February 9, 2014
by Eleanor Paton
Overseas volunteering has had its fair share of bad press. Tales of orphanage tourism in particular make for depressing reading. Report after report touches on similar practices; children kept in poverty so that volunteers continue to donate, orphanages that ignore volunteers’ concerns about the children’s wellbeing and an unhealthy process of attachment between the volunteers and children. *
Even where orphanages aren’t involved there is many a pitfall for the well -meaning volunteer. Yes, of course, helping to build a hospital or school in a developing country seems like a nice idea. But in practice there is little logic to shipping in unskilled Westerners to do local jobs, probably poorly.
So what then, if you are thinking of volunteering, if you do want to ‘do good’? Google it, and wonder at the plethora of ways you may accidentally join a process of exploitation. Or, indeed, find your own intentions and finances exploited. Whilst these cautions are both worthy and necessary, we also have to find ways of encouraging people to help out. For as many warnings as we provide, the development community must also show prospective volunteers how they can genuinely contribute.
Continue reading on the Volunteer in Cambodia blog!