Posted by WorkingAbroad Projects on Thursday, 26th March 2015
The role of volunteers in developing countries has long been criticised, with ‘Voluntourism’ conjuring up images of the stereotypical gap year student with good intentions but little competence. This stereotype, along with heaps of research into the benefits volunteers themselves gain from volunteering, gives the impression of a fairly one sided deal. But new research released by VSO and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) is helping to dispel this, highlighting the valuable contribution volunteers make. The ‘Valuing Volunteering’ project looks at the impact of volunteers on community development and social change in developing countries.
Research was conducted in Kenya, Mozambique, Nepal and the Philippines over two years. The largest study of its kind to date, the researchers spoke to over 3,700 participants. The research revealed that not only do volunteers make a valuable contribution, but the way in which they do so is much more extensive than many formal services. This is achieved through inclusion, innovation, ownership, participation and inspiration.
Researchers found that volunteers, living alongside individuals in the community, are able to build an understanding of the challenges they face and as such create strong relationships. These informal bonds build trust and enable solutions at a local level.
Lead IDS researcher, Danny Burns said: “Their very embeddedness within communities and organisations helps create strong personal bonds and relationships that can lead to a different kind of collaboration, one that transforms volunteers’ image as “experts” into an experience that is based on a mutual appreciation of each other’s knowledge, skills and networks.’
Volunteers can inspire new thinking, by modelling active citizenship and gender equality.
Research also revealed how volunteers reach the poorest and most marginalised communities. In many countries people living in poverty do not have access to infrastructure such as schools and hospitals, but volunteers can help to bridge this gap.
Dr. Philip Goodwin, Chief Executive of VSO, says: “There are 50 million volunteers in the world – this is a phenomenal number of people making a significant and powerful impact in the fight against poverty. This new research demonstrates the role of volunteering in placing the knowledge and experiences of the poorest and most marginalised at the forefront.”
Intrigued to know the value of WorkingAbroad’s volunteers we recently began looking into our projects to get some facts and figures, and the results have been fantastic. Our volunteers have treated over 3000 patients in Nepal, released 17,000 sea turtle hatchlings in Costa Rica, taught 23 pre-schoolers in Ecuador, built an artificial wetland in South Africa, educated over 50,000 students in Thailand and surveyed 3,500+km of sea in Greece, and that’s just a glimpse of what they have achieved.
So ignore the cynics, they may be “voluntourists”, but their work is undeniably valuable, benefiting the lives of those they help.
By Megan Smith, WorkingAbroad team
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