Students Urged To Volunteer Responsibly This Summer.
Comhlámh, the Irish association of development workers and volunteers, has responded to growing concerns about voluntourism by urging Irish students to sign a charter outlining a set of ethical volunteering principles.
Every summer hundreds of well meaning Irish students hook up with a range of volunteer sending agencies to work on projects in the global south. Often seen as an alternative to the J1 summer, volunteers are enticed with the promise of a life-changing experience – whether that’s teaching English in Bolivia or building schools in Uganda.
However, in recent years much attention has been given to the rapid growth in what’s been dubbed “voluntourism” – that mixture of volunteering and tourism that leaves a mostly negative impact on host communities with tales of orphanage tourism, exploitative photographs or trips amounting to little more than poverty porn.
Although this voluntourism debate has forced some important questions about volunteering to the surface, it’s important not to dismiss volunteering entirely. It can be a mutually beneficial experience for both volunteers and their host communities.
In order to promote responsible volunteering, Comhlámh has launched a joint social media based initiative between Irish volunteer sending agencies including Suas Educational Development, UCD Volunteer Overseas and more.
Together they are asking every volunteer travelling overseas in 2015 to pledge adherence via social media to a simple seven point Volunteer Charter that outlines respectful behaviours when working with host communities in developing countries.
Hilary Minch, the Information and Support Officer in Comhlamh said:
“The Charter is born out of a partnership of solidarity and respect between volunteers, sending organisations, and the host community. Every Irish volunteer who really wants to make a difference and contribute to global development and social justice should make a clear statement that they want to be involved in a project that is doing good work that supports empowers and respects people and communities in the Global South. Signing this charter is how volunteers make that statement.”
Mark Cumming, the head of Comhlamh said:
“Irish volunteer sending agencies are light years ahead of their counterparts abroad and are driving the initiative towards ethical volunteering that can make a real difference in partner communities . Over 1,700 volunteers traveled from Ireland with Irish volunteer sending organisations in 2013. Half of these volunteers were aged under 30, the type of people that use social media on a daily basis. Basically we’re asking everyone who is considering volunteering overseas or who already has a placement arranged to sign up to the Volunteer Charter to show their commitment and also to help us get word out to the general public about the ethics of responsible volunteering.”
The Thunderclap will be open for people to sign up to for 60 days and once done will broadcast a message about the importance of volunteering responsibly to tens of thousands of people. Get involved now.
Here’s what some experienced student volunteers had to say about ethical volunteering
“The experience of volunteering is of huge value to Irish society. From a very personal point of view you have a fantastic experience but more than that, you get a really wonderful insight into other cultures and perspectives.”
Niamh Murray volunteered with UCDVO in Tanzania 2013 & 2014 on a computer education programme for teachers in schools in Morogoro with a local partner TanzEd.
“It is essential that you consider the needs of your host community before taking your volunteer placement. It is through working in tandem with your host community that you can ensure that the project is meeting the needs of the community.”
John Mc Guinness volunteered with UCDVO in North East India in 2014 on community development projects in collaboration with Social Work students from Assam Don Bosco University, Guwahiti.
“To me, ethical volunteering is about working in partnership with a community, not just about working in a community. A sense of solidarity with the people I worked and lived with was one of the most important things I brought home with me.”
Andy Byrne volunteered with UCDVO in Nicaragua in 2013 and 2014 and was Auditor of the UCDVO Student Society in UCD in 2014 – 2015.
“To me ethical volunteering is a two way process. Both volunteers and host partners are willing to be “learners” and “sharers” of experiences, skills and knowledge! Neither group will always have the right answer, but if both groups are informed and work collaboratively…the big questions of right/wrong become less puzzling!”
Sarah Burke Volunteered with UCDVO in Uganda in 2013 and North East India in 2014. Sarah is a physiotherapy graduate of UCD.
“I volunteered in Uganda as I felt like I had much to offer. I returned having gained more than I ever could have imagined. It was truly an enriching, life-changing experience.”
Mary Gormley worked with students in Uganda as part of Nurture Africa.