Emma Watson has been widely praised for her recent speech on gender equality as a UN Goodwill Ambassador. And rightly so. Emma is promoting a new initiative called HeForShe which is a call for men to join in and feel included in the conversation about gender equality. Or as she put it, “extend a formal invitation” to join the cause.
In recent years, there have been many campaigns focusing on equal rights and education for girls and women and many studies showing the positive effects equal opportunities for the sexes can have in the fight against poverty.October 11th has been declared the “ International day of the Girl Child” as part of a worldwide initiative by the charity Plan International. I used to fundraise for Plan when I lived in Australia and have been a supporter of their ” Because I Am A Girl” campaign for about five years now.
While extreme poverty is a global issue which affects many demographics, women and girls are still disproportionately affected by poverty and suffer many more injustices, like child marriage, FGM (female genital mutilation), honour killings, rape and domestic abuse and death from complications during pregnancy or childbirth. In many countries across the developing world, women are denied the education and opportunities afforded to their male counterparts.
In the developing world 3 million girls in Africa are at risk of FGM this year.
1 in 3 girls will be married before they turn 18 and 1 in 9 before they reach 15.
Victims of early and forced marriage typically have children very young.
Approximately 70,000 girls die in labour every year because their bodies aren’t ready for childbirth.
Globally, 65 MILLION girls are not in school.
In Africa, 101 million girls aged 10 and over have been subjected to FGM.
Women are in general 14 times more likely to die in a disaster than men
These numbers are absolutely shocking.
From my own experiences volunteering in Asia, it is strikingly obvious that it is a massive disadvantage to be a woman in the developing world. In Vietnam, I volunteered at The Little Rose Warm Shelter, a home for girls who had been or were at risk of being, sexually abused or trafficked. In Cambodia, where I volunteered on two occasions, you didn’t need to look far to see the huge prostitution problem, with girls as young as 11 and 12 walking the streets.
Educating women and empowering them to has proven to be hugely successful where implemented. Educated women marry later in life, have smaller families and they are much more likely to put their own children in school. Their increased literacy and numeracy skills give them better careers and awareness of health issues.
Just one extra year in high school can increase a woman’s salary by between 15 and 25%, and as a knock-on effect, the income of her entire family.
a woman with a better education is more likely to survive childbirth, and her children are more likely to survive early childhood.
girls with a high school education are 6 times LESS likely to be married as children
Volunteering with Women’s Charities
If you are planning to volunteer or donate and want to get involved with charities especially focused on women and girls here are some fantastic organisations to consider;
The Little Rose Warm Shelter, Vietnam
Additionally, if you have volunteered somewhere with a woman’s charity and would like to share your experiences or some advice, please e-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org so I can add your organisation to this post.
As most of you probably know, I am a huge fan of Russell Brand. Huge. It’s the main reason I moved to London actually, to track him down and make him fall in love with me………
Anyway, Russell Brand has a new(ish) YouTube series called The Trews(True News) which I discovered a few months ago in which he analyses newspapers and news broadcasts and sheds some light on the political and economic agendas behind the mainstream media and urges his viewers to question the information they are given. Kind of like Karl Pilkington’s “Bullshit Man”. The most recent episode of The Trews is what inspired me to write this post. In a few of the more recent episodes of The Trews, Russell has called for people to become more active in their communities and to go out and demand that the people in power do better. In today’s episode, Russell meets with a group of women who have been made homeless and as a result decided to occupy perfectly habitable houses which have just been abandoned. When they were made homeless, these London women were told there was housing available for them in cities like Manchester and Birmingham- miles away from their homes and families. Rather that accept this, they have begun to protest and speak out against what they call “social cleansing”. One woman, Jo, put it perfectly when she said “I think that it’s a basic human right that we have social housing and affordable housing. Why should we be pushed out of the area because it’s become gentrified and trendy?”
You can watch the whole thing here; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAjCiXwP46w
The media and government would like to have you believe that many working class people are apathetic towards politics, and that lack of education means they are ignorant. These women prove that is not only untrue but also a very unfair assumption. They were being treated unjustly and unfairly and decided to do something about it. Why doesn’t this happen more often? In recent news though, we are seeing a rise in stories where civilians are becoming more active the issues in their communities. In Ferguson, the riots after the murder of Michael Brown. In Taiwan, the amazing Sunflower Student Movement, which I was lucky enough to witness. And of course, most recently The Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong.
So, it got me thinking about activism in general. It is something I have come across a few times recently while reading articles online and searching for a new job in London. What do you think of when you think about activists? My mind usually conjures up images of suffragettes, students in the 70’s with flowers in their hair, Greenpeace and PETA and people like Martin Luther King. But perhaps a more local and small scale view makes more sense!
Volunteering is just one way to get involved in your community, activism is a whole other ball game.
This might seem like somewhat of a random post, but I do think that activism and volunteerism are related. You see something in your, or someone else’s community, and you want to do something about it. Just my thoughts and I am interested to hear yours!
Yesterday (Sunday) I volunteered in District 9 with Youth Green Collective. It was so nice to get out of the city and get some fresh air. The land is tucked away inside a small Vietnamese village with plenty of coconut trees, banana trees and right on the Dong Nai river.
Green Youth Collective is a small, non-profit with the goal of creating awareness and interest in green and sustainable products and practices in Saigon. Ultimately, the aim of the business is to train local disadvantaged youths to assemble, install, and maintain green roofs, vertical and container gardens.
Their first project however, is a plot of land in district 9, which they will use as their headquarters and for training. “GYC has realized that for all we hope to accomplish, we need a large space to carry out our experiments, demonstrate our products, and educate our future employees. The land in D9 is 6000 square meters, and will be our education center for hands-on learning.This will be a space designed to inspire the youth and anyone who comes to visit. We envision hosting both local and international courses in areas such as permaculture, natural building, natural product making, design, organic gardening, meditation, yoga, traditional crafts, or whatever area someone is motivated to host a course in. The Green Youth will also be trained here, so for a few months before they begin their job of installing our products, they will get hands on experience with the soil, seeds, building, maintaining, planning and designing.”
This is what some of the plans look like;
Its a really interesting and exciting project. I will be really curious to see how things are going in a month, three months, even six months down the line when I am back in Taipei!
Progress so far…..
Imagine the delicious meals you can cook when the all the raw materials you need are growing right in your kitchen!
Yesterday, we started to make the compost heap.
I forgot to take a picture of the first layer, which was dry sticks and branches to keep the compost a little off the ground and let air circulate.
Then repeat! We covered the compost heap with coconut leaves to keep the heat in.
I hope to get out to district 9 again before I leave at the end of this month. Watch this space………
Orphanage Tourism is something I have wanted to talk about for a while.
Recently, Unicef and Friends International have launched a new child safety campaign and it is EXACTLY what I am talking about;
Children Are Not Tourist Attractions.
It is a very powerful image and is being promoted heavily, I hope that it will help create awareness of this disturbing trend, and deter potential travelers from part taking in the exploitation of children.
I first experienced “orphanage tourism” when volunteering in Cambodia in 2008 and since learned that the problem has been rapidly growing since then. So called “orphanages” are popping up all over Cambodia, with an estimated 600 currently, and only 21 of these run by the government. And while Cambodia is without doubt the leader in this huge problem, it exists all over South East Asia. I was sad, but not surprised, to learn that is also becoming a booming business here in Vietnam.
I recently read this great article focusing on orphanage tourism in Cambodia, written by a fellow volunteer and blogger.
What usually happens?
Orphanage tourism can mean visiting an orphanage for a few hours as part of scheduled tour that also includes sightseeing. People read to, play with and photograph the children before hopping back on their bus for the next “life-changing” experience.
Whats the harm?
Most orphanages rely entirely on donations from rich, Western tourists. In so many cases, directors keep children looking dirty and malnourished in order to gain more sympathy, and of course, more money. By donating, tourist’s are merely lining the pockets of the management, and in the worst case scenarios, fueling abuse. Neglecting to properly vet volunteers also leaves the children vulnerable to sexual abuse. Though the (completely misguided) goal is to help, volunteers sometimes confuse their own experiences with that of the children. The emphasis is placed on the volunteer’s emotional response, rather than the effectiveness of the help itself. The “feel-good” factor. In reality, no child benefits from spending intimate time with a total stranger, especially those who are uneducated in social work and education.
In most developed countries this would be a clear violation of children’s rights and there are laws to protect them from such exploitation. Children in developing countries are no different from those in the developed world. They should be afforded the same basic rights.
‘Ask yourself whether a similar situation would be allowed in your own country: busloads of tourists pouring into a children’s home for fleeting visits, being allowed to interact with and photograph the children? No it wouldn’t,’ said Ngo Menghourng, the Cambodia communications officer for the NGO Friends International.
Though Lonely Planet does provide some very good information on how to spot and avoid these types of places , it also has a “Do’s and Don’t of Orphange Tourism” list. My list would be much smaller.
I came across this article in the Sydney Morning Herald while researching for this:
“Orphanage tourism provides a feel good moment but a lifetime of regret. by Jen Vuc”
It is an article written by an Australian woman who, when on holiday in Vietnam, visited one of these orphanages with her husband and children.
This story, in typical fashion, starts out with great intentions. Jen and her husband wanted to teach their children the very valuable lesson that they are fortunate and many of the the worlds children are not. They left with a feeling of unease and looked back at their visit as more of a hindrance than a help.
If you would like to help orphanages in Vietnam but don’t have time to volunteer, cash donations or donations in kind are the most practical. They will always need things like, diapers, bottles, blankets, school supplies, etc. Many tech-savvy organisations will have a list on their website, or you can call and ask what they need. With a little research and pre-planning, your good intentions can actually yield good results.
Aid work, volunteering and development are very complex subjects. At the end of the day, we all have the same goal – to eradicate extreme poverty and to improve the lives of the disadvantaged and vulnerable. If you are thinking about donating or volunteering, you want to know that you are maximising your money and time.
I recently heard the term “voluntourist”. When I first volunteered in Asia 5 years ago, I was on my way to Australia for a working holiday and wanted to travel SE Asia but was a little nervous to go alone. Volunteering was a great option for me at the time; I met fantastic people, saw things off the beaten track, did something worthwhile and had a great time doing it. I didn’t do nearly as much research last time and from what I have seen, most people who volunteer have a similar story. However, as I have gained more experience and knowledge of the complexities of international development, my ideas about volunteering have changed. Of course, I want to see as much of Vietnam (my current location) as I can in my free time and get a good understanding of their culture and people but what is much more important to me is that I would like my time in Saigon to have a lasting effect. I would like to start something or contribute to something that can continue, and grow. The people of Vietnam deserve long-term solutions to poverty and sustainable projects. That’s not to say that short-term volunteer work doesn’t work, of course it does, but there are many important things to consider. I am here for three months; some people come for longer, some for less time. The amount of time you spend here really matters when you choose what kind of work you do. One of the most important things to consider if you are thinking about volunteering is your skills and expertise. What can you share?
I recently met two girls here in Saigon for six months volunteering at an orphanage. I asked them what they do. They said their main role was to care for the children, to play with them and to help the younger kids with them with basic things like changing diapers and feeding time. My immediate thought was, when you leave it will be devastating for the kids who you leave behind. Six months is a pretty long time, especially for very young children and if you are their primary caregiver, they will bond with you very quickly. And then you leave. Then, most likely, someone else comes for one, or two, or six months and another bond is formed. Then another adult who loved and cared for them leaves. It is not fair to the children. As orphans or children who were abandoned by their parents, who may have even suffered abuse, they probably already have issues with trusting adults, and will eventually build up walls and stop trying to get close to people. This is something that devastates me. Children need stability, they need routine, and they need people in their lives who will not leave them after a short time. Now, I’m not suggesting, we all drop our lives and go live in Vietnam, but what I am saying, is that volunteers need to be utilized more effectively and in a way that will not be counterproductive. The permanent, Vietnamese staff should be the primary care givers, the ones who form bonds and trust with the children and the volunteers should have different roles. Maybe a volunteer can be teacher who comes an hour a day, or a couple of times a week, or even a little more often, but in such a way that when they leave, the kids still have their main caregiver and they don’t have their routine upended. So, if an orphanage volunteer placement is something you would like to do, please ask the management about this so that you know you are going an institution who has the children s best interests and welfare at the heart of what they do. An amazing example of this is Allambie, a place where orphans have a real home, and a family. (see my previous post, and their website, www.allambie.co.uk )
Teaching English is just one way to help. As long as the children are getting Vietnamese lessons and a balanced schedule, then teaching is English is great. It will definitely help them to get better jobs. But, I really feel that NGOs and charities need to take on teachers with TEFL certs, or experience. Or lacking that, you should at least have to perform a demo, or be able to show your pre-planned lessons so that it is clear you can do the job well. The thing about teaching English is that it must be built up to and will only be effective when the basic needs of the children/adults have already been met. So, if you are planning to teach English, you must consider whether the organization you choose has already built that up. The people they are helping are healthy, they have food and shelter and stability. Then education is the next step. Of course, just chatting to them in English is also effective so they will likely learn some from you regardless of the type of work you are doing.
If you don’t think teaching is suitable for you, think about your talents and interests as this can be a fantastic way to volunteer! Art projects, I have seen amazing projects set up by artists, photographers and dancers. The sense of pride that one feels when they finish a project and can show it off is such an amazing confidence builder. Art classes, dance class, small performances, these are also creating happy memories and wonderful ways to share your talents. This is a perfect option for short term volunteers and many NGOs will ask whether you have specific talents you would like to share.
This is an example of what I mean! It is a parody of Gangnam Style done by performed by 160 children from the slums of Phenom Phen. I love it!!!
Also, along these lines is sport. Kids love to play sport and a short term sport camp would be an amazing experience for children. It’s great exercise and a lot of fun.
IT and social media is another area where volunteers can make a big difference. Most office staff in NGOs are so busy they don’t have the time or know-how to keep their websites updated. Teaching the staff how to use the internet effectively, how to update blogs and websites will help keep their organisation in the lime light.
Fundraising and event planning is another excellent way to make a real difference.. Fundraising and event planning can be done both from your home country, and wherever you volunteer. If you have experience in sales and marketing, PR, customer service or event planning at home, this is the perfect way for you to make a real difference! NGOs and projects will always need more money, and this way you can use the skills you already have to help them, you can also teach locals and staff the basics so they can continue after you leave. The aim of development is to enable the locals to help themselves.
Volunteers play an integral role in the survival of development projects and do amazing work. My aim is to just help potential volunteers to choose the right project, to maximize their efforts and to avoid any counterproductive activities.