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This video fell short

Posted by Felipe do Brazil 
This video fell short
May 03, 2009 10:17AM
First let me say that I LOVE this series, and I LOVE everything this site stands for. But as the operational director for an international community service intermediary nonprofit helping potential volunteers connect with opportunities in Brazil - ad having been doing this kind of work (at first on my own) since 1996, each year returning to establish new relationships with potential beneficiary projects, programs and communities, maintain old ones and grow both I felt that some serious points were missed here.

My experience has been that 1) pay-for-placement provided opportunities can be either good or bad, depending on factors like the individual's motives, prior experience with and personal capabilities to negotiate notably challenged communities in other parts of the world, and personal resources 2) short term volunteering is a double-edged sword that, while universally welcomed, can - depending on the volunteer and the opportunity - almost more of a burden than a benefit to the beneficiary program, and 3) in instances when contracting a pay-for-placement service is not required by a particular potential volunteer, a supplementary financial donation - even a very small one - should be made because virtually all of the programs I have seen, even the reasonably well organized and supported ones, face periodic financial crises.

Pay-for-placement services are great for people who can afford them and need or want the substantial level of support services, like visa counseling and assistance, seeing to lodgings and local transportation and so on. I don't disparage that in the least. But many PFP facilitated volunteers have complained to me that they were shocked to discover how little of their fees actually got to the beneficiary project or program, and some have complained that the level of in-country service they would receive was misrepresented or marginal - so while I would encourage PFP opportunities for some individuals I counsel them to do their homework before the fact.

In at least one instance I know of a PFP service in Brazil was contracted by a PFP service in Europe. Perhaps this is common, I don't know. On impact of this is that since both programs have to share in what comes from the fees even less than might otherwise be expected arrives at the beneficiary project or program. I suspect that this is what accounts for many of the complaints I have received.

Short term volunteers can be a great asset or marginally an asset/liability. Volunteers with construction experience helping to build a community center are likely to be a tremendous asset even if the are unable to stay for very long. But volunteers who want to teach English or some other non-native language can be problematic.

Some programs have told me that they won't even consider short-term non-native language instruction volunteers anymore because the skill levels of various volunteers vary so widely, its virtually impossible to coordinate from one to the next and there is no continuity. Other programs accept such volunteers anyway in hopes that the volunteer will later generate more visibility for the program or simply to facilitate exposure of the chidrena nd youth they serve to people from other cultures.

The potential volunteer's task is sometimes no picnic either. Those who would prefer a PFP service may find it difficult to determine how credible a particular program is because the service is unlikely to post negative feedback. Non PFP intermediaries like mine can't compete with income for profit enterprises which can pay to have their names turn up at the top of search lists. But in the end I think volunteering, which is only one of several ways we facilitate assistance to meritorious projects, programs and communities, is a great thing.

Creating greater global awareness of the realities of life outside of privileged societies is vitally important, so heartily agree that what the volunteer him or herself gains from the experience is paramount. The cultural exchange between the volunteer and the children or people he/she works with helps to mute misunderstandings about our own cultures. And, ultimately, involving more people in the mission to construct a better world is fundamental to achieving that.

I would like to invite participants in this discussion, and other viewers, to SEE some of our work as an intermediary at my The Chronicles of Felipe do Brazil at [rhythmofhope.spaces.live.com], and the home pages for Rhythm of Hope at [www.rhythmofhope.org].
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