|Eating and talking can lead to great|
ideas. Like this rather cool/oddly
Credit also goes to Megin Alvarez, Anne Eichmeyer and Nicholas Brenswick for thrashing out similar ideas over a Saturday night dinner.
When I volunteer in the Philippines, Ghana, and Uganda, the benefits to the local communities were minimal (with the notable exception of Grassroots Uganda), the learning experience to myself personally was immense. I learnt so much about development, what works, what doesn't, and what can’t work.
I am sure the vast majority of volunteers will report similar tales.
So why is Meaningful Volunteer focusing on meaningful impacts on communities by short term volunteers (which is sooo hard to do) and having the learning experience as a desirable side effect?
Might it be better to first focus on the learning experience as this is the one positive thing that every volunteer will walk away with?
Once we change this mindset, it opens up a whole raft of ideas.
- Meaningful Learning Groups
Groups of volunteers with a designated leader could head over to the villages we are based in with the express purpose of learning. I can imagine parents (the eternal funder of such trips) loving the idea. A trip to Paris might be fun, but a trip to Buyaya will both be fun and educational!
We would challenge them to come up with solutions to the problems facing the community and then challenge them again when we point out the potential downfalls of their ideas.
We could also visit other NGOs to see what they are doing.
- First Nation’s Youth and Cultural Exchange
My wife and I are very involved in First Nations communities here in Canada with the group home that we run. These types of trips could be wonderful for First Nations youth to compare their own plight with that of those in developing communities. The potential for culture exchange is immense.
We could run workshops for the youth before they go so that they are not entering completely blind.
Heck, we could even target First Nations youth who have made some bad decisions and are trying to break free of the prison systems.
- Benefits to Meaningful Volunteer
We would encourage all these groups to be as hyper critical to Meaningful Volunteer as they can be. I’m sure they’ll come up with wonderful ideas that we’ll end up implementing.
More and more people are studying development in our schools and universities. Students are often required to submit a thesis that includes some aspect of field work.
Meaningful Volunteer could be the organization that helps facilitate the field work by coming up with key relationships with universities.
Way back when, I visited a village near the Ghana Togo border. The village was set up to be a tourist destination. I was greeted as I entered the villager, was shown to my room, and given a brochure about what the village had to offer. I got to wander around the village and observe local people doing local crafts, dancing, cooking, and just getting through their normal day. No child begged me for money.
It was a very positive experience and did not make me feel at all like a Poverty Porn voyeur.
In addition to the list of requirements I listed over here, I would also add in a requirement that the village be accessible to tourists. Not just any old tourists of course, but meaningful tourists who would to engage the locals and see how their lives work.
We could advertise the village as being:
- Sex Tourism Free
Through various training programs in the village, we would ensure that the village remains sex tourism free. In rural Nepal (and elsewhere) sex tourism and human trafficking run rampant.
- Environmental Friendly
You wanna bring those plastic bottles to our village? You better make damn sure you take ‘em out again and leave us some iodine pills to sterilize our water while you are at it
- A place for learning
The villagers could run classes about how they run their lives. There would be cooking classes, farming classes, weaving classes, and so on.
- A village in development
Tourists could visit our solar schools and see how they work out first hand.
These are all first draft ideas that are likely to change over time. As always, feedback is appreciated and welcomed.