I think voluntourism does more harm than good, but I’m going on one anyway. Here’s why.
The organisation I’m going with is Women of Will and they aim to support women who are the sole breadwinners of their families, usually caring for three to seven children. These women are single mothers, war widows or women whose husbands are disabled. They help women in Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
The organisation equips these women with entrepreneurial skills and develops them to become the core pillars of their families and sometimes, even their communities. After going through the training programme, the women are given micro-loans to start their businesses, accompanied by mentors throughout the process. The loan is repaid within 12 months at 0% interest and the money is recycled into the system. It can now help another woman and her family.
Women of Will also worked with a Malaysian rotary club and an international school to adopt two schools in Nepal through the Bridging School Project. The project aims to provide students with basic needs such as shoes, pencils and books, as well as upgrading the school’s infrastructure with new tables, chairs and so on. They also aim to improve the English proficiency of these students by providing an English teacher to the adopted schools.
I came to know the organisation through a friend. For the longest time, I never knew what he did until I visited his office. It looked very much like Teach For Malaysia’s, with mahjong paper on the brightly coloured walls, with training plans and inspirational quotes written on them. I learned that he was organising a voluntourism trip and engaged in the world’s most heated debate, which he kindly obliged.
I raised up the usual points, that having young people with no professional skills or training is a waste of money and energy, they do more harm than good. The example I gave was a typical one, where privileged middle-class people from the West go to Africa to either build a home or teach in a school. A builder with no experience will take twice as long to build a structure that is twice as likely to fall apart. A teacher with no training or knowledge of the native language will never be able to teach a bunch of kids English. Not to mention the imposition of Western values onto poor communities in Africa, it starts to sound a little too familiar.
I opposed short-term volunteering because it benefits no one except the person volunteering because you get a high from all the good deeds you’ve done. What more paying an extortionate amount to do so. You’re better off donating that sum of money to a local charity, they’ll know how to stretch that buck further than any international student ever would.
He came back at me with equally valid points.
- The profits you make from a voluntourism programme can help sustain a non-profit organisation, “and you should know better Nic, since you’ve worked in a non-profit yourself.” The monies raised can help the organisation pull through a rough month, it lets them continue helping the hundreds and thousands of people they support.
- The goal of this trip is not to build houses or teach children, it’s to simply give the funds raised to the women and administer a simple English test to the kids.
- The benefits of bringing privileged middle-class kids (like yourself, he eagerly pointed out), is that they are able to raise funds for these women through their networks. While doing that, they simultaneously raise awareness for the organisation and its cause too.
- You get first-hand experience of the situation, may it be in the villages or in the schools; and you leave with a deeper understanding of this giant issue that is poverty.
- You can’t always think of the long-term impact while ignoring the short-term benefits you’re bringing to this community in the meantime.
- You get to visit another country, not having to do any planning beforehand, and do some good along the way.
- You get to come home to KL, think deep and hard about the abundance you have and learn to be thankful for it.
Well, that shut me up and got me thinking.
I decided to go to Nepal, on the 8th to the 15th of May, because I realised that I won’t be doing more harm than good. Instead, I will be educating myself and my network. I will be a vessel that channels funds to women who need it, who will be able to build businesses to sustain themselves and send their children to school. The efforts I put into raising funds will change someone’s life and I think that’s a pretty damn good use of my spare time.
While there, I will be visiting schools and villages near Kathmandu, to help with the impact assessment of the project from previous cycles and to deliver a new round of funds to other women. I’ll post up a detailed itinerary once it is finalised.
So my goal is this: to raise RM2,000 (or more) for a woman of will so that she can change her life and that of her children. And for every thousand raised, I will perform a dare suggested and voted by my donors. This is how much I want to reach my goal.
For those sceptics out there, here’s a disclaimer: Every cent goes to the cause, I’m paying for my own expenses.
If you’re interested in financially supporting this cause, do drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll email you my internet banking details. If you’re interested in supporting me, suggesting a dare or even just following my journey over the next few weeks, head over to Nicole in Nepal for the latest updates.