Guest Blogger Lyrian Fleming asks why so many of us want to volunteer - and why we should think about it first. To see the original article by Lyrian, click here.
It sounds great, doesn’t it? Give up all your wealthy trimmings, put on your sensible outdoorsy clothes and become one with ‘the locals’ in an exotic location like Cambodia, Papua New Guinea or Uganda.
You want to give back, right? Atone for the accident of your birth which saw you born into a wealthy, democratic country like Australia, the Lucky Country no less. You’re probably young, not too tied down by mortgages and kids, the timing is just right to drop it all and become a volunteer in a developing country.
What happens when you work for free?
What do most developing countries have in common? Unemployment issues. And what do a lot of short term volunteering programs offer well-meaning, rich country volunteers? The chance to work for free on a project which will ‘help’ a poor community.
Build a house in Guatemala! Build a school in Ghana! Help maintain a rainforest in the Amazon! But think about it – if you’re willing to go and do it for free, and in most cases actually pay for the privilege of offering your hardworking self to work in poor communities, what happens to the local population in their fight for jobs?
And this is before we even touch on more complex issues like cultural appropriateness of buildings, maintenance and upkeep, land titles and whether or not the building is actually what the community itself wants or needs.
GPP intern Luke helped build a community centre in Ramchey, Nepal.
What happens when you leave?
Sub Saharan Africa has experienced horrendous loss of life, destruction of communities, lost inter-generational knowledge and so much more due to the AIDS epidemic. Millions of children have been left without parents and orphanages are common. They’re common, too, in South and South East Asia, and a lot of them are run by foreign charity groups.
Orphanages often seek the help of volunteers to look after the children, for some this is the only way they stay in business. In exchange for room and board, volunteers work in the orphanage day and night, sometimes for two weeks, sometimes for two years.
Can you imagine what this is like for the children?
A constant stream of new faces. Constant uncertainty. Detachment. Short term relationships and the knowledge that everyone leaves eventually. And we haven’t even touched on the quality of education, child protection, and the destruction of local social bonds orphanages foster.
The reality is that families and communities are generally great at stepping in and looking after their own, albeit with outside support of services where necessary. And many children in orphanages aren’t even orphans. Of course there are cases where there really is no one to look after a child, but these cases are rare, and orphanages disempower communities and often do more harm than good to the very children they are trying to protect.
This is people’s lives we’re talkin’ about here
Would you let your children be educated by the lovely teenager down the street rather than go to school? Do you want your house built by someone with a degree in global economics, or nursing, or communications, in two weeks? My guess is no – and neither do people in poor communities.
What am I saying in this post?
That short term volunteerism often does more harm than good, and it is CRUCIAL you do your research before volunteering your time and money in a developing country, because not all ‘voluntourism’ is bad, but enough of it is to warrant THE SOUNDING OF ALARM BELLS.
No matter how good your intentions are, good intentions are simply not enough. To read more about 'Voluntourism' you can read our previous posts.
Lyrian Fleming is a writer focussing on development issues. She has worked for CARE Australia, The Wilderness society and others as well as writing for Oxfam, trespass magazine and blogs on journalism, twitter and women's empowerment.
In Pakistan there has been some tragic deaths by militants against health workers serving life saving polio vaccines. Nadeem blogs on these killings and why we need to speak out to help end polio once and for all.
Polio is a very infectious disease which attacks the nervous system, causing paralysis and in the most severe cases, death. Its effects are irreversible and those affected, who are often the most marginalised in communities, are left permanently disabled.
I remember my granddad, who was a pharmacist in Kenya after the war, told me stories of polio plaguing the world in the 1930 to the 1950s. It caused widespread fear and mass panic to the point that schools were closed down and people locked themselves away in their homes. There was even a surge in manufacturing for crutches as people lost their ability to walk.
Skip to the present day and happily we are a stone’s throw away from eradicating this terrible disease for good. Polio now only exists in 4 countries: Nigeria, Afghanistan, Chad and Pakistan and there is a big push going on to supply vaccinations to eliminate it from those countries too.
That was until news broke last month that in Pakistan health workers have been attacked and killed by militants purely because they were administering these vaccinations. One of the first headlines of 2013 was another story of seven charity workers shot dead. This devastating news was followed by the announcement that the UN and WHO have now had to suspend polio campaigns across Pakistan abandoning a new generation to this disease.
As a Pakistani Muslim living in the UK, I have been sickened by this story and even more so that it has been justified in the name of my religion. There is no room in Islam, the faith that teaches us to love our neighbours, care for sick and to tend to the poor, for these barbaric and ignorant acts. The Qur’an teaches us that “if anyone saves a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind.” I would like to see the Muslim community in the UK, and particularly the Pakistani diaspora, taking a leading role in raising awareness about how vaccinations are a safe, cost effective way to end polio.
There have been some amazing successes so far because of vaccinations - we have completely eradicated small pox and diphtheria, and measles are rare and unheard of in today’s world. We are so close now and we cannot afford to let the momentum slow down. Just imagine that historic day when the world will unite in celebration because polio no longer exists! Let’s join together and make it happen.
This blog was originally published by Nadeem Javaid for MADE in Europe.
This week saw an interesting and lively debate in the House of Lords on recent developments in the European Union. While Members’ contributions were varied and focused on a range EU issues, I chose to highlight the impact of the Union as a driving force for poverty reduction and peace in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries.
All too often, debates on the EU have centred on the actual material or parochial political benefits of being at the tables of the European Council. Yet such a narrow understanding of the spirit of the Union risks missing the crux of the debate completely. Simply put, the EU question boils down to whether we want to live in isolation as the United Kingdom, or whether we want to live as part of a group of nations that work together - not only in their internal interests but externally too.
Of course, the EU is far from perfect. From an excessive bureaucracy, through the imperfect Lisbon Treaty, to the current Euro crisis, it is clear that there exists a dire need for reform within the EU. But the Union also has its benefits. The single market has propelled trade and has been balanced by many social benefits; the EU has had a global impact on the environment, trade and development; and the EU has played a pivotal role in advancing peace across the continent in the aftermath of World War II and through enlargement to the East. The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU earlier this year was a much-needed reminder of just how far we have come. In the areas of Justice and Home Affairs, and the Economy, as well as in the area of External Relations, there is a strong case for pooled sovereignty in today’s world. And that sometimes has to be backed up by laws passed at the European level. The UK Government and others should show more leadership in making that case to the people of Britain, not shy away from it.
The current battle over the EU Budget risks consequences for the Official Development Assistance of EU states. But, whoever is responsible for the current financial crisis and EU overspends, it is not those who live in the poorest parts of Africa, Latin America or Asia, and who currently benefit from the EU aid budget. The UK has made a proposal to freeze the budget, and I sympathise with that view. But if cuts are made proportionately across all budgets, there will of course be an impact on the aid expenditure as well. The President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy recently made an outrageous proposal, suggesting that cuts to the EU aid budget should be disproportionately high in comparison with cuts to other departments, in order to avoid cuts to the subsidies and the waste that goes on in the departments for which he and President Barroso are responsible.
Not only is this morally wrong, it is also illogical. In the UK, every penny that we take out of the EU aid budget will simply have to be re-routed to our own DfID budget. We have committed to the 0.7% international target irrespective of what agencies, departments and organisations such funds are channelled through. Other countries will have to follow suit and do the same thing with their national budgets since the EU spend contributes to national aid and development assistance targets. The only countries to benefit will be those that want to avoid international obligations. And poor people will pay with their lives.
A review of UK aid signals that engaging with the EU on development matters works. DfID and the former Secretary of State, Mr Mitchell, undertook a Multilateral Aid Review in 2011 which, in an objective evaluation that saw funding withdrawn from a number of multilateral organisations, showed that the European Development Fund’s performance was strong in meeting the UK’s aid objectives. In having organisational strengths to use that money effectively, the Fund was considered to be strong, and it was more likely than most to change and reform. It would be a terrible signal if in a year when the G8 comes back to the UK we were leading on a budget initiative that slashes the EU aid budget, depriving the world’s poorest of essential humanitarian assistance and the development investment that helps create growth.
I urge our Government to take a strong stand. Political leadership is not only about tactics. It is not only about trying to get the better of the other parties in relation to a referendum. It must also be about vision: setting out a case for our role in the world and in Europe, working out how the two go together, and understanding how we can then make the best use of them. Now is the time for the Government and the Opposition to be bucking the popular trend of euroscepticism, and leading Britain to a new level of engagement fit for the 21st century.
This is a guest blog, originally published here. The author, Lord McConnell, was the youngest and longest serving First Minister of Scotland. He is now a Labour life peer.
*Image credit: European Council
The Global Poverty Project is deeply saddened by the news today that five polio vaccinators have been killed in Karachi, Pakistan and condemn the multiple attacks responsible for this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the vaccinators' families, as well as to the children who are right now being denied access to basic health services and interventions, to which they should be entitled to.
The vaccinators had been working to protect children in their community against polio as part of a three-day vaccination round. It follows a similar incident yesterday, in which a male polio vaccinator, also in Karachi, was killed.
It is important to note that no one has yet come forward to claim responsibility for the attack. Investigations continue and the vaccination round has been suspended in Karachi.
The loss of these polio heroes serves as a reminder of the bravery and dedication of the men and women who work under such insecurity, many as volunteers, to ensure that Pakistan’s children can be safe from this debilitating disease.
The best way we can honour their sacrifice is to ensure that all children in Pakistan receive basic health services and that polio is finally eradicated from Pakistan. To that end, the Global Poverty Project is committed to supporting global polio eradication efforts wherever it can.
Please direct enquiries through to Michael Sheldrick at michael.sheldrick (at) globalpovertyproject.com or on +61 411 513 931.
You never hear anyone talking about scurvy any more unless they’re telling a bad pirate joke. Scurvy, usually associated with long sea journeys of centuries past, has gone by the way side because we now know that sufficient vitamin C can prevent it. But the history of its disappearance is a storied tale that has important lessons for public health today.
During the era of the great naval explorations, literally boatloads of sailors would die of scurvy during those long periods at sea. When Vasco de Gama sailed around the Cape of Good Hope in 1497, he lost 100 of his 167 sailors to scurvy. They knew they had scurvy by a sense of malaise and lethargy followed by spots on the skin, jaundice, losing teeth and eventually death. As the story goes, in 1601, the British Navy Captain James Lancaster ran a study between his ships that were sailing from England to India. The crew members on one of the four ships got lemon juice every day. I’m sure you know the ending of this story—40% of the crew members on the other three ships without the lemon juice died of scurvy, but none of the crew getting the lemon juice got scurvy.
Captain Lancaster had discovered a miracle! A simple intervention that can save lives. And what happened with this new found knowledge? Besides its early adoption by James Cook, one of history’s greatest explorers, unfortunately, it sat on a shelf for almost 150 years until a Navy physician, James Lind, did the experiment again– public health’s first randomized controlled trial. And yes, with the same result.
Did this irrefutable evidence then lead to the immediate adoption of lemon juice by all sailors of the high seas? Well, it took another 48 years until the British Navy finally decided to make citrus part of the diet on ships, and then another 70 years to be brought to merchant marine vessels and actually become part of the British preventive policy.
All said and done, it took 264 years to get lemons, limes and oranges to sailors. It is mind boggling to think about the lost time, health and lives simply because of the disconnect between evidence generation, knowledge sharing, and behavior adoption.
I would like to say that we have learned from the great British navy how not to introduce a new health intervention. But, unfortunately, health care is still notoriously slow to gain new knowledge and actually put it to use.
One example is Kangaroo Mother Care, when a mother wraps her baby to her chest, skin-to-skin, to provide warmth, love and breast milk. It’s a very simple method that has been proven time and again to save premature newborns, those born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Holding a baby skin-to-skin promotes breastfeeding, reduces neonatal infection, and significantly improves the odds of survival. Recent estimates suggest that if we could scale up this behavior worldwide, the lives of 450,000 preterm infants would be saved each year.
The benefits of Kangaroo Mother Care have been recognized since it was first introduced in 1978. That was 34 yearsago, and doctors, nurses, midwives, frontline workers, and moms around the world still do not know about this lifesaving method. It’s only practiced with any consistency in a few countries (South Africa, Malawi, Brazil and Colombia). And there are no clear indicators to even measure the coverage and quality of care.
Why is this great intervention so underutilized? Some doctors prefer complicated technology, calling Kangaroo Mother Care inferior and not appropriate for hospitals. Some health administrators don’t even know it exists. Family members may not believe it works or are nervous to be holding such a tiny baby so closely. It is also a major commitment—most babies should be continuously held, making it difficult for the caregiver to carry on with other life activities.
But the evidence is clear: preterm babies have a better chance of survival if held skin-to-skin.
Which boat would you rather be on? If we go back to scurvy and Captain Lancaster’s experiment, I bet the crew members on the ship that got the lemon juice were really happy to be on that ship where their chance of survival was much higher than the others.
Shouldn’t a baby born too soon have that same chance to be on the right boat?
This blog was originally posted on Impatient Optimists, the blog of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.