Every so often this argument raises its head. Is sending volunteers from wealthy western countries, over to developing countries, really helping communities to grow and develop, in positive, life-giving ways?!
It’s an interesting argument and I’d say to anyone considering volunteering overseas, first check how the organisation works and why it believes in overseas volunteering.
At Tearfund we have a growing network of Global Volunteers and it’s all central to Tearfund’s vision…
Poverty does more than exhaust, starve, trap and kill people. It destroys their sense of worth, limits their horizons, robs people of the chance to reach their full potential. Tearfund’s call is to follow Jesus where the need is greatest. We do whatever it takes to end poverty and rebuild poor communities. We work through local churches, because they’re Jesus’ body on earth, ready to care for the whole person – and the whole community – inside and out.
Every time we send a team of volunteers overseas, it’s because one of our local, church based partners, has requested them. And to give our partners their own voice, here are some of the reasons why they ask for teams…
- Encouragement – our partners have been working in their own communities often for years, there are no quick wins for development so when a team of new people come out, our partners repeatedly say how refreshing and encouraging it is for everyone. Who in their day to day life, doesn’t need an injection of positive support now and again?!
- Prayer – both in country and when the volunteers return to the UK – this builds up a network for our partners, knowing there are people across the world praying for them.
- Improving English – what better way to do this than to learn from English speakers?
- Fresh ideas – how often have you appreciated a new source of input to help you re-look at the way you do things? Yes, our volunteers don’t have years of development experience, but they do come with a wealth of ideas and questions that helps our partners to bring fresh thoughts and innovation into the community. One small example from Rwanda is of volunteers who brought the suggestion of tying personal tags to fairtrade products which led to more hotels buying and selling the products.
But that’s not all!
One of the most exciting things about our volunteering programmes, is that we recruit volunteers from the countries our partners are working in and get them working alongside our UK volunteers.
This has fantastic impact on both parties, giving them the chance to learn from each others cultures. Our model of sustainable development prioritises local needs met by local resources and people. We’ve found that bringing local volunteers, alongside international volunteers results in mobilising local youth to respond to local needs with the whole community in mind.
Check out this story of Elvis – I love this quote especially, ‘I was able to show them how to use a machete and in return they taught me how to be efficient with my resources and time. One of the volunteers has shown me how to use the computer.’
In Elvis words, ‘Development is about an exchange’
And what about when the volunteer returns back to the UK? – regardless of age or gender, that person has been changed. They come back with a new awareness that starts to shape their everyday decisions. An awareness that leads individuals to get involved in campaigning, to make a noise about injustice, to love being generous, putting themselves and their stuff into perspective.
There are so many examples, it’s hard to pick just one. Take our International Director, David Bainbridge. His gap year at the age of 19, took him from a simple tent in Jamaica to refugee camps in Sudan to his work today heading up an international development team with a £60m annual budget. Standing in a refugee camp in Sudan at the age of 20, David says,
From that moment I knew that this would be my life. Everything about it was so unacceptable and horrendous; I knew I would never be the same again. I had to play my part in changing this.
Or take a recent example, a dad, who also happens to be a solicitor and took his family to visit our partner in Kenya for two weeks. Now, back in the UK, he’s giving his time, free of charge to help this organisation shape it’s future and become even more efficient and effective.
In the words of Burundian volunteer, Elvis Ngabirano, if development is about exchange, then what could be better than equipping volunteers across the globe to exchange their skills and bring fresh ideas, motivation and connection, mobilising a network of volunteers that are committed to making a difference in their own local communities.
It’s not voluntourism, it’s a growing global community.