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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.

Rajab is one of the children who has directly benefited from the work that The Nasio Trust does. He has now decided to give something back by volunteering himself! Here’s an update…

“Hi I’m Rajab!

It’s my pleasure to share with you my experience and many other things that I have gained from Nasio Trust.We recently went for a medical camp to a certain village.Most sick people turned up and the largest population was of school children which was around three hundred.

Our medical staff is efficient in providing quick and satisfactory service which was able to attract the huge population. Most school children mainly came to be treated on jiggers and skin diseases.After the
treatment, they were given shoes to wear to prevent further infection. In addition they were provided with basic education on health and hygiene.While in the activity we saw a young girl who
had come for treatment ,The girl had dandruff all over her head and also swollen hands.The mother claimed that she had tried to treat the girl using the local herbs due to inadequate capital to refer her to a public hospital.The girl was provided with treatment services and given medicine to use while at home. The family was grateful and thanked the organization very much for reaching out to them.

The family was grateful and thanked the organization very much for reaching out to them.

The activity was joyful and we enjoyed doing it. We even have plans of doing more to other different places, since this is one of our co-value as the organization.

We also managed to go and visit one of our own and that’s Fadhil. He was previously done a heart operation and so recently he went for a check up in the hospital after he had returned from school. The main reason for us visiting our brother Fadhil was to give him a word of encouragement and motivation. ‘We understand your situation but that should not stop you from achieving your goals ‘Those were words from Jacob (social worker ). Interestingly Fadhil was open enough with us and shared some of the challenges that he undergoes at school and we were able to show him how to peacefully cope up with the challenges.At the end of it all, he was very very happy and felt that there are people who always care about him.

We also managed to visit an old man by the name Barasa. He is very joyful and social.The moment we stepped at his door he thanked us for building him a house.


Barasa is married and blessed with three children whom are both supported by Nasio Trust. What I actually learned from Barasa is that despite of his situation he is always happy and cheerful.

All in all, I love the Nasio trust kids.You will never know some of the challenges they undergo till you get down into their homes.They always put smile on their faces a sign of appreciating the kind of life they are living and are looking forward to do even greater things in life.

in life you need to always appreciate any small thing you have and work toward achieving greater things

As I conclude,I would wish to thank the Nasio Trust Family for enabling us to have an experience in the real life situation from different degree. Actually I have came to realize one thing from my few weeks of volunteering, I have learn that in life you need to always appreciate any small thing you have and work toward achieving greater things. .And if you are unable to do greater things then do small things in a greater way.

Thank you very much.


Tabitha has directly benefited from the support of our child sponsorship programme and has now decided to give back by becoming a volunteer her self. This is her story…

Hi, my name is Tabitha Carolyne and I am currently volunteering with the Nasio Trust Organization, i have just graduated High school and have been planning to volunteer for a long time and now, It’s
finally here. I absolutely love it and I must say that these two weeks have been the most exciting period and enthralling time I have had in a while.

I started my journey, quite literally on the back of a nduthi (motorcycle) with lots of dust flaring in my face and in my eyes and by the time I got off, i definitely knew why the ladies here cover their heads with scarves when they get on the motorcycles. I struggled with the amount of dust, battling the allergic reaction my eyes had to it, soldiered on and so far this experience has been the greatest.

Recently we visited a lady whose roof had fallen in and it was raining in her house so she had to move everything out of her house and create a temporary house under a banana tree while we constructed her roof with iron sheets. she could barely believe it and kept yelling in amusement. The workers mentioned that she thought she was dreaming and was waiting to get up and find that her life was just as it was the day before. we had such joy in knowing that in that small act of kindness, we made her life better.
she is making a local meal; Ugali, so that we, her “guests,” would have something to eat.

We have had the opportunity to visit several homes and assess the material and emotional needs of the children and their families to help them receive healthcare, education and generally a better lifestyle. most children are malnourished, but the bottom line turns out to be hunger. seeing these children this way encourages me to be grateful and also yearn to create better living conditions for them through the nasio trust. if a child needs a blanket, we try our best to get them a blanket. which means that we don’t just give what we think is required, but we assess the living conditions and attend to the priorities. I remember working with a children’s home in the recent past and all we would do was take them clothes that we didn’t use any more and that seemed to be the most convenient and simple thing for us to give because it literally was like “taking out the trash” but this program allows me to go deeper and actually attend to what is required while actually making a sacrifice. Three of us managed to visit a boy named Fadhili and got him a mattress and some food (this was all a gift from his sponsor). he was previously sleeping on the floor with two of his siblings and some cousins. he is a little camera shy and doesn’t look too happy here, but the next day when we walked in to the school, he ran towards us and hugged our knees smiling up at us, that it was it means to really make a difference.

The classroom in my opinion is one of the greatest places i have managed to participate in. The classroom represents learning and for those that learn, a brighter future. some of the children come from desolate homes, but when they get to the class, their faces light up and you can see an entirely new lease to life. we dance and sing and play, and the way that these children behave and feel show that they have cast out all their worries and still manage to be happy even in their circumstances.

The Children have an excellent library and love to read! they have such a good collection of books. we had library time one lunch hour and they love to sacrifice some of their play time to hear Rajab; my partner and I read them a story or two.

All the Children are so beautiful and have smiles that can light up any room. any time i begin to feel tired from the heat or a little frustrated with the naughty ones, they give me bashful smiles that make me forget about how naughty some of them they are. these children are angels and i am so grateful to be a part of their lives for this period of time. This week some children had no sweaters and so we took them some lovely sweaters hand knit for them. The smiles on their faces is indescribable “tumeletewa sweater” -they have brought us sweaters, they chanted over and over in excitement as the teachers unsuccessfully tried to shush them

life in the Village area moves a lot slower than it does in the city and at first I had no idea what to do when i was done with the day’s work. the stillness and peace allows for reflection on life and moments where one can truly be grateful for all they have in comparison to what these people here do. make no mistake; these people here are some of the happiest people i have every met and i suppose this is so because they have found true joy and peace in things that money cannot buy. they have family, love and relationships that are strong and can withstand sleepless nights tossing and turning on reed mats because of hunger because of the love and Joy that holds them together.

In Musanda, there’s a cafeteria which Caleb, Millie and a couple of others and myself have been working to revive and bring back business. For current students and even for people that have recently graduated from high school, this is what i feel has been one of the greatest things for me. i remember working on my commerce and business assignments and really wondering where i was going to apply those skills. you need to know, that at the nasio trust there is an opportunity for you to start using those skills immediately and here’s a practical example. i did, ‘O’ level Commerce, and Business, and and as we are trying to bring the cafe up to speed, I find myself using strategies that i learned from both subjects without having to have made it to an office with desk job and a cup of coffee every morning. I am able to use my HIGH SCHOOL education and it’s not even my A levels, it’s my O levels! within only two weeks we have been able to start seeing small profits trickling in from the “highway cafe” with Joint effort from a bunch of high school leavers and some guidance and assistance from college and university graduates.

This short session of volunteering has allowed me to feel important as a part of an organization because i am empowered to use the skills that I have invested in at this point. so now, i’m about to get off this laptop and get my classmate who did health and first aid at her ‘O’ levels and my other friend that did ICT and together we can work to make a Difference in western Kenya and soon, everywhere around the world as well. and the best thing is, you can sign up as well. wherever you’re from.

Most people like to do this, and so will I, to get a kick out of it; THIS IS NOT SPONSORED!! haha please do join and find the greatest form of happiness in giving, and also in receiving because it is an opportunity to use your skills! and get experience at whatever age! which is what i love the most.

I have much to say about my experience and you will get to know about my adventures in future posts. In conclusion, (which is something Kenyan’s love to say without actually concluding) I am so thankful for the platform that the Nasio trust provides for giving. i keep thinking about where i would start if i wanted to build society all by myself and i cant imagine how or where I would begin. with working together, through the nasio trust, i can see the little that we have get multiplied a hundred times over.

Are you thinking of a gap year, looking for a new challenge, change of career, interested in international development or have any free time to spare? Spending a few months at Nasio UK Office is a great way to hone your skills.

We would love to hear from you.  We try to keep our overheads to a minimum so that the money raised by our supporters goes to where it is needed in Kenya to support our children and their communities.

If you feel able to take on some administrative tasks or can help in some other way this will enable our small team in the office to remain small and keep our costs down.

Volunteers are vital and can be a brilliant way to make a real difference and gain valuable work experience.

Get involved!

To help, please contact us on or email

Listen to some of our amazing young volunteers talking about their experiences at our projects in Kenya.

On 19th January nine Nasio supporters all of them with strong Dorchester connections set off to visit the NASIO project in Musanda, Kenya.

Some of us had visited a number of times before – John and Johnny Cornelius (John Junior as the Kenyans call him!) have been supporting and visiting Nasio for the whole fifteen years of the charities’ existence; Tess Bartley and Alison Brucker both sponsor children from amongst the first 15 children who were cared for in a roadside kiosk in the town of Mumias and three – Richard and Jen Booys and Olivia Tuffrey – were all visiting for the first time. Mzungo is the Kenyan word for ‘white’ and one of the first things that you notice visiting a small community in Kenya is the fascination with your skin colour and the cries of ‘Mzungo! Mzungo!’ as you walk around. The small children in the Nasio childrens centre’s Noah’s Ark and St Irene’s stroke your white skin in absolute fascination.

Mzungo is the Kenyan word for ‘white’ and one of the first things that you notice visiting a small community in Kenya is the fascination with your skin colour and the cries of ‘Mzungo! Mzungo!’ as you walk around.

Nasio began in Musanda – in the home that is now the visitor accommodation for the project – when Irene Mundeyo followed the sound of a crying child and found an abandoned orphan in the corner of a sugar cane field (a tree now marks the spot – rather unsurprisingly it’s called ‘Moses’ tree’. Irene took in the baby and her family were inspired to begin caring for orphans in their community. Fifteen years later the NASIO Trust supports 410 children in two day centres and in homes through school and now through college and university. One of the greatest excitements for us – and a great tribute to the charity – was to meet bright and articulate young men, now aged 18 and 19 who were working a ‘gap year’ for the charity and preparing to enter college or university. From my first visit I recall the four or five 9 year olds who appeared like magic from Township primary in 2010 – now one of them is telling me that he feels he can help the children being cared for by NASIO because he knows what their situation is and he can be a role model: Caleb is running the new café and snack bar next to the medical centre in his gap year. NASIO is living up to its promise to be a charity that cares for its children for life!

So what did we do? We visited the Nasio children’s centre and various schools, went to Church with children from the charity, took bread, milk and tiny jumpers and hats (thank you Audrey and friends!) to the maternity unit at St Mary’s hospital, learned about the Spirulina project and made a number of home visits. Johnny and Richard did some maintenance and plumbing at the Noah’s Ark and in our home visits we washed clothes, did washing up and generally gave families in desperate circumstances a ‘day off’ the backbreaking task of fetching limited water from streams a distance away. We took an evening off to go to ‘The Rock’ and watch the sunset which was glorious! We also spent hours under the stars chatting and drinking the odd bottle of ‘Tusker’ (a light Kenyan beer!!) and beginning to understand our experiences.

A recent departure for Nasio is the Spirulina project. Spirulina (a simple water based botanical plant – remember those biology lessons about Spirogyra?!) is grown in tanks and dried. It is a rich source of protein grown primarily to supplement the children’s diet but also sold commercially. The first Spirulina greenhouse is in full production and a second one is planned. Another new development is the Medical Centre – a completely new building to provide basic medical services to the community – it was great to deliver supplies donated by Clifton Hampden and other local medical centres.

Without a doubt the three day house-building project was the highlight of the visit.

  • Day one – we cleared the ground, dug post holes, wove and secured laths around the posts and left the employed workmen to put on the roof.
  • Day two – we did put up the walls – collected water, trampled the red Kenyan mud into a workable infill and filled the structure we had created the previous day. Lots of Guardians (the women from the community who help to care for orphaned children – we’d probably call them Foster mothers) came to help and we worked together in the heat for hours.
  • Day three – we stamped the floor solid singing and dancing, the workmen made the doors and windows, we cleared the site and handed over the house with lots of singing, dancing and prayers and a big cardboard key naming it ‘Hope House’. The lady for whom the house was build was a grandmother who had been caring for four children in an immaculate house that was about the size of my downstairs loo!
  • But there were many other highlights – and a few sadnesses too – I asked everyone to send me their best and worst moment of the visit … here are some of them ..

The Best

  • “Dancing with everyone and all joining together and becoming one. Forgetting that we live so far apart and have such different lives”
  • seeing everyone again. My boys and the other children my family sponsors. Seeing how much they’ve grown and developed into wonderful young people.
  • levelling the floor in the new house. I think we made a tedious job good fun working as a team with the locals.
  • “Having sponsored Rhoda for probably 10 years, having the opportunity to visit her three times and see her grow into the beautiful, confident young lady that she is today is priceless”
  • When it was John’s birthday and everyone was stood by the gate singing and dancing as the band walked up the road! We then spent the afternoon laughing and drinking till our hearts content. I knew then that I was very lucky to be surrounded by loved ones and knew then that I would forever have a home away from home in Kenya
  • digging post holes for the house we built with Kenyan workmen looking on …. I couldn’t help feeling what a reversal of Empire this was and how our predecessors would have been the ones looking on. We were still the ones being brought fresh sealed bottles of water…..

…and the worst

  • “a home visit in the slums where we witnessed such a poorly girl who looked so unwell with suspected Malaria and feeling hopeless”
  • feeling like there’s so much more I should be achieving when I’m out there.
  • washing the sheets and clothes of a lady whose feet were badly infected with jiggers and maggoty without showing how difficult the smell was
  • seeing St Irenes in such a bad state of repair and hearing that it will have to be demolished.

Teams from Dorchester and Berinsfield were largely instrumental in raising the money and sending teams to build both the Noah’s Ark and St Irene’s Day Centres. Sadly the land on which St Irene’s was built is less secure than it appeared and the building is cracking badly. It will have to be demolished and rebuilt. Heart-breaking for those who fund-raised and built but also for the leaders of the Charity who have future plans for fund raising that didn’t include a re-build

But I think we all agree with Faye… “For me the only bad part is leaving! It breaks my heart every time! You always leave a piece – or a large chunk – of your heart in Kenya.”

This is just a flavour of our visit – if you’d like to hear more let us know and we’ll invite you to a Kenyan evening of stories, food and photos – part of our efforts to raise money for the ongoing work that NASIO is doing.

Check out this incredible and uplifting video from young volunteer Henry Ettinger.

If you’d like to know more about volunteering with the Nasio Trust – click here now to check out our packages.

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.