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My unusual vantage point regarding UK-Africa connections and collaborations has caused me to be have some deep concerns related to unskilled volunteerism (I acknowledge the value of skilled volunteers). The articles below, with my italics, illustrate some of the issues.

The source is The Guardian Global Development Professionals Network

A space for NGOs, aid workers and development professionals to share knowledge and expertise


Volunteer travel: experts raise concerns over unregulated industry

It seems like such a wonderful idea, to head off across the world to help orphans and children, to build schools and conserve wildlife. But scepticism about the genuine value voluntourists provide for local communities is growing, and NGOs are asking whether an unregulated industry providing young unqualified westerners is really a good way to support developing countries.

Billion-pound industry

Such stories throw into stark relief the flaws and vulnerabilities of the billion-pound so-called voluntourism sector, which has been criticised for years by NGOs and responsible tourism experts. At its best, they say, the industry can be both useful and a good experience, but all too often voluntourism is ineffective as a means of providing help to targeted communities. At its worst, it can be dangerous for communities and for the volunteers themselves.


Sokhan Yung, who founded the EAC charity school in Phnom Penh with his own funds, recounts how a French charity raised $500 (£386) to help the school, before spending it on providing a single, untrained volunteer for a fortnight. Sokhan was furious. “You see that EAC has no money, and you spent $500 on sending a volunteer [to a] hotel for two weeks. EAC staff are working without salary!”


Better volunteering, better care

In 2014, a number of leading children’s NGOs – including Unicef, Save the Children, and Friends International – came together for an international study on the impacts of voluntourism on children’s care. The Better Volunteering, Better Care (BVBC) reports focused on Ghana, Cambodia, Nepal and Guatemala, and included – among some positive outcomes – numerous accounts from volunteers, and coordinators of the projects they worked on, wondering if they were doing things the right way, or had even helped at all.


Full story  –  Volunteer travel: experts raise concerns over unregulated industry

‘Volunteering abroad was her first big adventure – she thought she’d be looked after’


Voluntary work overseas: a big business

The practice of young people on gap years taking volunteer placements abroad, often known as “voluntourism”, is now big business. In the UK alone 85 organisations place 50,000 volunteers overseas every year. The majority of these groups, unlike Lattitude, are not charities but for-profit agencies, sometimes charging their young client base high fees.

But some NGO experts are warning about the risks of sending people as young as 18 to teach in schools, work in orphanages and hospitals, or construct buildings, without training or adequate support. They also query whether such sums of money could be used more effectively elsewhere.

One organisation, Projects Abroad, charges a minimum of £1,145 for two weeks’ teaching in Cambodia, not including flights or visas. This would be enough to pay a local teacher for more than a year.


Unskilled teachers can have an actively detrimental effect on children’s education, according to Sarah Pycroft, a teacher who set up a course for volunteer teachers via the AboutASIA Schools charity after seeing such schemes in action.

“The children being taught by these 18-year-olds were getting more and more confused,” she said. “I know from having taught in the UK that that’s the absolute worst thing you can do, because the perception that the children get of themselves as learners is that ‘I’m no good.’”

Other volunteer work could prove counterproductive, according to Frederikke Lindholm from Shelter Collection, a charity helping young people in Vietnam. “I know of school trips where local builders were working during the night to straighten the walls of a house built by foreign student volunteers the previous day,” she said.

“I’ve also had HR managers quiz us over our ingratitude when we say we are unable to organise hotels with enough stars in the middle of the jungle, or serve anything but street-food.”


Full story –‘Volunteering abroad was her first big adventure – she thought she’d be looked after’

Teaching abroad: ‘Volunteers had little educational benefit to the kids

I was a qualified teacher in the UK and I decided that I wanted to travel. I’d heard about how you could make a real difference by volunteering to teach abroad … yada yada yada … so I decided to go to Sri Lanka.

I was careful about choosing a programme, looking for one that didn’t charge astronomical fees and where you could tell it was more than just a business. (snip)

They emphasised the importance of training on their website, which appealed to me. Being a qualified English teacher and netball coach, that’s what I applied to do. “This is perfect,” I thought. “I’m really going to be able to make an impact.”


There was a placement to teach in an orphanage and I thought that would be great – not knowing what I do now about orphanages.

The problem was that the training was led by the previous month’s volunteers, none of whom had any qualifications in teaching. They were all on their gap years and had never worked as teachers. But they’d had a marvellous month in their first experience being abroad, and they were so enthusiastic about what they’d been doing with these children – something which I could tell had little educational benefit to the kids.


I was supposed to be there for two months but I decided that I couldn’t stay and be part of the problem. I’d paid about £800 but I didn’t ask for any of my money back.

I decided to go to Cambodia, where I’d travelled before and knew there were NGOs and other organisations doing volunteer teaching.


As told to Lindsey Kennedy – Full story – Teaching abroad: ‘Volunteers had little educational benefit to the kids