What is the point of some volunteering projects?

Here’s an interesting first person perspective on a volunteering experience which raises an important question – what is the point of some volunteering projects? This is a great example of a project where volunteers may find that what they do doesn’t actually contribute or improve the situation of the people they are supporting. The writer, Hannah White, describes her placement with a children’s home/orphanage in Argentina and gives a positive account of how the project was managed and run but also writes about how her role there as a volunteer involved playing with the children for a few hours each day, but that there was nothing more for her to do, even when she offered.

Hannah writes that the volunteering organisation she went with “did not seem to have set up a “project” which would notably improve things – it did not seem to have established a relationship or understanding which meant that volunteers could contribute and have a lasting effect. It felt like I’d been shoved somewhere, and that that was that. I felt distinctly underused, unsatisfied, and frustrated with the effect I’d been able to have, and not just for me, myself and I.”

This really illustrates how well-meaning people sign up for these kind of volunteer projects based on a brochure or glossy information without really understanding the role they will be doing or having an in-depth conversation with the sending-organisation about whether they have useful skills which could benefit the local people or what the objectives of their placement will be and what the long term aims of the project are. It also shows that volunteers expect an organisation to develop projects that benefit local people and lead to improvements rather than just perpetuating the status-quo.

This is really frustraing to read but also great to hear as it is an honest and frank critique, without being over-dramatic.  Hannah concludes that “The problem was that no-one really had any idea what the purpose of the volunteers would, should, or could be. It was as if the fact that we’d been pointed towards a group of needy children was instantly enough to make for something sellable as a project.”  I think she makes an excellent point here about the way volunteering to help needy children is presented and marketed by volunteer-sending organisations versus the reality of these kind of projects. I hope that more volunteers will write these kind of articles in such an eloquent and balanced way.



About natashastein

I'm interested in travel, learning about other countries and cultures, responsible tourism, environmental issues and wildlife. I like being outdoors and beautiful scenery can really move me and reinvigorate me. I enjoy walking and am planning to get a rescue dog to keep me company on my strolls. I also love to write stuff. I've set up my own website (www.responsiblevolunteering.co.uk), written blogs on topics I'm interested in and written various articles about volunteering overseas. I've always enjoyed writing in my previous jobs. I'm a bit of a creative all rounder - I can draw and make things. It's something I'd like to do more of! I love art and photography and go to exhibitions when I can. I am currently teaching English as a second language in Worcestershire, where I live. I have an eclectic career story. My professional background is in travel and tourism and the charity sector. I have worked for a major holiday company, specialist tour operator and coordinated a University alumni travel programme. Most recently I've worked for a Destination Management Organisation and local government tourism department focusing on promoting the Cotswolds primarily via social media. I also worked for VSO, the international development volunteering charity for 6 years as a Volunteer and Placement Adviser and have done bits and bobs of volunteering with different charities.
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