Somebody asked me recently about a crappy volunteering experience. And then somebody else searched for the very same topic on this blog.
As with everything else in life, you really can’t predict how your voluntour will turn out. My absolutely worst experience happened in a (somewhat) civilized former Russian republic, where I was showing local teachers how to incorporate media and technology in teaching English. The donated media and equipment was stolen even before I got to the school. My handlers, unaware of the fact that I could understand them, tried to scam me in more ways than one. Let’s just say that after one week, I packed my bags and did a midnight run. And the worst part? This gig was arranged by a much recommended placement service in such a need of a volunteer for this particular post, they agreed to waive a program fee. When hearing about my complaints, the agency did absolutely nada to rectify the situation.
What became painfully obvious from this experience is that many volunteer placement services do not pre-screen local charities they work with/for. Even though they may claim otherwise, their grasp of what is actually happening in the host country may be minimal. And depending on the situation, there might be nothing they can do to help. Scary? You betcha!
Having worked on both sides of the volunteering business, because let’s face it – that’s exactly what it is – a big, fat, money-making business, the horror stories I could share with you are many. Local directors who embezzle the funds, local coordinators who don’t give a damn, volunteers who do nothing but drink beer and screw local girls, volunteers who are exploited financially by unscrupulous local staff and/or their host families, and the list could go on…
Yet for every crappy experience, there are hundreds, if not thousands of positive ones that change people’s lives, yours including, for the better. In my volunteering, I choose to remember and focus on these experiences.
If you prefer to dwell on the negatives, then maybe you should stay home. Just sayin’.