Wisdom & Insight
Blog 11: Voluntourism... friend or foe?
Human trafficking, sex trafficking, and exploiting vulnerable children, women, and men across this planet is receiving significant attention on many levels - be it in the corporate world, in the non-profit sphere, or on college campuses. Voluntourism has become intertwined in the dialogue around human trafficking, particularly in relation to vulnerable children and orphanages, and the role that voluntourism may or may not be playing in perpetuating a cycle of child trafficking. Recently, Stephanie Lorenzo, who heads up Project Futures - a nonprofit organization "dedicated to combating human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Australia and Southeast-Asia," shared her thoughts on voluntourism.
[Editor's Note: This article first appeared on the Project Futures site (http://projectfutures.com/blog/2013/10/17/blog-11-voluntourism-friend-or-foe/) on 17 October 2013, and has been reprinted with permission from Project Futures' Stephanie Lorenzo.]
I was having a coffee with a fabulous friend this morning for the purpose of planning a very exciting, yet-to-be revealed, event for 2014. Gals being gals, we digressed. She brought up a topic discussed on Triple J’s Hack program last night, the debate around the concept of Voluntourism.
"Always remember it is a privilege, never your right to have access and visit centres where rehabilitation is occurring. I want to continue to encourage and support people to reach out and give back to the global community. But let’s be smarter about it and make every contribution count." Stephanie Lorenzo
She asked my views on this matter as she is well aware that PROJECT FUTURES takes a number of groups over to Cambodia every year to see first hand the work of Somaly Mam and the wonderful team at AFESIP Cambodia. They have three safe houses that rescue, rehabilitate and reintegrate women and children who have been forced into the sex trade.
My thoughts on this are not entirely one-sided. Since partnering with Somaly Mam four years ago PROJECT FUTURES receives a few emails a month from very well-meaning people regarding ‘helping’ on the ground. The email goes something like this:
I am going to be in Cambodia/ I’m planning to visit Cambodia and I was hoping to see whether it was possible to visit one of Somaly’s centres and possibly volunteer my time for a day or two? I am incredibly passionate about your cause and the mission to end human trafficking…… etc etc’
To be clear, these are people who are going on a holiday and would like to spend some volunteering, not people who are looking to move and work full time for a non profit. All credit to these people that they want to take some time out from their holiday to volunteer and contribute to the local community and I have no doubt that they have the very best intentions in emailing us. However, the question I would like them to consider is: ‘is this the best use of your money, time and skills for the organisation and the people you are looking to support?’
For example, wouldn’t a local Cambodian person be better suited to help build a centre or be employed as a teacher, thus helping the economy and providing local people with jobs? Consider how much time and money is spent on training you when you arrive in Cambodia for your day or two of volunteering. Wouldn’t this time and money be better spent initiating the organisation’s programs, training permanent staff, and supporting clients? And after your one or two days volunteering, when you’re back home with friends, family and your creature comforts, you’ll have an amazing story to tell forever, but are you guaranteed to engage with the organisation again and continue to provide your support, skills and services?
Again, I strongly emphasise that I really believe the people writing these emails to me have the best intentions. In a lot of cases however, they don’t have the experience or knowledge of the non profit sector so don’t realise that sometimes their visit can do more harm than good. There are other ways people can utilise their time and energy to contribute to non profit organisations which will make a long term and lasting impact such as:
1. Fundraising to support the continued work of the organisation
2. Education about the cause through the channels we have available at our fingertips
3. Sharing knowledge and keeping the awareness alive through social networks, workplaces and local communities
4. Launch a club in your school or university where you can meet, discuss the issue, share ideas and work together to make a difference
5. Make a donation
6. Volunteer your skills over a longer period of time to make it worthwhile for organisations to support you – 1-2 years
"I know the question is coming… but PROJECT FUTURES take bike riders to Cambodia? They get to see first hand the work of amazing women like Somaly Mam? Why is that? Well, my response is that PROJECT FUTURES has created a long-term partnership with AFESIP and Somaly Mam and we are constant and reliable donors. Each person that comes to Cambodia with us has invested time in fundraising, they have educated themselves about the cause and they have raised awareness through their networks. I can personally guarantee this as not only is it a requirement of participating in our bike rides, but I have developed ongoing relationships with each and every rider over the last three years." Stephanie Lorenzo
The list of roles that we can play as young professionals to support these worthy services is endless. We have the luxury to utilise the resources that we have right here in our lucky country – our networks, our workplaces, our friends, our communities. Here we can push the boundaries, innovate and generate the necessary funds needed to keep projects running on the ground.
I know the question is coming… but PROJECT FUTURES take bike riders to Cambodia? They get to see first hand the work of amazing women like Somaly Mam? Why is that? Well, my response is that PROJECT FUTURES has created a long-term partnership with AFESIP and Somaly Mam and we are constant and reliable donors. Each person that comes to Cambodia with us has invested time in fundraising, they have educated themselves about the cause and they have raised awareness through their networks. I can personally guarantee this as not only is it a requirement of participating in our bike rides, but I have developed ongoing relationships with each and every rider over the last three years. The average amount PROJECT FUTURES raises on each of our international challenges is $100,000. Think of what AFESIP Cambodia can do with that money on the ground. Here are a few examples:
- Less than $2 per day can provide a survivor of sex trafficking with a day’s worth of nutritious meals with meat, vegetables, and rice
- $250 can support vocational training in beauty skills and hairdressing for one month in on Lao shelter
- $500 can purchase the hygiene supplies handed out in the red light districts during an average month of outreach activities
- $3,000 can support the costs of gas, coal, and wood to keep a shelter warm and keep a kitchen functioning for one year
- $7,500 can support skills training for Voices For Change leaders in areas such as public speaking, advocacy, and management
- $24,000 can purchase basic items that survivors need (such as clothes and personal hygiene items) in all three centers in Cambodia for one year
- $40,000 can support the activities of Somaly Mam Foundation’s Student Development Groups and Advisory Central Committee, promoting activism on the ground among Cambodia’s student population
Goodwill and intentions are great, but are they enough? Solid investment in fundraising and awareness raising is key especially within Australian networks.
So, next time you have the thought that you’d like to squeeze some voluntary work in to your holiday, take a moment to think about how else you might connect with the organisation you’d like to support to make a long term and lasting difference. Here are some ideas to get you started:
1. Put into action ways you can utilise your networks in Australia to raise funds, support and awareness for the work of the organisation
2. Think long term – what can you contribute which will help them grow, deliver targets and measure outcomes
3. Remember you are learning from the experts, not the other way around – local people have the best solutions to local problems, a lot of the time all that is lacking is funds to get started, just ask our friends at Spark International (www.sparkinternational.org)
Always remember it is a privilege, never your right to have access and visit centres where rehabilitation is occurring. I want to continue to encourage and support people to reach out and give back to the global community. But let’s be smarter about it and make every contribution count.
Love to hear your thoughts
Stephanie Lorenzo, Founder-Creator, PROJECT FUTURES
|Stephanie Lorenzo, Founder-Creator, PROJECT FUTURES, Copyright © PROJECT FUTURES, All Rights Reserved
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