In recent years much criticism has been directed at the phenomenon of voluntourism whereby individuals mix foreign holidays with voluntary work for NGOs.

The concern is that projects can become more about the volunteers and their experience than about meeting community needs. Volunteers can displace locals from work, and prevent local skills development, which in turn prevents projects leaving sustainable legacies, without locals possessing the expertise to maintain them when volunteers go.

In particular, volunteerism in orphanages has been harshly criticised. There is consensus amongst experts (such as the Better Care Network, UNICEF and Save the Children) that the orphanage model of child care for vulnerable children, can actually cause more harm than good, with institutionalisation undermining the development of social skills, and failing to prepare children for adulthood. Children in orphanages lack the individual attention and miss out on invaluable experiences that are part and parcel of living with a family. By coming and going, as batches of tour groups, volunteers potentially exacerbate issues with feelings of abandonment.

The Nasio Trust is intentionally set up in a way that avoids these issues. We work in partnership with the communities of Mumias and Musanda, to ensure our projects meet their needs and are sustainable. As an organisation focussed on care for vulnerable children, we recognise the important role families play in the upbringing of the child, and so aim to place orphans within loving families, and provide support to keep vulnerable families together. Support for guardian families is provided in the form of food, education and healthcare, as well as assistance in developing income-generating projects. We match volunteers’ skills in line with these project needs, to ensure that they are able to make a meaningful contribution, first and foremost serving the community.

Compiled from content kindly provided by Oxford University interns:

Alexander Bridge
Ludi Wang
Maya Tikly-Young
Annalise Halsall
Joseph MacConnell
Ella Duffy
Emma Carter
Marta Grabowska

At the Nasio Trust, we believe passionately that volunteering can make a difference to the lives of people in desperate need, however with so many “voluntourism” options available, how do you know you’re choosing the right one?

We don’t have all the answers – but here are 10 essential considerations you should have front-of-mind before you make your choice.

  1. Balance what you want to get against the real needs of your chosen cause
    Volunteering can be a life changing experience that allows incredible cultural insight. However it’s necessary to ensure that volunteering addresses real needs and is done through a responsible organisation.
  2. Make sure you are needed
    A community should agree to the need for volunteers and should define project aims in accord with their real-life needs.
  3. Teachers should be aware…
    Teaching volunteering is perhaps the most popular form of “voluntourism”, but risks displacing local teachers and can be an ineffective means of education due to language barriers. Responsible programmes should use volunteers as assistants to local teachers, aiming to work with and empower them.
  4. Beware of creating a culture of reliance
    A reliance on aid can be dangerous. UNICEF 2011 research highlights increasing numbers of orphanages in Cambodia, despite decreasing numbers of orphans. Poor parents are sending their children to orphanages in the hope they will have more prosperous lives there, but research shows it is typically more beneficial for children to remain with their community/ family. Be sure that your chosen operator is working to break the cycle of poverty that is the root cause of the need for volunteers.
  5. Ensure building projects are viable
    Building projects that leave a tangible legacy can change lives. But there are documented examples where schools have been built in areas that do not have sufficient teachers to staff them. Make sure the operators you support have genuine local knowledge and have done the background work. Keep an eye out for notable involvement of the local community too. Responsible operators will always seek to retain as many local people as possible.
  6. Medical volunteers should work to transfer knowledge & skills
    Healthcare volunteering can be particularly beneficial. The skills and expertise necessary to tackle health issues are often in scarce supply in the developing world. It is important that volunteering health workers go with the mind-set of improving local provision and passing on their skills, to avoid creating dependency.
  7. Are you really skilled enough to assist on a project?
    A good question to ask – would you perform the role on your volunteering project in your own country? This helps to clarify whether you will actually be able to deliver a meaningful service. Contact us for advice at any time.
  8. Follow the money
    Volunteers should always be aware of how much money actually goes to helping people, and seek out projects where more money reaches the people who need it. Seek out transparency in financial matters. Remember all charities must publish their finances publicly every financial year.
  9. Will you be properly supported during your trip?
    Responsible volunteering organisations should provide you with clear information and training for what you will be doing. Ideally some teaching of local languages will take place. Volunteers should also aim to research the culture of the area they will be working in – respect for cultural values will aid integration and help projects make a positive. Prior understanding of development issues will also prevent a superficial view of poverty being taken away from the experience.
  10. What’s the long term plan?
    Ideally organisations should have in place plans for sustainability when volunteers leave.
    The best charities will always be seeking to make the aid they provide redundant in the areas they work by creating sustainable income streams, and renewable resources.

For more information about volunteering opportunities with the Nasio Trust, contact us now.

Compiled from content kindly provided by Oxford University interns:

Alexander Bridge
Ludi Wang
Maya Tikly-Young
Annalise Halsall
Joseph MacConnell
Ella Duffy
Emma Carter
Marta Grabowska

This article was originally printed on the fantastic

Much has been published criticising the phenomenon of ‘voluntourism’, whereby individuals (often students) mix foreign holidays with voluntary work for NGOs.

With social media littered with images of westerners hugging young African children, it is easy to appreciate why critics accuse voluntourism of trivialising poverty, treating it as a spectacle, rather than a complex issue that needs to be treated seriously. Often, as J.K. Rowling lambasted in a series of tweets in 2016, voluntary projects seem to be more about providing CV enhancing experiences for volunteers than about improving the lives of the supposed benefactors. More fundamentally though, there’s the danger that reliance by charities on overseas volunteering can in fact thwart long run development. Volunteers can displace locals from potential jobs, and in doing so prevent skills development within communities, potentially harming project sustainability. For instance, using volunteers to install a bore hole pump is likely inferior to a charity enlisting and enabling locals to build it themselves. Training locals instead of volunteers creates locally based knowledge and avoids the cultivation of a dependency culture.

Criticism has been particularly focused on the many projects that see Westerners volunteer in orphanages. There is consensus amongst experts (such as the Better Care Network, UNICEF and Save the Children) that the orphanage model of child care for vulnerable children can actually cause more harm than good, with institutionalisation undermining the development of social skills and failing to set children up for adulthood. Children in orphanages lack the individual attention and miss out on everyday experiences that are part and parcel of living with a family. Despite this, a 2011 UNICEF report on Cambodia suggested that despite falling numbers of orphans, worringly, the amount of residential institutions has increased. Underlying this is a rise in children with living parents being placed in care; a study by Kevin Browne estimates that 4 out of 5 children placed in institutional care worldwide have at least one living parent. Attracted by the lucrative business opportunity of Westerners paying to ‘help’ these children, developing world orphanages have been guilty of pressurising impoverished parents to place their children in care. Thus while Save the Children’s 2009 report on childcare worldwide concluded that institutional care should be viewed as a last resort, voluntourism in Cambodia was cited in UNICEF’s studies as perpetuating this dangerous model. Voluntourism also serves to worsen problems within orphanages, with the coming and going of volunteers increasing feelings of abandonment.

Bad press for overseas volunteering seems to be feeding into the student attitudes at Oxford. Oxford Development Abroad, a society founded in 2002 which organises volunteering work abroad for Oxford students has seen a marked decline in applications for its projects in recent years. I feel this is a shame. Whilst the criticisms propounded in the media have validity, they don’t apply universally. If steps are taken to ensure projects are responsibly designed and managed, voluntary services can be hugely beneficial to recipient communities. As students, we are more likely to be endowed with time and skills than disposable income, and so are legitimately drawn to volunteering versus purely donating money. It also remains the case that volunteering abroad can give greater perspective on the challenges that the developing world faces. This is particularly relevant to Oxford students, many of whom will find themselves in influential positions in later life, able to affect the deeper systemic change required to tackle poverty at its roots.

The question is, therefore, how to find responsible volunteering projects. A number of organisations such as the International Ecotourism Society and Comhladh in Ireland, have published codes of best practice for NGOs using volunteers. Would-be volunteers should seek out organisations that fulfil these criteria: NGOs should only involve volunteers in projects that have been requested by recipient communities. This makes it more likely that a community will engage with the work of an NGO, promoting sustainability. Responsible NGOs should only use volunteers in cases where there is a definite advantage to doing so; volunteers shouldn’t be employed where a task can be performed satisfactorily by locals. Using volunteers can be particularly valuable when local skills are lacking. For instance, medical expertise and training is incredibly scarce in parts of rural Africa. Volunteers from abroad with these skills (such as medical students) can help meet acute needs. In these cases, volunteers should possess a willingness to pass on their skills, promoting self sufficiency in the long run. In providing free labour, volunteers might also enable projects that would be too costly or time consuming for communities to undertake themselves, with immediate subsistence being the primary preoccupation in many places. Charities should be transparent in their use of funds; as a volunteer you want to be sure that money you raise goes to the community and isn’t consumed as profit or administration costs. Charities should insist on volunteers being appropriately qualified and provide training where necessary; organisations should ensure volunteers are actually capable of meeting community needs. Organisations that work with vulnerable children should maintain high safe guarding standards.

Many organisations are responsible. Global Vision International is an example of an NGO supplying volunteering for a large number of projects, that specifies that projects must be instigated on community request. A smaller scale organisation Little Big Africa (LBA), based in Eastern Uganda also meets these criteria and has historically hosted volunteers from Oxford (including myself) via Oxford Development Abroad. Working for LBA, the emphasis was on empowering the community to take itself forward. As volunteers we spent nearly 2 months living in the village of Bushika in Uganda, which had requested LBA’s help. Upon arrival we met a man named James in his early 20s, who was unemployed. He asked if we could pay him to work for us during our stay, but unfortunately, this wasn’t possible. However, through one of LBA’s schemes, by the time we left James had found employment. In rural Uganda most people continue to cook on traditional open fires – due to fairly regular afternoon rain, this usually happens inside. Combined with poorly ventilated clay brick houses, this creates an incredibly smoky living environment. As a result, lung disease is a common affliction in rural Uganda (the subject of a 2015 study published in the Lancet). To tackle this, LBA uses volunteers to spread knowledge of how to build smokeless stoves. James was one of the individuals we trained whilst in Bushika, and he now intends to build these stoves as a business.

The Nasio Trust is another organisation that in the past has harnessed the efforts of volunteers from Oxford for good, focusing on improving the lives of vulnerable children. Nasio works in Western Kenya, in the communities of Mumias and Musanda, both of which are close to the main transit route between the Kenyan port of Mombasa, and landlocked Uganda. Because of the large number of haulage workers passing through the area, the area has historically had high levels of prostitution and HIV, leaving many children missing parents. Aware of the potential harm done by the institutionalisation of children, Nasio has developed a different model of support. Nasio facilitates the adoption of orphaned children by extended family members, and aims to support families with a single parent, to keep them together where possible. It does this by providing foster families with food, access to healthcare and education. It also seeks to tackle the problem of HIV at source by providing alternative means of income for the community; it has introduced farming of the valuable health food spirulina. The organization employs 49 people within Kenya; volunteers undergo a full orientation briefing upon arrival, and are given tasks that relate to their skills.

There are clearly responsible volunteering opportunities out there; it is the responsibility of prospective volunteers to search for them.

Trying to describe the 6 weeks I spent in Kenya to people when I came home was actually very difficult without having a good 3 hours to spare. Not only was it the most incredible 6 weeks I have had in my life, but also it taught me many life lessons.

Kenya gave me such a rush, it was the feeling of getting up in the morning not knowing where the day could end up, and the chance to see something completely out of the ordinary.

From elation, sadness, delight and relief, these were just some of the emotions that I went through on my trip. I was able to experience Kenya and the trip made me realize how fortunate I am and as well as giving me the opportunity to see and do many things I never thought I would get the chance to do, and for this I have to give all thanks to the charity. Personally, Kenya gave me such a rush, it was the feeling of getting up in the morning not knowing where the day could end up, and the chance to see something completely out of the ordinary. There were some days that had me close to tears due to witnessing the harsh reality these communities are faced with. However, there were certainly more days than not that I would describe as one of the best days of my life.

If I had to tell you what the best part of the charity is its simple, for me it’s the best part about Kenya, it was the best part about my trip and it was certainly what made me the happiest every day I spent with the charity, the children. I found that what little they have they cherish, and with the ambition and dedication they have been given from The Nasio Trust, they are only going to succeed. Not only were they happy, friendly and polite but the more time you spent with them the bigger the connection you would have and the more you wanted to get to know all about them. The Nasio Trust, in my eyes, gives people of all ages, ethnicities and nationalities a chance to come together and change things for good and for me I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

With the ambition and dedication they have been given from The Nasio Trust, they are only going to succeed

I can’t thank the staff of the Nasio Trust enough for making the trip possible but also helping me to get fantastic experiences out of my time there. There are too many individuals to mention but without all of them working together a lot of my trip wouldn’t have even been possible. Being able to film and photograph many places and events that I had never experienced before was really compelling. I have always loved both film and photography but wanted to be able to help a charity as well as come away with something of a portfolio. The fact the charity has embraced this and enlightened me into what they are all about I have made a wonderful connection with them and for that I thank you. I hope that the photography and videos can be used to help the charity more forward as they are certainly a lovely memory of the time I have had.

Would you like to embark on an adventure like Alex? View our volunteering packages now.

We’ve just seen a fantastic article over on the Oxford Student website about responsible voluntourism.

Well worth a look and Nasio get a great write up too!

Click here now for the full article.