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

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 Return of Activism?

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 its a basic human right that we have social housing and affordable housing. Why should we be pushed out of the area because its 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 civilains 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!

Activism consists of efforts to promote, impede, or direct social, political, economic, or environmental change, or stasis.

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!

Ice Buckets; The Good, The Bad and The Viral.

KONY 2012, No Make-Up selfies, The Ice Bucket Challenge. Viral campaigning is gathering speed, and in my opinion, is here to stay whether we like it or not. So, can we make it better?

The Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS is the most recent of these viral campaigns and is causing a lot of debate. Despite its shortcomings (which I will discuss), I think its a great campaign. It has really gotten people talking, not only about ALS but also about the water crisis, animal testing, fundraising in general, and a whole host of other diseases. And while I am pretty tired of seeing a million new videos posted every time I check my phone, I am happy that these are the things we are talking about on social media at the moment and not trashy celebrity gossip. I don’t care who Taylor Swift is dating or which sports star is the latest in a cheating scandal but I DO care about fundraising, medical research and anything a regular Joe can do to make a positive difference in the world.

Some ALS Facts

(www.alsa.org)

  • ALS is not contagious.
  • It is estimated that ALS is responsible for nearly two deaths per hundred thousand population annually.
  • Approximately 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year. The incidence of ALS is two per 100,000 people, and it is estimated that as many as 30,000 Americans may have the disease at any given time.
  • Although the life expectancy of an ALS patient averages about two to five years from the time of diagnosis, this disease is variable and many people live with quality for five years and more.  More than half of all patients live more than three years after diagnosis.
  • About twenty percent of people with ALS live five years or more and up to ten percent will survive more than ten years and five percent will live 20 years. There are people in whom ALS has stopped progressing and a small number of people in whom the symptoms of ALS reversed.
  • ALS occurs throughout the world with no racial, ethnic or socioeconomic boundaries.
  • ALS can strike anyone.
  • The onset of ALS is insidious with muscle weakness or stiffness as early symptoms. Progression of weakness, wasting and paralysis of the muscles of the limbs and trunk as well as those that control vital functions such as speech, swallowing and later breathing generally follows.
  • There can be significant costs for medical care, equipment and home health caregiving later in the disease.  It is important to be knowledgeable about your health plan coverage and other programs for which your may be eligible, including SSA, Medicare, Medical and Veteran Affairs benefits.

The Ice Bucket Challenge

The Ice Bucket Challenge began in June in the US and the original rules are; if you are nominated you have 24 hours to dump a bucket of iced-water over your head and donate $10 to ALS research., you then get to nominate three more people to take part. The video is shared on social media (usually Facebook). If you choose not to do the ice bucket, you must donate $100 to ALS research. The rules have varied from country to country. Some people are donating to a charity of their choice rather than ALS.

TONS of celebrities have jumped on board and played a key role in making this such a huge campaign. And there have been so many funny and creative ones keeping the momentum going.

The Debate

Having worked as a fundraiser in a few different environments, my experience is that the general public is living in a state of willful ignorance( some may call it bliss…..). Our media loves to use scare tactics, and shock value and we have become exhausted and apathetic to a lot of it. In saying that, when confronted with a worthy cause, people’s innate goodness becomes apparent and most have a genuine desire to do good. I worked for an NGO in Brisbane talking to people about donating all day long for months and 80% of people were interested, heart-broken and genuinely moved by the horrible facts. And most of them agreed that we should all be doing a little bit more.

Facebook, and social networks in general are built around narcissism and self promotion. Look at how good I look, I’m on an awesome vacation, here is my cute baby or my cute dog, here are 1000 examples of my cooking skills, here are my gorgeous friends, my nights out, my house etc etc (I am guilty of most of these for sure). Campaigns like this use that to shed light on their cause, and it’s effective. Social networking is a powerful tool, and I see no harm in using it for good every once in a while instead of the usual stream of cat videos and Buzzfeed quizzes (I’m also guilty of these). I know that some people think we should all donate quietly and not have any glory but, why not look at it from a different angle. Its not about “glory” its about spreading the message! the more people who watch, the more people who donate. Then its not only your $10 but also the people who you have inspired or motivated to do the same. If you don’t tell them, they will just spend their time scrolling through mindless crap all day. I was one of the first to criticize The “no make-up selfie” but then learned that it raised millions for breast cancer awareness. I am well aware that not everyone who posts a video or selfie is putting their money where their mouth is, but enough to raise millions that wouldn’t have otherwise been raised, do.

There are so many ways in which we get caught up in our own lives and the stresses of the daily grind that it is easy not to think of the suffering of others. And we need to be reminded. What better way to do that than our beloved cell phones and tablets? The element of fun makes it more appealing AND we don’t have to endure the “emotional porn”. (I will be writing another post about that very soon so watch this space…..).  I think the days of “oh look at this poor unfortunate soul” have been worn out.

However, there is no such thing as a perfect fundraiser. In the case of the Ice Bucket Challenge, the main issues I  have seen people have are concerns about wasting water, and the fact that ALS research still uses animal testing.

First of all, to the people who point out these negatives right away and totally dismiss the campaign as a result, I would like to ask you a few questions. Do you know how many other medical research projects use animal testing? Do you use make-up or cleaning products that have been tested on animals? Do you eat meat that comes from factory farms? Do you wear leather? Or, are you just looking for a reason to hate this style of fundraising?

Do you have a pool? Water your plants? Have long showers? Or again, are you just looking for a way to judge this challenge?

I am not dismissing these concerns at all, they are very valid. I have just seen a lot of comments that look more like “haters” than legitimate concern or constructive criticism.

On the flipside, I have also seen people use sea water, or pool water in place of clean drinking water and I have seen one or two people donate to water sanitation programmes in addition to their ALS donation. See? Constructive criticism is a good thing and helps improvement!

As for animal testing, that is a more complicated issue and one that I do not know enough to comment much on. I think animal testing is awful and disgusting and I regularly Google products to see if they are testing on animals so that I can make informed decisions about my purchases. I encourage everyone to do the same. I really hope that we can make more headway in that area and I’m glad that it has been pointed out. As far as I know, other research projects have moved on to more sophisticated and cruelty-free testing methods, and here’s hoping with all that extra money ALS research will be able to follow suit.

Every cause/charity gets its 15mins. It’s always something different being highlighted in the media. Some more often than others, and that is the nature of the beast. Constructive criticism is healthy and helps improve fundraising campaigns but I think that it is a little bit easy to focus on the negatives rather than the positives. This challenge is fantastic for ALS and it’s not really doing any damage to other causes. Maybe some people will choose ALS this year for their donation budget who would have supported something different last year. That already happens. Unfortunately, all causes are constantly competing for funds.

Why Volunteer?

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It may come as a surprise to you but I get asked, often, “why do you volunteer?, what do you get out of it?”.

Its not about what I “get out of it”. Its not about me. Its about helping people who need help. Simple as that. When people are interested in volunteering, I never advise them to do it because it is “rewarding” or “enriching”. I don’t think other peoples struggles should be seen as an opportunity to enrich your own life. Of course, volunteering does bring you a great feeling of accomplishment and is a very rewarding thing to do, that is just not my personal motivation for doing it. I volunteer because awful things happen to people living in poverty (and animals and the enviornment) and I simple can’t sit around and pretend I don’t know about it. Someone has to to something, and I am that someone. It makes me mad to think that people volunteer to simply boost their CV or tick something off their bucket list. But whatever your motivation, get out there and do some volunteer work. You will not be sorry!! Some of my best friends and favourite people are people I met while volunteering.

Money will always be needed by NGO’s and non-profits and donations keep their programmes running but many also rely on volunteers. Whereas some of the bigger NGO’s can afford to pay all their full time staff, they still need volunteers to fundraise and become involved in campaigns and projects. Many smaller NGO’s rely more heavily on volunteers, some operating 100% on volunteers.

There are so many ways in you can volunteer your time and talents. You can volunteer overseas and at home. From walking dogs who live in a pet shelter, to doing a charity run, using your expertise to advise and consult (IT advise is a great example of this). You can get out in your community and plant trees, clean up public areas. You can volunteer at hospitals, support helplines. You can get involved in sports clubs. The list is endless, and there are so many fun options!

(for more information on the types of volunteer work you can do overseas, see my article “Making Your Time as a Volunteer Count“)

International Volunteer Day is December 2013. Whether its an hour, and afternoon, a weekend, or longer, get out there and do some volunteer work!!!

Trafficking in Asia: Modern Day Slavery

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The Little Rose Shelter helps girls who have been sexually abused or trafficked, or who were in high risk situations. I wanted to research trafficking in Vietnam to see how big the problem is. What I found was pretty shocking. Human trafficking is the third most profitable illegal activity, right after drugs and arms dealing, and business is booming.

The Facts

-An estimated 2.5 million people are in forced labour (including sexual exploitation) at any given time as a result of trafficking

56% are in Asia and the Pacific

10% are in Latin America and the Carribbean

9.2% are in the Middle East and Northern Africa

5.4% are in sub-Saharan countries

10.8% are in industrialised countries

8% are in transition in countries

-161 countries are affected by trafficking

-the majority of victims of trafficking are between 18-24 years old

-an estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked every year

-95% of victims experienced physical and/or sexual violence during trafficking

-43% of victims are used for forced commercial exploitation, of whom 98% are women and girls

-32% are used for forced economic exploitation, of whom 56% are women and girls

-In 46% of cases, the victims knew their trafficker

-Estimated global annual profits made from human trafficking are US$31.6 billion

-In 2006 there were only 5,808 prosecutions and 3,160 convictions worldwide. This means that for every 800 people trafficked, only one person was convicted.

(data from UN)

Trafficking in Vietnam

Vietnam is known as a “source country” for women and children trafficked for sexual exploitation and labour. This means the women are “sourced” here and then exported to other countries. They are often trafficked to China, Cambodia and other surrounding countries. Some men and women actually migrate willingly and legally for work and subsequently face forced labor and debt bondage. “Domestic trafficking” is also a huge problem in Vietnam, where victims are lured from their rural towns into the city in hopes of a job which will enable them to send money home to their families. Vietnam is also a destination country for Cambodian children trafficked for forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. Vietnam, as well as many South East Asian countries is fast becoming a popular destination for pedophiles, with from all around the world coming here.

Between 2004 and 2009, Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) reported nearly 3,000 Vietnamese victims of human trafficking.Traffickers prey on the poorest and most desperate of families, they sell them promises of money, jobs, and a better life and parents send their children with them clinging to the hope that their children will have a better life than they did. Traffickers are skilled liars, and they know how desperate these people are to believe.

Unfortunately, the government response has been to  focus on “awareness” rather than more action on the ground actually rescuing trafficking victims. So many organisations consider this kind of rescue work too dangerous. The result being that many kids remain to be held hostage in factories and brothels.

Someone who IS on the ground, is Michael Brosowski who runs Blue Dragon, an NGO based in Hanoi that has rescued more than 300 kids from trafficking since their doors opened in 2005.Once rescued, they are brought to the Blue Dragon centre to speak with a social worker. They are provided with a place to stay, food and access to education and training. Michael originally came to Vietnam to teach English but quickly recognised the plight of street kids and wanted to help so he set up his own NGO. Blue Dragon has become very well know in Vietnam due to their hands on approach and phenomenal results. In a short number of years, they have sent 2,686 kids back to school and training, provided accommodation to 153 girls and boys and so much more. To read more about Michael and the Blue Dragon you can check out their website, http://www.bluedragon.org.

Street Kids in Vietnam

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Traveling and volunteering in SE Asia, you will frequently come across street kids.

Every night on Bui Vien street two little boys breathe fire for tips, tiny little girls sell chewing gum as their mothers or older sisters watch from the road urging them to smile and entertain the drunken tourists giving them a peck on the cheek or a high five. They are being trained at a young age to give rich westerners whatever they want so you get paid. Its sickening and heartbreaking to watch.

A couple of evenings ago, I was sitting at a street restaurant drinking a beer and having dinner when a little boy came over begging. I always say no to street sellers and beggars, especially those with young kids, or kids themselves. This kid accepted that right away and then hopped on a scooter to chat! One of the other guys at the table played hakey sack with him and helped him practice his numbers in English. Then he went back to his perch on the scooter for a rest. A woman came out to mover her scooter. The kid jumped off the scooter they were getting out and straight into my lap. An eleven year old boy. I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable and as if it was completely inappropriate but I also knew this kid trusted me and just wanted some affection. 11 years old can mean many different things in different cultures and social groups, but this was a child, a young child, only concerned with playing games and having fun. He was clearly tired, and homeless. He told me in broken English “no mama, no daddy”. That was all I knew of his circumstance. I have no idea how long he has been on the street, how he survives, who he answers to, what his living conditions are but it was obvious that his childhood innocence was still intact. I asked the lady running the restaurant if she knew him, she said no and then spoke in Vietnamese to him. He quickly hopped up and left, disappeared into the crowd.

I can’t help but feel like I should have done something to help, but I don’t even know where I would begin!

Kids end up on the street for many reasons. They run away from abusive parents/guardians. They migrate from rural areas to get a job and send money home. Some are orphans. Some come to the city looking for a better life and fall through the cracks.

Street kids are some of the most vulnerable people in our societies. They are often taken advantage of by adults, especially adults who offer to take care of them. Many become shoe-shine boys or sell sunglasses, lighters and even drugs. But none of these items yield a high profit and some boys will end up selling themselves, maybe begin to take drugs themselves or drink alcohol. A study released at a conference in Hanoi  said that virtually all street children in HCMC (92.5 percent) have been victims of sexual abuse. The study also found that 98.3 percent of street children in the city have used substances like alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, heroin, meth, adhesive, or even gasoline at least once. As tourists, we see these kids and want to hep but the worst thing you can do is give them money. If they beg and make money, there is no incentive for them to go to school. They will eventually grow up and people are less willing to give older kids/adults money. Parents and “caretakers” will purposely use the youngest, sick or cutest kids to go and beg because people are more inclined to give money to them. The important thing to remember, is that begging is not a behaviour that should be encouraged. If you want to help, eat at restaurants that hire street kids or donate money to rehabilitation centres for trafficked kids. 

There are some fantastic organisations here in Saigon, and all over Vietnam who help street kids, give them a home and training. According to The Street Educators’ Club, the number of street children in Vietnam shrunk from 21,000 in 2003 to 8,000 in 2007. However, despite the success, there are still so many kids out there in need of help. This week Vietnam greeted its 90 millionth citizen into the world!

If you would like to donate, volunteer or learn more about street kids in Vietnam here are three great non-profits giving hope to former street kids. With your support, they can continue to do great work and help even more kids in need.

http://www.bluedragon.org/   http://www.sheltercollection.org/     http://www.sozocentre.com/

Read more;

http://www.thanhniennews.com/index/pages/20131009-vietnam-study-urges-help-to-keep-street-kids-from-sex-abuse-drugs.aspx

http://crs.org/vietnam/getting-vietnams-kids-off-the-street/

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.

Making Your Time As A Volunteer Count

Aid work, volunteering, 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 you 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 care-giver, 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 from 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 NGO’s and charities need to take on teachers with TEFL certs, or experience. Or lacking that, you should 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 NGO’s 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!!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pUYda59wcQ&feature=share&list=UUcwQOn4ggwW6jjmSuQTn7MQ

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 NGO’s 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! NGO’s 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.