Recently there has been a lot of talk in the media about responsible volunteering and ‘voluntourism’ as we see more and more that companies are putting profits ahead of making a difference in Africa.
After publishing an article called ‘Orphans are not a tourist attraction’ I was inundated with emails and phone calls from people who had experienced many of the things I spoke about first-hand. There was an idea raised that not all volunteering is beneficial to the people you want to help.
I thought it best to follow that post up with one about responsible volunteering, to give you an idea of the right way, and the wrong way to spend your time and money on helping others live and grow in third world countries.
What is Responsible Volunteering?
I believe that it’s not the volunteer that can do harm or have a negative impact on the communities of Africa. To me, the responsibility of making positive change falls squarely on the shoulders of the volunteer organisation.
It’s a responsibility I take very seriously. – Jess Charlotte
At African Volunteer Aid our volunteer programs are created with the local people’s advice, input and say. It’s so important to us that our volunteers work in areas they are passionate about, gain a memorable and rewarding experience, and return home knowing they actually made a difference.
For us, that difference is one that is long term and smoothly integrates into the heart of the already well-defined and beautiful African culture.
This is why we take the time to really have a look at the current farming, schooling, medical and environmental situations to determine where they are breaking down. We ask, ‘what do the people need?’, rather than, ‘what do we want to do?’. I think ‘improvements’ are based on people’s opinions. There are so many different ways of life, not just world-to-world and country to country, but community to community as well. We need to be sure that the needs of each individual family are looked into and addressed.
Rather than put in new and foreign systems and processes, we build, strengthen and grow what is already there. By doing this, the local people are able to teach themselves, and feel secure and empowered to better their own lives and break the poverty cycle.
African Volunteer Aid has a team on the ground to act as a bridge between the arriving volunteers and the local people.
They know the community and the projects inside out and are tasked with ensuring that all change is positive and aligned with the local culture and the wishes of the people. It’s our aim to help preserve the heritage of Africa for many generations to come.
African Volunteer Aid Do;
- Use education and support to teach and empower local people to grow better crops, create sustainable environments and live clean and healthy lives.
- Enable community self-sufficiency by transferring skills and opening communities to profitable growth, such as selling produce to neighbouring villages.
- Combine the skills and knowledge of specialists, locals and volunteers to create and implement meaningful and successful projects.
- Record and measure our progress and look for ways we can improve and sustain our achievements.
- Assess our impact to ensure that we are upholding our values and staying true to the wishes and the requirements of the local people.
- Provide on the ground support, training and resources to our volunteers to ensure they have everything they need to do a rewarding, safe and impacting job.
- Check that all environmental projects are sustainable and valid by working closely with conservation and environmental research.
- Stay grounded. Respect and gratitude towards the natural wonder of Africa is something we not only maintain within the communities but also enrich through education and hands-on approach to exploring, understanding and connection.
- Encourage our volunteers to participate in every aspect of local living to really gain a deep and genuine feel for the culture and tradition. It is our hope that by educating western culture on the beauty and incredible depth of the African communities, we can build more cooperative projects nationally in Africa to preserve and respect this incredible living treasure.
African Volunteer Aid Don’t;
- Offer hand-outs. We believe that a sustainable and proud community requires that we are educated to their needs and they are educated on how to get those needs met themselves. We enable them to make the change.
- Have crowd-pleasing projects. We know that you will find reward and satisfaction in the projects you undertake with African Volunteer aid because you will understand the project and see it’s purpose. There is nothing superficial about it. For that reason we do not create projects that are ‘pleasing’ for volunteers but hold no value (or mean extra work) for the community. Every project is geared towards a sustainable future for the people and landscape.
- Abandon our volunteers to let them find their way. There is no use in a group of foreign people ‘having a go’ in a strange country. To create a positive change and complete your projects efficiently it is up to the volunteer organisation to make sure there are adequate supplies and ongoing support and training. Our on the ground team support you so you know you are doing a great job.
- Take your money and spend it on whatever we want. When you volunteer with us, we contact the elders in the village you will be working with and give them the good news. We then ask them, what would you like to spend that money on? The elders will tell us what they need right then. They will prioritise what is most essential for their community. So if they say, ‘we really need a fresh water well’, your money (and your time) goes into that village and that well. We do not simply walk in, build a school they don’t need and leave again with money in our pockets. Everything you give to us, we give back to the community.
- Allow vulnerable groups or situations to be exploited. Every project we create has a long-term focus and intention. We do not place volunteers into situations or communities where they are at risk of causing damage, like the case mentioned last time of orphans needing long-term nurturing and care, rather than short term visits and no stability.
- Rob locals of paid employment. Our volunteers work side by side with local people to provide support. It’s literally a helping hand. In the case of many hands make light work, we are looking to ease the burden and bring additional skills to those already working hard. We also employ local people to head up our team, such as our project co-ordinator and accommodation manager, giving them solid income for their families and dedicated support to our volunteers.
We require your skill and enthusiasm to maintain this amazing momentum and to tell the story of Africa to those at home who may not yet fully understand the genuine struggle these amazing people fight every day.
Through responsible volunteering the people in African communities can live their lives, not in struggle, but in health and harmony.
– Jess Charlotte