From Charity to Justice: Volunteering and Development Education
Guest Blog by Lindsay Cleary*
There has always been a level of criticism and scrutiny running alongside admiration for people who volunteer overseas. The missionary tradition in Ireland has ensured that many young Irish people have grown up acutely aware of poverty in the Global South. It’s this sense of charity which undoubtedly leads some young people to look into short-term volunteering. The most effective way of turning this sense of charity into a sense of social justice is through development education.
Volunteering overseas without development education is voluntourism. It is voyeuristic, it is egotistical, and it is top-down charity. Here at SERVE we have always strived to provide an experience that is more than building a house or being amazed by the smiling faces of the children in a school. If you are privileged enough to be able to travel to a less developed country, you ought to learn something about the underlying issues of the place, and start to critique your own actions and contribution to global inequality. Having a first-hand educational experience in a developing country should inspire you to create change at home.
In January 2013, SERVE carried out a survey among past volunteers to get a sense of the impact that development education post-departure and in-country has had on them personally.
After taking part in the SERVE Volunteer Programme, there was an average increase of 62% in volunteers’ awareness of development issues such as disability, skills training and education, human rights, food insecurity and malnutrition, issues affecting women and HIV and AIDS. Of course, awareness is one thing, action is another. The majority of participants reported discussing development issues with friends, family or their community on their return, with 60.7% speaking formally about their experience and development issues. In addition, 64.3% of participants have been actively involved in campaigns or initiatives in support of international development. This shows that there really is potential for more dialogue to take place among civil society on development issues.
It is interesting to note that for the majority of people the volunteer experience and the development education programme are equally important. This shows that neither can be treated in isolation and that mainstreaming development education throughout a volunteer experience is an effective way of increasing awareness, getting volunteers to think critically and encouraging active citizenship.
The full results of the survey can be found here
* Lindsay Cleary is Communications Officer with SERVE
[The views in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dóchas]
Entry filed under: NGOs.