I’ve just come across Lattitude’s campaign for real volunteering. Lattitude Global Volunteering are an international development charity who offer volunteering placements for 18-25 year olds. They were previously called Gap Activity Projects.
Lattitude have taken a strong stance against the volunteer tourism industry, reminiscent of VSO’s 2007 campaign which highlighted concerns about increasing numbers of badly planned and poorly supported projects and the risk of gappers becoming the new colonialists.
One statement on Lattitude’s website reads:
“The ideals set out by the forbearers of the voluntary gap year; being committed to expanding the development of young people and the communities they volunteered with, have been hijacked by companies looking to turn a profit out of young people’s desire to do good with their time off.”
Lattitude have put together some advice for young people planning to volunteer to help them identify projects which are beneficial and worthwhile. Key points are to opt for a charity rather than a company, look carefully at the what they are paying for, ensure there is some matching of volunteers experience/skills to placements and be wary of organisations who let you book a volunteering placements in the same way you book a holiday.
They also emphasise the benefits of long term volunteering over short term. One other interesting point is that volunteers should not be “paying” local communities to host them (other than covering the cost of accommodation/food). This creates the situation where communities may not actually need a volunteer or have a role for them but are utilising volunteer tourism as a source of income.
While I think this is a good campaign in many ways, it is clearly also a marketing tool for encouraging prospective volunteers to choose Lattitude over other organisations. It will create some good PR but I am not sure it really gets to grips with some of the real issues around the volunteering sector and does seem to tarnish all the companies operating volunteering programmes with the same brush.
It is interesting to look at this in tandem with the criticism levelled at the International Citizen Service programme this week. ICS is the kind of volunteering programme you would choose based on Lattitude’s advice (longer term placements, matching process, charitable). While I am not convinced by the Telegraph’s one-sided article about ICS, this does really illustrate how it is not as black and white as is often presented as by campaigns such as Lattitude’s.