Voluntourism aid - the salvation or plight of the developing world??

Discussion in 'The big picture' started by P.A.T.H, Aug 17, 2015.

  1. P.A.T.H

    P.A.T.H Junior Member

    Jul 27, 2015
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    Hey everyone/anyone..... So I just decided to start this thread because I've had some experiences and observations that I believe warrant in depth discussion. Many Permaculture people and projects (both in the developed and developing world) who/which run volunteer programs with varying degrees of success, this thread does not aim to start "naming and shaming" any particular projects or people, instead I hope that it will shed some light on some of the broader context issues around "voluntourism" and it's implications - particularly in the developing world.

    Obviously there are pro's and con's, which vary from project to project. I think one of the most obvious that I hope would extend to the majority of projects is the personal experience. The benefits gained by the volunteer include a range of different things, skills etc... In the developing world often the benefits are exchanged between the volunteer and the project/people for whom he/she is volunteering. Some of these exchanges and experiences can be extraordinarily profound and indeed life changing, however it is this, often over romanticized benefit that many said projects rely on heavily for recruitment of volunteers. Taking on volunteers can also be a very economical way for projects to get skilled inputs, in some instances volunteers are required to make monetary contributions to the project in order to enroll, young skilled volunteers are seeking to gain experience and a competitive edge which looks good on their resume etc, some (not necessarily permaculture) projects are cashing in on this trend. I have observed this within the field of "conservation" (of wild life) here in Zimbabwe. Often the project will recruit volunteers over local skilled/qualified individuals because they receive financial benefits rather than take on a financial obligation. This kind of activity not only reduces co-operation between such organisations/projects and local communities but also greatly reduces confidence in local knowledge and tradition compelling local communities to further their education often adding to the problem of educational exodus which is just compounding the problem.
    The other area or brand of voluntourism is "eco-tourism", "....come and stay at this lodge because it's eco-ethical... if you work/volunteer you pay a reduced rate... [blah blah]" Once again this is the kind of situation where such "eco-resorts" market themselves on sound ecological grounding because it's an emerging market. Ultimately they are in the travel/tourism industry and intend to see profitable returns. I had a direct experience with a particular project of this kind where the "lodge" was attempting to "aid" in the "development" of the local communities, it was a very remote and "under-developed" region, I was recruited to re-invigorate the "agricultural training farm" which supplied the "lodge" with fresh produce. I spent three months on the project, secured funding, did as much training as possible among other things... I discovered many hidden truths about the lodge and their activities which would cripple their reputation if it were made public. Many of my interventions and suggestions were simply ignored if at all acknowledged. I did not receive any remuneration, and requested travel allowance which was denied. At the end of the day the crux of it was that essentially the projects' staff were there because they needed to educate their children and if education (which is quite basic and not very good quality) was free they would simply choose to continue their traditional way of life which is completely sustainable and reasonably healthy. I was working along side some other volunteer graduates within the sector of "international development and international politics" let me just say it was challenging. The main reason for not being remunerated or having travel expenses paid was because "the (service) costs of having volunteers are high" it seemed as though it was wastefully so - volunteers were treated as guests, cooked for and cleaned up after etc... I suggested that reducing all costs of running a volunteer program is imperative to it being a success, that most volunteers would be happy to do their own domestic chores, yet it went unheeded. My conclusions stated in my reports were made plain and simple, that current model is simply perpetuating a culture of dependency which is completely unsustainable and grossly irresponsible. I communicated this to them as diplomatically as possible .......... silence. All I'm left with is a lingering sense of anxiety about how the individuals I developed relationships with are coping. The community have their own development committee that I and many of the other volunteers realized that it was this community committee that we would have preferred to have volunteered for rather than the European registered charity which shall remain unnamed.

    Any thoughts??? Or anyone with a similar or different experience?? Thanks
  2. mullerjannie

    mullerjannie Junior Member

    Sep 16, 2015
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    There is no black and white answer in this. People , politics and more so perception plays a major role in all of this. As a rule of thumb this is what I did \ do. First read some good politic books but thinkers such as Noam Chomsky, the intention of this is to point out as you discovered for yourself that there are motives behind a lot of what people do. So remove you bias completely. This is a major personal challenge but well worth it, as much on a farm as in the business world.

    Be the captain of your own ship and follow your moral compass. When in doubt get all the opinions and follow equally your heart and head. When in doubt, read more, pray more, meditate more.
    Keeping busy allows you subconscious to digest "thoughts" sometimes you will have those ah-ha moments. Once you know how to recognize them you will find yourself posting less questions like the above. I believe many people (more than the media would like us to believe) understand the dilemma you posted.

    As long as we are looking at the height of the wall we will fail to see the door.

    The world as we know it revolves around power, money , kickbacks etc. All of which can be effectively undermined and dissolved into a puff of smoke by movements such as permaculture.
    Permaculture provides a avenue where by we can accept our dependency on nature without being politically green. It provides a humbling experience once you stick your hands in the ground and you ask yourself who owns this soil? It provides a community and opportunity for free thinking which is sustainable for longer than a political career or term. This true stewardship and not ownership allows for sound decisions based on reason, common sense for many generations to come. Politics tend spend more time blaming then building. This doesn't mean it's all bad. It just mean as it stands mankind have placed ourselves between a rock and a hard place.

    Permaculture or what it stands for can use this rock for heat retention, it has the possibility to break the hard pan and make things grow.

    However, it's a long word. At the end of the day it takes you and me to stay utterly aware that our intentions should be steered towards the good of mankind.

    In terms of structures of power there is a really good book called reinventing organizations. It offers more options for change.
    I hope this can inspire some faith in people. Change is happening but we all know what happened to rushed lettuce ! it doesn't taste as nice.

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