Free Haircuts for Homeless in NYC: Using your Skills to Give Back

There are numerous ways in which you can give back to your community, donate your time, your money or your skills. One of the main points I have made over the years in my posts about volunteers is how important it is to first think about skills you have and how you can share them.

Whether you like painting or dancing, football or computer science, you can use your talents to help out charity organisations.

I wanted to share some lovely articles I have come across over the past few months as great examples of this.

The first one gave me the idea for this post, a hairdresser in NYC spends his Sundays giving free haircuts to the homeless. A fantastic way to boost their self esteem and feel like a person and not just an invisible homeless person. And a great example of someone who uses their initiative and skills in a creative and thoughtful way to give back to his community.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2730212/Swapping-salon-streets-New-York-City-hair-stylist-transforms-looks-homeless-gives-free-haircuts-day-off.html

It also reminded me of the Cambodian Children’s Painting project, which I discovered when travelling in Sihonoukville in 2009.

http://www.calias.net/#/something-is-changing/cambodian-childrens-painting-project/sihanoukTAN2007hd20

I bought one of the paintings and it is at my Mom’s house in storage (I WILL have a permanent address soon if it kills me!!). I will attach a picture of  it when I next get to open those boxes.

These legendary guys set up a mobile laundromat in the back of their van!!!! http://anonhq.com/two-students-turn-their-van-into-mobile-laundry-car-for-the-homeless/

A photography project;   http://photography.tutsplus.com/articles/giving-something-back-with-photography-10-ways-to-get-started–photo-4897

Social media knowledge;   http://www.nonprofittechforgood.com/

A great HuffPost article;

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tracy-hoover/think-differently-use-you_b_4218983.html

Whatever is it you are good at, you can use that for good.

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VSO: The Volunteer Experts

VSO-logo1I’ve been thinking about adding a section with details on specific organisations. I’m going to start off with an excellent volunteer group- VSO. If you are a skilled professional and you are looking for a way to use your skills and expertise where it is needed most, VSO are a fantastic organisation to get involved with.

A while back, I featured Sarah Naughton, a friend of mine who volunteered in Rwanda a few years ago, in the ” volunteer experiences” section and she described her volunteer placement with VSO. I was really impressed with how Sarah described VSO, and I’ve always been a big fan of how they operate. Here’s why:

– they are dedicated to long term solutions

-they send experts in their fields, to ensure that projects succed

-they ask volunteers to commit for at least 6 months, non of this ” gap year” two week business.

VSO is one of the world largest volunteer networks in the world, and like the UN, they want the best of the best for the projects. They advertise their placements the same way the advertise paid positions and if you want to apply, you will need to send you CV and a covering letter. It is competitive and they want the right person for each position. You must commit to at least 6 months, and fundraise for your trip. This is volunteering done right.

If you cannot commit to a longer term placement overseas, VSO encourage you to volunteer for them at home where you can campaign and fundraise. They have lots of ideas on the website to help get you started.

Do you know another great volunteer group that you would recommend for someone wanting to volunteer overseas? Please comment or e-mail me volunteerasia@hotmail.com

The Plight of Asian Elephants: Volunteering in Thailand

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My first overseas volunteering experience was in Thailand in 2008 at WFFT with Globalteer. It was the beginning of a year travelling and I couldn’t think of a better start to an amazing year. WFFT is an animal rescue centre about 6 hours outside Bangkok, in a beautiful rural area. The grounds themselves are picturesque. It was like living in the middle of the jungle. I was volunteering as part of the group looking after abused elephants in the elephant sanctuary part of the centre. During the day, the elephants stay in an enclosure and are fed and cleaned. They love to eat pineapples and watermelons. At night, they are walked out into the forest to graze and sleep. Every night they need to be left in a different spot in a bid to outsmart poachers who steal elephants for the tourist trade. In the morning, they are walked back to the centre. The morning and evening walks were amazing.

EVERY year without fail, I see people on my Facebook riding elephants on holiday in Thailand and other popular destinations and it breaks my heart. I often post articles to try and deter them but it mostly falls on deaf ears. (More of that willful ignorance I have mentioned before). Its seems people are more interested in having that quintessential elephant ride or tiger or monkey picture than learning about how the animals are treated. In reality, the animals are captured by killing the parents and stealing the young. To train them, they are starved and beaten into submission to break their spirits and once trained are kept in awful conditions.

Elephants in Thailand.  (from Globalteer.org)

There are only around 2,000-3,000 wild elephants in Thailand

When commercial logging was banned in Thailand there was no longer a demand for working elephants and their owners were forced to resort to different ways to make an income. Unfortunately, in many cases, this meant exploiting the elephants for the tourist industry.

The growth of urban areas in Thailand, has seen the elephants natural habitat become smaller and smaller. 

Many elephant owners took their animals to the big cities and today there are many elephants roaming the city streets at night, the dirty, hectic city environment is far from ideal for these elephants, which are by nature forest dwellers.

The noise and traffic causes them considerable stress, not to mention the dangers posed by the traffic.

Every year many elephants are killed or injured in traffic accidents. City elephants are frequently malnourished and do not consume anywhere near the amount of food that they should eat every day just to prevent excretion on the streets.

In the daytime the city elephants are kept hidden away from view in unsuitable locations such as rubbish tips or disused car parks, often without adequate shade and no access to good food, only leaves from city trees intoxicated with pollutants.

Elephants are frequently drugged to keep them calm in the chaotic city environment.

Many city elephants suffer from respiratory diseases as a result of constantly breathing in polluted air and are at risk of standing on broken glass and other debris on the streets leading to infections.

They are not bathed regularly, as elephants should be, and this often leads to skin diseases.

Thailand has a thriving tourism industry. Unfortunately this has been exploited by people wishing to make money by using elephants as ‘entertainment’ and every day hundreds of animals are suffering at the hands of humans purely to make a profit for their owners.

They are forced to perform degrading and unnatural tricks, often being beaten with spike hammers. Kept on chains 24 hours a day, these animals lose their dignity and freedom and merely exist as moneymaking commodities. The elephants are worked hard, often with out shade, and denied the much needed time for eating, drinking and bathing.

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In many ways, this was an eye-opening trip. I met people from all over the world, many of whom were activists and seasoned travelers. I was exposed to a lot of new (to me) ideas which have stayed with me and had a big influence on my politics and lifestyle. Just last year, I met up with one of my friends from WFFT in Amsterdam and had a ball reminiscing about our days walking the elephants.

Ready for your first experience volunteering overseas?

A friend of mine, Cátia Lúcio, shares her experiences at WFFT here.

Volunteer with elephants through Globalteer in Thailand or Cambodia.

International day of the Girl Child and why gender equality is key to ending poverty.

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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 women 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

Plan International

HeForShe

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 volunteerasia@hotmail.com so I can add your organisation to this post.

 

The Damage done by Orphange Tourism

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.

Unicef

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.

Orphanage tourism:

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.

Don’t.

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.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/orphanage-tourism-provides-a-feelgood-moment-but-a-lifetime-of-regret-20130721-2qcgm.html#ixzz2iVit9oIS

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.