Brunel Volunteers and UBS Volunteers are now researching into volunteering opportunities for their students abroad. This is great news! Volunteers here have been expressing this desire to venture further a field for a time, and the fabulous dream team is getting the wheels in motion.
As part of the preparation of this, I am having to take on some research on some of the issues surrounding ‘voluntourism.’ First of all, I just have to express my loathing for that word. I find it a way of negatively slamming down anyone who has taken part in any form of volunteering abroad. There has definitely been a boom in numbers of students taking their gap years, travelling, ‘volunteering’ etc. and this has indeed been noticed by travel companies who are taking advantage of it. And there is undoubtedly a small number of those who do this simply to ‘look better.’ I guess this is where the phrase comes from. And there may be a hint of truth to it here… But it is the MINORITY!
My issue is how all of these articles in The Independent and The Guardian are completely overlooking those organisations (charities, NGOs, etc.) that provide students and young people with an opportunity that GENUINELY seeks to help benefit the local community in which they will be working. I do not doubt the reasons behind my being so defensive about this is because over the last year I have come to know the workings and goals of Childreach International quite closely. I first came into contact with them, simply, because I agreed to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and fundraise the money for them. My intentions may have been selfishly life affirming, initially. But this differs as it is in no way advertised as a volunteering opportunity, this was one of their ‘challenge events’ which acts a means to help their charity raise money for projects in their countries of choice (currently Tanzania, Nepal, India, Morocco and the UK). As a thank you, the students get to visit one of the school projects that their money helps to support.
It was on this day of my trip that my life… well, changed. The children were so happy. And grateful. So when I came back to the UK, I was 100% eager to do as much, and more, for Childreach International as I could. I was in love with their work, and was ecstatic to become Team Leader for their ‘Big Build – Nepal’ (Yes, this is a VOLUNTEERING opportunity.) In October I attended a weekend long training where I had the chance to learn in much more depth about the charity, their projects, their marketing, and exactly where the money goes.
The main things I learned that still resonate with me…
1) They ONLY use photos of children that are happy for their marketing to students. Why? Because they don’t buy into this bull stereotype that all third world areas are made miserable by their poverty. If anything, they appreciate life that bit more then us stuck in the world of convenience. They reflect the positivity in the communities, and the strength of the human spirit.
2) For The Big Builds, a third of the fundraised money by students covers costs (flights, accommodation food, etc.) which means the charity are not paying for this themselves, a third goes DIRECTLY to the Big Build project where the students work (paying for LOCAL bought materials, paying the wages of the builders/site managers/other staff) and the other third is fed back into the charity to fund other projects that do not have student challenges attached to them. Out of all the student-charity-adventure organisations, they give the highest percentage of fundraised money directly to their projects. Fantastic!
3) All of their projects, whether it is a new school/health centre, an after-school club, a well, a farming project, are SUSTAINABLE. The charity works closely with the community to assess what they want, how they want it done, etc. All Childreach do is provide the financial means and support. Once the project is up and running, the charity leaves them to enjoy its benefits. It is very important to Childreach to actually work WITH the community, not charge in and take over like the ‘omniscient wealthy Western power’ that all these articles paint us as.
So, all these thoughts on ‘Voluntourism’ become completely moot in the way of the Big Build – Nepal for Childreach International. This is a fantastic opportunity, both in the line of charity work and volunteering. And it is 100% supported by Brunel RAG, who have worked with them for 5 years. So at least our students know that it is reliable, safe and worthy.
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