shut up and get out there and you will make the world a better place

There have been quite a lot of pseudo-journalism articles going around lately about why “voluntourism” is bad. After reading quite a few of them, I feel as though I have to say something, since I have “voluntoured” quite a bit. 

My first experience volunteering abroad was in rural Honduras, building a school with about 13 other high school kids. This is one example that is often looked down upon: sending middle-class kids from Western countries to go help people living in developing countries in tasks in which they are not skilled - that this does more harm than good. This criticism is seriously skimming the surface.

My experience in Honduras, it really stressed that it was us AND the community working together to build the school. The community leaders were the ones telling us what to do. For the most part, those of us with little experience would be doing odd jobs, like shovelling dirt to be made into concrete into a wheelbarrow and rolling it down a hill, meanwhile learning bits of spanish and playing with kids. image

Each member of our team had to fundraise $3000 for the trip, was encouraged to learn some spanish and we brought over lots of donated tools, clothes, sport gear for the kids, things that were actually very useful. We worked with a local NGO, who knew the community’s needs well and employed locals.

Sure, we were not skilled construction workers, but the fact is that we are privileged, and we were using it for good; by donating our time, money and energy so other people could have opportunities like us. This experience changed my life. I learned the value in manual labour, and as a somewhat socially awkward person, it taught me the value of human connection. I was 15 at the time and always wanted to travel, this was the first opportunity I really took. Little did I know that it would actually lead me to realize the invaluable experiences volunteering offers, locally or globally. 

I have been lucky enough to volunteer in places like Cuba and Ukraine, but also in Canada. I volunteered full time for 6 months in the Katimavik program in Nova Scotia and have volunteered on different farms on the East coast. These experiences within Canada changed me just as much as those abroad, but I probably wouldn’t have realized their importance without my initial experience abroad, which gave me some much needed culture shock. Volunteering strengthens communities: it offers experience and knowledge to the volunteers, while giving free labour to the communities. I never knew the value in community, in working together, in giving, until I volunteered. 

The bottom line is, the world is our community. Our problems are global, are borders are becoming more and more irrelevant, we are citizens of the world, our nationalities and privileges shouldn’t define us or our ability to make an impact. Whether you volunteer for your neighbour or volunteer abroad, the point is, you are strengthening our community, by strengthening your own skills and helping others. Do whatever you can to make someone else’s life a little bit easier, no matter how small, and the world will be a better place.

In response to the criticism about Westeners volunteering abroad, I want to offer my experience, that has changed me extensively for the better and I think helped make the world a better place, even if just a little. If sending teenagers to Central America gets them off their couches and makes them volunteer more, think more about the way their actions affect others: I’m all for it. The issue here is not sending out kids abroad to help others, it is truly how ineffective international development can be. As a student of international development and globalization, I can tell you that I am currently on the path, with thousands of other students, that we are working to find ways for the world to develop effectively and sustainably, so the world can be a better place, for everyone.

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These were two of the articles that inspired this post (read on and fully inform yourself to develop your own opinion):

"I volunteered in Africa - stop making me feel bad"

Confronting my Privilege: Why Africa Doesn’t Need My Help

I can’t be quiet anymore

I know we’re all pretty tired of this subject here at uOttawa, but we are a community and we need to do something. I want to tell you what disturbed me this morning on the topic of rape culture legitimacy. Rape culture on campuses is legitimate when in your 8:30AM Politics class, your (male) prof searches Hilary Clinton and the first link has something to do with orgasms. How is it that Clinton’s politics comes second in mention to her sex? Then when your prof decides to demonstrate the way a woman’s sexuality is presented from looking at the cosmopolitan and maxim websites, where in both cases, women are degraded to their sexuality, for the purpose her presence being limited to the male’s gaze. When a prof has to stop his or her class to address a local and global problem in our culture, it is clearly a large issue. 

There is an issue of how women are represented, how men grow up thinking about and seeing women in roles of leadership. I don’t mean to overgeneralize, not everyone is guilty in the propagation of this culture, but it is the ones who are that delay any progress we might have had with women in politics. This saturday is International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate how far women have come and keep celebrating the progress.