Many of you might have read the recent articles criticizing the popularity of volunteer work amongst white teenagers nowadays. After the launch of this article, several more popped up, and they are interesting to read. However, these articles, as well as the ones supporting volunteer work, give a ‘one-sided’ view on the matter. The critical articles point out very truthfully, that white teenagers go to developing countries because it sounds good on their Curriculum Vitae. This is true, but this is not the only reason they go abroad.
Teenagers learn a lot from volunteer work abroad: they see with their own eyes how other cultures work, they learn to become independent, to speak other languages, to make friends and to get to know themselves. Still, there are a bunch of ignorant youngsters that shut their eyes for the huge garbage belts they drive past, caused by the excessive consumption of the Western world, and their shipping to Africa because they do not want to cope with their own waste.
Another group of teenagers becomes so emotional upon seeing these poor children that they instantly give away a variety of things which are either not needed, or a form of charity. And charity is not good. There is a variety of reasons why not but the most important one is that we should not make them dependant on us white people. We should either buy the things we give them in their countries so that their economies profit from us relatively rich teenagers. Or we can ask them a small favour and then give something in return. Because if we always give them something, without asking something back (this is called charity), these people will learn to depend on white people, and will start begging for money while they could be at work. I have experienced people like these myself.
White people are often not aware of the consequences of giving away things without reason. Obviously, if people are really starving, it would be morally good to give them some rice and vegetables, but we could instead, give them fertilizer, seeds, instructions and a water bucket to make them grow the food themselves. Thereby giving them a source of income as well as something to be proud of instead of giving a short-term solution.
Indeed, there should be a change in volunteer work abroad. It should be organized by locals, for locals. We ought to move away from the image of a white Western leader with a group of black workers. Instead we should work together. A local project could employ both local volunteers as well as international volunteers, who then learn from each other. Money should not just be given as money, it should be given as microcredits, in the form of animals as the organization Heifer does, or it could be given in the form of a training. This would benefit the whole community, not just the individual.
The current trend that teenagers go to a faraway developing country during 10 days is, in the name of volunteer work, is, in my opinion, not exactly the right thing to do. This is not how volunteer work was intended to be. Most of these days, the teenagers go sightseeing while their parents paid hundreds of euros for their dense educative programme. The teenagers tour around the country, never entirely engaging with the local culture as they are always in a big white group together and only for a short period of time at one place.
I have experienced that if you are somewhere with a smaller group, for a longer time, you can experience a culture much better, getting to know it from within as well as really emerging yourself in it. At the same time, you get to know your fellow volunteers like brothers and sisters, you start taking responsibility, you learn the local language and you understand the deeper meaning of cultural norms and values. Ultimately you find your weaknesses and strengths, which can be quite confronting. The difference between going for 10 days and a month, is that instead of looking at a project, you get involved.
After all, it is the poorest of the poor that need our help. We should not stop doing volunteer work, as it both helps far away communities as well as creating awareness in Western countries. But it should not benefit us more than the people abroad. And it definitely should not go as far as poor families selling their children in order to create work for volunteers in an orphan centre.
- My sister participated in a speeching competition at her secondary (bilingual) school and she used part of my ideas to base her speech on. I helped her writing her speech which is why some of the text above might sound familiar if you have read her speech on freyaenanne.waarbenjij.nu