FOREIGN AID AND VOLUNTEERING
The topic of foreign aid and volunteering abroad is both complicated and highly sensitive. While we don’t have all of the answers, there are a few beliefs that we do hold firm and are happy to express and discuss.
In regards to volunteering abroad in developing nations, we find that many well intentioned individuals unknowingly find themselves in situations that are not as helpful as they’d intend for them to be, and can often time even be harmful to the supposed beneficiaries. There are many organizations that sell “volunteer abroad experiences” and we encourage people to thoroughly vet out any organization that is charging you to volunteer to ensure that your money is being used and allocated appropriately and that for profit businesses are not commodifying and exploiting poverty for their own economic gain.
We encourage people who are considering volunteering abroad to consider the following questions:
- Can I truly offer a unique and valuable skill or service that will result in a measurable and positive impact?
- Have the individuals and communities who are to benefit from the project been consulted to see if they want and need the service being offered? It’s important that anybody involved is viewed as an equal and is part of the conversation rather than having ideas and actions imposed upon them.
- Am I qualified to perform the job I’m signing up for? Is it something I would legally be allowed to do back home? This particularly applies to people volunteering in the education and medical field.
- Am I possibly taking away a job or opportunity from a local by taking on this volunteer position?
- Do I have the appropriate language skills and cultural understanding in order to fulfill my volunteer position in an efficient, respectful and sensitive manner?
- Am I sticking around long enough to make a true impact? We typically recommend people commit to a volunteer position for a minimum 3-month long period, especially when working with children as the constant turnover of people can be damaging to young children. This rule does not apply to medical/dental/veterinary clinics where skilled and qualified individuals are performing specific and quantifiable tasks and procedures.
- Is my desire to volunteer more about my wanting to travel or fine tune my skills or about a true desire to help others, meaning that I am prepared to learn and set myself own beliefs, ego, and occasionally my needs, aside for the good of the project?
We want to remind people that there is NOTHING wrong with simply wanting to travel to a country and in fact sometimes you can have a more positive impact by NOT volunteering and rather by simply traveling in a responsible and ethical way and with the intention of learning from the experience.
Neither are we here to criticize those who are called to volunteer, we are encouraging you to ask yourself questions that may or may not have occurred to you already, but that over many years of living in an area known for volunteerism we believe are important to consider.
In regards to either types of foreign aid again it comes down to doing your thorough research and making decisions that align with your values.
As a for-profit business over the past two years we have chosen to donate a portion of trip profits to relief causes when Latin American countries we work with are hit by natural disasters and occasionally back home in the US (because you can’t forget where you come from and we love our clients and their home country too!)
This is a practice we will continue to do on an as need basis and we are grateful to be in a position to spare some of earnings to worthy causes. Typically, we avoid donating to large organizations, such as Red Cross, and prefer donating to smaller grassroots organizations where there is a high level of transparency and, whenever possible, a personal connection so that we can feel confident the funds are being used in an honest, ethical and efficient manner.