Ageing and endorsed later that year by the assembly. The International Day of Older Persons was observed for the first time throughout the world on October 1, 1991.

In 1991 the UN General Assembly adopted the United Nations Principles for Older Persons. In 2002 the second World Assembly on Ageing adopted the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing to respond to the opportunities and challenges of population ageing in the 21st century and to promote the development of a society for all ages.

Symbols

The WHO logo is often seen on promotional material for the International Day of Older Persons.  The logo is often featured in the colour white on a mid-blue background. It shows a stereographic projection of the Earth centered on the North Pole under a serpent coiled around a staff. Two ears of wheat “cradle” the image. The projection symbolizes the global nature of the organization, while the serpent and staff are known to symbolize medical help and knowledge. Images of older people from different cultures and backgrounds around the world have been also used in UN promotional tools for the International Day of Older Persons.

International Day of Older Persons Observances

Fri Oct 1 2010 International Day of Older Persons United Nations observance
Sat Oct 1 2011 International Day of Older Persons United Nations observance
Mon Oct 1 2012 International Day of Older Persons United Nations observance
Tue Oct 1 2013 International Day of Older Persons United Nations observance
Wed Oct 1 2014 International Day of Older Persons United Nations observance
Thu Oct 1 2015 International Day of Older Persons United Nations observance
Sat Oct 1 2016 International Day of Older Persons United Nations observance
Sun Oct 1 2017 International Day of Older Persons United Nations observance
Mon Oct 1 2018 International Day of Older Persons United Nations observance
Tue Oct 1 2019 International Day of Older Persons United Nations observance
Thu Oct 1 2020 International Day of Older Persons United Nations observance