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At home or abroad?

Posted by Volunteer487 
At home or abroad?
April 21, 2009 09:47PM
Nora was right in the "Local Volunteers" bonus feature when she said, "if we can't be effective in our own country, it's a myth to be effective in another country". I have many friends who spend several weeks a year on "volunteer vacations" but when I ask them why they don't volunteer here in the U.S., they can't think of good reasons. My guess is that people love the adventure of volunteering abroad. I've volunteered abroad, but I always feel MUCH more effective volunteering in my own community. It makes such a difference when you speak the language and know the culture of the people you're trying to help. Has anyone else felt this too?

(p.s.- great series!)
Re: At home or abroad?
April 30, 2009 04:41PM
In Thailand after the tsunami we called them "voluntourists". So many people showed up that the Tsunami Volunteer Center was started to try to coordinate their work. There are some real issues with voluntourists that people should be aware of before going.

- First, without knowledge of the local language, culture, and politics, you may not be out in the villages helping people directly. Imagine if someone showed up in your neighborhood only speaking Farsi how useful would they be.

- What local aid agencies really need is help with grant writing, website development, editing English, and accounting. Although these may not be as personally rewarding for you they may have a greater overall impact.

- Spend money, don't barter too hard. One of your greatest contributions is to the local economy. Don't barter too hard or local merchants will feel that they are subsidizing assistance to others when they themselves are just hanging on.

- Think about whether or not your work is actually undercutting the local labor market. If you had not come along and worked for free would someone else have been hired to do the job - especially low skill jobs such as construction. How many people could have been paid to do your job if you'd donated the cost of your plane ticket instead.

Think carefully about the impact of your volunteer work before going. Who will get more out of it, you or them? Is it really the best way to help or something you are doing more for yourself. If you choose to go take that understanding with you and act appropriately.

Saundra Schimmelpfennig
Good Intentions are Not Enough www.informationincontext.typepad.com
I feel the same way. You can always do more impact if you volunteer in your own country, better yet, in your own community, city or town. The points made by Saundra are really good questions you need to ask yourself before volunteering abroad. But also, if you volunteer locally you have several advantages:

- The impact you can make is not limited to a time frame (1 year, 6 months, a few weeks). If you work locally you could make a long term commitment.
- You know the culture and the context. And if you don't (because you may encounter a very different reality just a few miles away from where you live), you'll learn about the problems in your own community.
- Did I already said: long term commitment??? Really, this kind of work shouldn't be the kind of things we only do once in our lives just for the sake of the experience. We should be doing this kind of stuff through all of our lives, locally.

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