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Paying to volunteer is not the answer

by Archives September 8, 2009

TORONTO (CUP) – Today, more than ever, westerners are becoming aware of the plight of those less fortunate than themselves. They are reaching out to do whatever they can to help those who live in developing nations, including paying to volunteer with established non-governmental organizations.
While there’s no doubt in my mind that the intentions of the people who seek to do this are good, the exact impact of their actions upon the communities they wish to help is up for debate. One of the goals of development is to empower local communities through employment. Indeed, what better way is there to establish a better life for the less fortunate than provide them with employment? Fortunately, micro-finance institutions like BRAC are doing just that, helping to empower women and educate the public.
BRAC, formerly known as the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, is an NGO based in Bangladesh that employs a wide range of the people they represent and guides them towards progress. In many cases, villages are not able to keep teachers on their payrolls and many go for months without pay. Village leaders can appeal to BRAC for micro-finance funding and, in most cases, are approved so that those teachers can become salaried BRAC employees.
BRAC is recognized by some as one of the best NGOs to rise out of the developing world, making good use of resources within the country and bettering the society in which they serve.
Westerners who give money to go abroad are essentially taking away what could be vital employment and learning opportunities from those they want to help. It is much more beneficial for communities to earn independence with a little push from micro-finance initiatives to help them educate themselves or rebuild schools than to get a westerner to do it for them.
That is not to say that there will never be a skills gap in local situations; in some cases, there may be a shortage of qualified medical technicians or trained teachers to meet the needs of people within developing countries. There will always be a need for people who are willing to give their time and apply their skills in a setting that requires them. Volunteers will always be needed.
According to many professionals in the development field, it often takes a master’s degree or a medical degree (such as nursing) to get those required and much-needed skills.
Therefore, think hard before you wake up one day and start scouring the web for pay-to-volunteer opportunities. Ask yourself: Do I have the necessary skills to enrich the lives of those I’ll be working for in the best possible manner? Are my skills required? Do I know exactly where my money going?
If you feel incredibly passionate about committing your time abroad, ask the organization you’ll be volunteering with where your money will be going and exactly how you’ll be helping the community.
If the organization is only in it for the money, as many might be, and does not value a prospective volunteer, they are certainly not worth your time and effort. You should look into the many opportunities to volunteer or intern offered by the Canadian International Development Agency. Although it is highly competitive because thousands of Canadians apply for a limited number of positions every year, it has good intentions and is among the safest options.
The most important consideration is not take valuable opportunities away from those who need them most by paying to volunteer with organizations that do not value you, the communities they’re serving or the commitments and sacrifices you’ll be making.

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