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Volunteering overseas – can we do it responsibly?

Jasmine reflects on the difference between voluntourism and responsible aid learnt in this BUILD elective speaker session “The Effects of Voluntourism and How We Can Rethink International Development” with Sally Hetherington OAM of Human and Hope Association”.

Sally Hethington OAM with the leadership team at Human and Hope Cambodia

I was first introduced to the concept of voluntourism – when tourists do volunteer work in a foreign country – in a global health subject. BUILD guest speaker Sally Hetherington OAM then extended my knowledge of the impact and ethics of short-term international volunteering.

I learnt how easily standards are lowered in unregulated and unskilled programs and that cultures can be disrespected and overlooked. Most importantly, work is stolen from locals who are more than capable of doing tasks that are given to volunteers.

“An idea I admired was allowing international volunteers to upskill local workers instead of interacting directly with the community.”

Jasmine

This session allowed me to further recognise the dangers of saviourism and ethnocentrism. As global citizens there is great ethical responsibility when entering the international domain. We must protect ourselves from profiting organisations, and also protect the livelihood of the homes and communities that are robbed by tourists who want a photo opportunity. This session was an eye-opener and refresher, and gave us advice on how to genuinely and pragmatically do good.

An idea I admired was allowing international volunteers to upskill local workers instead of interacting directly with the community. This would ensure that education and succession are developed by the local people, for the local people. It is an investment into skill-building, continuity and resource allocation for the native people. Therefore notable and sustainable volunteer programs are those that are run for local workers. Otherwise volunteering can simply be a band-aid approach that departs after a transient effort and has no meaningful impact.

Jasmine Bao
Bachelor of Nursing (Honours)

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