Not for this reason, no

Biddle’s stories suggest the industry is built to meet the needs of volunteers, not communities. But the problem is not simply that volunteers are unqualified, the entire industry seems to be an extension of a colonial mindset and with colonial structures of economic and political power.

Because colonialism did actually mean sending someone who knew how to dig drains out to dig drains. The problem with this form of volunteering is that folks who have no damn idea go out there to “help”.

We’ve a Chesterton’s Fence here. So, Voluntary Service Overseas. It is decades back that they stopped taking the unqualified and insisted on sending trained nurses to do nursing etc. So, why did they do that?

8 thoughts on “Not for this reason, no”

  1. “industry where unqualified Western tourists pay to volunteer abroad”

    The key word is “pay”. As long as the host community is getting paid, it doesn’t matter. Volunteer pays $10 a day, of which $2 a day goes to a local to undo the volunteer’s shoddy work. Everybody is happy.

    An improved version would actually train the volunteers in real skills. I’d happily send my kids to an Indonesian village for a summer if it means they come back having acquired some useful life skills.

  2. Rich kids of bien pensants hopping on planes to ‘do good’ amongst the heathen foreigners

    Shouldn’t there be a pressure group against it?

  3. It seems both crazy and racist to believe that a region such as sub-Saharan Africa, where 99% of the population is Magic Black People, could be improved by toxic whiteness and its money.

    If we withdrew all aid for a decade or two, they’d be building vibranium spaceships and who knows what….

  4. My favourite Oxfam story.
    The villagers trudged a mile to draw water from a well. Volunteers decided that what they needed was a well in the village. Strangely, the villagers did not like the idea and refused to help the digging. [cue: stupid Africans, don’t know what’s good for them, how lazy they are, how kind of us to work to improve them]
    Once completed the well attracted mosquitos and the villagers got malaria.

  5. “colonialism did actually mean sending someone who knew how to dig drains out to dig drains.”not sure. Orwell’s killing of a rogue bull elephant. You expect me to sort the situation out for you, and i don’t want to do it, the only thing that makes me want to do it, is that if i don’t do it i have no purpose to you, and actually i don’t believe i do have purpose to you And yet i did it.

  6. Thirty or so years ago, a fellow student went off on Operation RALEIGH to do good works somewhere in southern Africa (think it was Botswana?). At the time, things were a bit unstable, or had become more so than usual, and they had some security provided for them since the wealthy foreigners were a kidnap risk.

    The security were a pair of soldiers or militia types from the local area, well behaved and polite (doubtless picked for that job, but as described they were good guys) armed with FN FAL rifles, which Gary commented on since they were similar (but not quite identical) to the L1A1 rifles our unit still used, accidentally revealing that he – like me – was a Territorial Army weekend warrior. Back then, being “a trained British Soldier” apparently carried some weight and respect…

    Which led to the rather odd situation of Gary being quite strongly encouraged to swap jobs: he ended up sitting about with a loaned rifle “securing the area” while the rifle’s owner, a local gentleman of some strength and – it turned out – skill and enthusiasm, took Gary’s place on the team doing whatever the project was (I think it was building a decent river crossing able to reliably take light motor traffic? Involved metalwork and concrete, non-trivial stuff?) Anyway, as told, the fellow was faster, harder-working, and better at the work than Gary would have been.

    Which did leave Gary (and those he recounted the tale to) wondering, whether the money he’d raised to do RALEIGH so he could turn up and… be an indifferent sentry, would have been better used funding the locals to build the bridge they wanted in the style they desired, without some twentysomething students from Nottingham turning up and getting in the way.

  7. Jason – that’s why I used to contribute to Water Aid – they went to hot countries and taught brown people how to be water engineers. Nowadays they seem to be teaching them that they should love ladycock.

  8. Bloke in North Dorset


    Thanks for prompting a memory. My final project on my Foreman of Signals course in ‘85 was designing and building auto dial /auto answer modems for a Case store and forward message service for an an Op Raleigh.

    Sounds so ancient nowadays 🙁

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