There is not so new-ish trend that’s speedily growing year after year called volunteerism; I am sure most of you have heard of it or, at least, know of it.
It certainly exists.
You can tell this because it hit internet years ago; it’s got its own Wikipedia page and its efficacy are being disputed by whoever has a fence to stand the other side of.
Is it volunteerism, or vandalism? Does it help? Or is a charity simply better off with your money?
The jury is certainly still out and I don’t think it’s coming back anytime soon; they’re holed up still disputing the definition.
Right now, I know, I am certainly in no position to argue either way. I am, however, all about finding new and easier ways to give, and volunteerism and micro-volunteerism will play a part.
I guess that in the various stages of tourism that philanthropy comes in after responsibility (Responsible Tourism takes into consideration that all of us should be mindful of basics of responsible travel while we are out on the road. For me, the three (major) areas we impact when we travel is a countries – these are economy, environment and culture.
I am here to discuss ways that we can make it easier for those of us, travellers & tourists alike, that are not industry professionals, that enjoy the spoils of charities and NGO’s that add value (not defined purely by money) to world travel without us getting in the way, to also give, by suggesting a simple change of perspective.
How can we (anyone in world travel) make it easier to help?
First, if you’re looking to help read up on the basics (see links below) and keep them in mind when you’re travelling next.
If you happen to be like me and have the ability to retain information similar to a water flowing through a dam made from ‘stoned’ otters, you’ll have to keep it fresh and read it again.
Once read, and remembered, you will have learnt a lot and put it into practice.
However, until you’re ready to join a Charity and get with their programme, you’re better of changing your perspective on what it means to volunteer.
The good news is that after learning the basics, you won’t have got in the way of an established NGO (yes some of them do complain we do), you won’t have spent a dime, so there won’t be any worry about economic leakage (for instance I still can’t figure out why there is a Jamie Oliver’s Italian Restaurant on Bali). Or you won’t have given you money to a Charity that will take your money to let you teach a few kids English just so that you felt better and thrown your dollar in the mix; and you’ll know the basic definitions Responsible Travel, Sustainable Travel, and Geo-tourism, amongst others.
All in all, you will be a better traveller in the long run for it. You will have had an impact, to use a grand old economic term, the ‘invisible economy’ for the better.
The small problem for the sum of us, similar to just giving money is that we are out of the feedback loop. Humans are hardwired to get pleasure from giving and helping. So naturally we like to get ‘something’ for our actions.
If time were the greatest thing you can give, then the first and best use of it would be gain knowledge. Sharing and giving knowledge is something all parties can be responsible. This doesn’t always come easily to Charities and NGO’s because they are time poor. Which, I am sure is, the greatest reason behind end ‘givers’ (I’ll use that in replacement of ‘consumers’) are left out of the feedback loop.
There is no doubt Charities would like to show you what your money helps them achieve, mainly because the want to, but also, because if they could, a lot more people would be interested in giving.
What we find interesting and what is beneficial can often be immediately changed in the blink of and eye, with a little perspective. What greater gift travelling has given me than the one of perspective.
So in looking at short term solutions to how to help while the jury deliberates and Charities and NGO’s wrestle with resources to do more than they are already doing I ask that we all consider our perspectives on what volunteering means in a modern travelling world.
After deciding I knew a lot less that an I already thought I didn’t’ know, and after seeing enough plastic on the Borneo seas to make you think the waves were all white capped I’ve since picked up every book and paper in an attempt to read all I can on how the world is travelling.
I’ve read enough to have to ponder whether the paper I printed on would have been better used as living trees. While I found some out some interesting facts and figures, one paper I came across stood out amongst the paper reams. What they offer, is a new perspective on volunteerism and solutions on how to volunteer. It seemed to align with my thoughts, only with sublime articulation. For that reason, I’m going to reference some it verbatim here. It’s crude, but I will attempt to turn what is a 76-page document into a structured teaser, with the hope you understand and even be tickled into reading more of the paper in detail.
The paper is called ‘The value of giving a little time’ – written by Joni Browne, Véronique Jochum, Jonathan Paylor, from November 2013, from the Institute of volunteering research.
“There have been significant changes to the landscape of volunteering in recent years. Despite a recent increase in the proportion of people volunteering, the average number of hours spent volunteering per volunteer is declining1, and there is evidence of a trend towards short-term or one-off volunteering.”
“Technology has given rise to a newer term for volunteering, micro-volunteerism, Again this may be hardly new to most people, but it seems that volunteering maybe has gone the same lines as our digest long format content.”
The paper, which you can read (should you wish to read it – see link below) goes into depth about just how changing your perspective on what it means to volunteer, especially ‘micro-volunteering’ opens up a a whole new stream of way in which you can help.
We know time is important. We know that if we are not qualified to volunteer for special projects our time can be wasted, and we can hinder the very charities that are trying to help.
However, consider this: What if we changed how we looked at just what volunteering meant for us? What if there we’re smaller deeds? Deeds that we could do more often, that also had an impact?
For instance, writing a blog post about a charity you saw or heard about.
Or seeing a small charity that no one has heard about and posting it online, or tweeting about it; basically providing a little bit of content here and there to help raise awareness for an issue and or charity that gets very little attention.
What if you considered signing a petition volunteering? Sure it might feel like an easy way out of the ‘hard stuff’ but its helps without hindering until you’re ready and or qualified.
We are also starting to see hotels helping us go green(er) buy suggesting we don’t need fresh linen and towels every day. What if we could donate the leftover soap? Why not find out about the nearest programme and let your hotel know about it. I would call that volunteering your time for a good cause (http://www.hopeforsoap.org)
Why? Because you are volunteering your time to educate, or help another traveller, or using an already built charity or NGO continue to do their work.
Sure, it doesn’t take much time, but if you do it for every hotel you stay in for the rest of your life, I’m sure that time will add up. That’s why there is a place for the ‘micro-volunteer’. Ok its just another term, but it doesn’t need to be. We all just need to change our perspective on what we believe a volunteer is. Even Marie Curie magazine has defined it. On the Marie Curie website, micro-volunteering is described as “small, quick actions that make a big difference when many people combine their efforts.”
Another example of ways to volunteer and donate is to engage with the established business that some charities have created. Whether it be a restaurant, or arts and crafts or even second-hand good sales.
You’re will to be knowledgeable and actionable (time & money) helps because you choose to volunteer to do them when there are millions of other ways to go about spending either your time and money.
For those that are part-time, or short-term or ‘micro’ there will always be a greater picture to the one you’re painting. There will always be someone out there doing more, working harder with more dedication; we need to remember that it’s just not possible for us all.
Therefore, with regards to our perspectives, we need to look out how we seek to feel rewarded for any volunteer actions we take. How can we give and ensure we get some personal satisfaction for doing so, thus enabling us to desire to give ultimately more?
I’m sure that the reason people often feel the need to go to orphanages (which is almost always a no-no) is because you have an instant feedback loop of from children. They are young, and they smile, but it’s the ‘crack’ of volunteering, and sometimes just donating money can be like eating food with no taste. Where does the money go? People (us Travellers and Tourists) like to see a smile at the end of the process.
If giving money, and I’m not to saying don’t do it, is not enough, give your time and give it to learning then use that knowledge when travelling. Put it into practice. No doubt you will find it as rewarding.
The last quote from the aforementioned paper is a great example of how we should all view volunteering, short-term, long-term.
“If someone volunteers an hour, 100 hours or 1000 hours they should be branded as a volunteer. You can call somebody a short-term
volunteer, a serious volunteer; you can call them all sorts but the bottom line is that they’re a volunteer.”
In summary, when we travel we impact the environment, the economy (good and bad), and the culture. All travellers must aim to reduce the impact, ideally to a point where we are eventually adding value.
When we think about doing so, we often think volunteering for an NGO or Charity is the only way. However, much of the time we can we a burden because out the lack of experience, or clash of ideology, of even we don’t realise just how hard the work can be.
To help we should consider that any act of time dedicated to helping, in anyway is an act of volunteering. That although out efforts may go unseen they still make an impact to the grander picture. Giving time is best used by acquiring knowledge. That knowledge distills to wisdom, and when combined with even the smallest action the impact exponentially increases. Giving or using businesses set up by charities is a great way of helping without hindering. For example, if it’s a restaurant, then eat something; I can’t think of a better way to give or a faster way to get something back.
Ignoring the debate over definitions, the only way to move forward and to ensure ‘good’ things happen when we travel is to make volunteering easier. This requires all of us to change our perspectives on what a volunteer is, and our personal belief over what we need in return to feel satisfied we are making a difference.
Anyone can be a volunteer. You just need to spend a little time before we start trying to do a lot.
For links and resources see below.
Thanks for reading,
The paper referenced is attached here: micro_volunteering_full_report_071113
Some good definitions of all types of travel – http://mynatour.org/ecotourism-and-responsible-travel
What’s wrong with Volunteer travel? Here is ‘one’ video from YouTube – of about 1 million+ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYWl6Wz2NB8 – Its spot on, and far more positive than the title suggests.
Here’s another good one – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SdQcihmIvu0
Its complex: Read. Learn. Then think about how to act.
More on that to come.