Working with Host Communities

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When people consider volunteering overseas and start researching the various options available, it is easy to forgot the host project and community who you will be impacting on. Ultimately, they should be at the centre of a volunteer experience, although this isn’t always the case.

In 2008 Comhlámh did research examining the impact of volunteers on the host community. You can find a summary of that research here:

The Impact of International Volunteering on Host Organisations: A summary of research conducted in India and Tanzania

Things to consider:

  • Acknowledging our personal ‘selfish’ motivations for volunteering to our hosts is not only honest but also recognises what they have to give, and breaks out of the traditional and paternalistic relationship of the ‘helper and helped’;
  • Being honest with those who host volunteer programmes opens up possibilities for working together and learning from one another;
  • Working ‘with’ the communities you go to help is vital. There are many volunteer and development projects around the world which thought they knew what was best for a local community and simply got on with it without adequately consulting or involving them. This has produced some disastrous projects;
  • Communicating, working with and learning from your host will all be things you will need to manage yourself in your everyday interactions;
  • Travelling with the open minded attitude that you are ‘here to learn’ rather than the closed minded ‘here to help’ will make you ask the questions from which you learn, and not assume you always know the answers.

Furthermore, not only can you learn from those you meet, work with and seek out; you can also learn from your experiences, both the good ones and the bad ones. View the Volunteer Views section of the website to learn from the experiences of past volunteers

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