We will be spending time at a Volunteering Project in Chile: 'Save The Wild Chinchillas' - Habitat Re-establishment

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Ethical Volunteering

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‘Voluntourism’

I've recently been investigating the idea of ethical volunteering as the term 'Voluntourism' is often coming under scrutiny these days. The current debate claims that actual negative effects can arise from a volunteers impact upon a project, it's hosts and even the community. The bigger picture must be considered as even the smallest efforts can have a huge ripple effect if enough people jump on the bandwagon. Results can actually hinder a community, not help it.

After some careful consideration of our own impact, I truly believe we're fairly safe to rest assured that we won't be leaving a trail of negative impact behind us (for instance, taking potential paid work away from those in the local community). The following points will hopefully explain our reasoning....

Research..

I have read up on various websites offering information on ethical volunteering and I was surprised to find that they all make the assumption that people will arrange their volunteering activities via a ‘volunteer sending’ company, in a nutshell this means, ‘a company that you pay to arrange everything for you and to offer you support while you’re volunteering’.  I don’t doubt there are some great companies out there doing some really worth-while stuff, however what about arranging your volunteering experience directly yourself? This is what we’re doing. NO Middle Man. NO Fat Cats. Person to Project :)

Below are some of the sites I had a look at, I am still a little confused as to why they clearly assume anyone wishing to volunteer would pay another company to arrange it for them?! Volunteering shouldn't be a money-making industry, it should be based upon a moral philosophy, a will for change and a passion for the environment that we're all responsible for.

http://www.ethicalvolunteering.org/
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/volunteer/ethical_volunteering.cfm
http://www.wanderlust.co.uk/magazine/articles/destinations/how-to-be-an-ethical-volunteer

Direct Contact..

As previously mentioned, the way in which we have decided to go about organising our trip is to research and contact projects directly, projects that take a simplistic and more personalised, non-profit approach to arranging your visit. Some simply advise you to just turn up! Animal rescue centre Communidad Inti Warra Yassi in Bolivia for example. A high turn-over of traveller volunteers allows for space to always become available.

The places we have chosen to volunteer with are very reliant on volunteers it seems. Without people wanting to pitch in and get involved in return for a unique experience, a lot of these projects wouldn’t be able to exist, or at least not to the level they are currently operating at.

Query your impact..

So when I asked myself if my actions would be taking potential paid work away from those in the local community, I had to conclude that they wouldn’t (I sincerely hope not anyway). There are no wages for individuals even available in these organisations, except for highly-skilled professionals such as vets, and on some occasions even vets will offer their know-how free of charge.  Many of the projects are set up by families/couples/individuals with a strong passion for what they believe in, namely animal rescue/rehabilitation and eco-living.

As we are mainly focusing on volunteering with animals I also had to ask myself whether our actions out there would help or hinder the animal’s welfare. I’m no vet or Zoologist (oh how I wish I was!) so of course I won’t be carrying out duties of such a high skill-set. The projects we’re looking at make use of volunteers in the cleaning, feeding and exercising of the animals (and of course the odd cuddle).  They may seem mundane tasks, but they are essential and time-consuming. Without the enthusiasm of volunteers the owners and vets etc would have to spend so much more time dealing with these smaller tasks, thus taking away more important time needed for treating and rehabilitating the animals.

Why pay anything?

The money we will be paying to take part as volunteers is pretty minimal and the predominant reason for it is to offer us shelter, food, work clothing (if necessary) and sometimes even transport. Anything not spent on putting us up then goes towards the upkeep of the organisation;  the feeding of the animals - vet bills - the fixing of a leaking roof - new building materials, and so on.

We know our money will go to good use as to be honest it’s really not much and can only go so far. For example, one of the projects in Ecuador asks for only £140 for an entire month, with a small donation for food along the way. This organisation, Ecuador Volunteer, allows volunteers to have the weekends off and they offer many different trekking trips at a discount price; again they’re really not expensive. This is a way that local people CAN make a wage as guides on the treks and local areas.


While in Argentina (towards the end of our journey) we also hope to spend some time at the Echo-Movement, a volunteer led project aiming to create and develop sustainable communities. This project does not seem to offer job roles and exists solely on the enthusiasm and passion of volunteers from around the world. 


We plan to do our up-most to ensure our personal impact on these other countries and inhabitants will only be a positive one :)

Of course we will discover much more once we actually get out there and should I find out anything I am currently unaware of, I will be sure to post it up.
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