Aid and Development Volunteer Programs for Students *Update Post #11* - Mothering Forums
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#1 of 13 Old 10-10-2012, 08:32 AM - Thread Starter
 
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We are looking at overseas study programs for 16 y.o. DD for next summer (July and August 2013). She is interested in opportunities in Africa and Central America. Most of the programs we've considered combine academic work  with volunteer opportunities. Depending on the program she chooses, she would get high school credits in History or English or Biology or Environmental Science or Cultural and Civics Studies etc. The students also enjoy recreational activities like visiting historic sites, hiking and camping, going on safari, snorkeling or whitewater rafting or whatever else is available in the area they are visiting. It all sounds fantastic and I'm very excited for her.

 

One concern is the volunteer component of the program. The opportunities mentioned to us include

-helping to build schools 

-helping local students with their studies, particularly English language studies

-micro-loans and small business development

-re-forestation/naturalization programs

 

I have some concerns about aid and development work because I dislike the "white knight" attitude that is sometimes perpetuated when starry-eyed idealistic people parachute into cultures, economies and political situations that they don't really understand. She doesn't want to participate in something that is little more than a "feel-good" exercise to massage egos. We strongly believe, however, that aid and development are important and worthwhile, when done carefully. 

 

So I'm seeking advice from anyone who may have experience with these kinds of student volunteer programs. What worked, what was beneficial for both the local communities and the visiting students, what should she watch out for? For those who don't have any experience, I'd also welcome input on questions to ask the program administrators as we do our research. 

 

Thanks in advance! 

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#2 of 13 Old 10-10-2012, 11:26 AM
 
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College Confidential has a section on summer programs; you might find info on a specific program by searching the site by program name.

 

My only other thought would be to ask open-ended questions.  Since you sound like your family has a very well-developed Patronization Detector, I think you'll be sensitive to language used by the program staff about recipients of their efforts.  The unconscious can be very telling, so just look closely at everything they say about those they're helping, what they're doing to help, and how.


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#3 of 13 Old 10-11-2012, 08:03 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks! I'll check out College Confidential, good idea.  smile.gif

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#4 of 13 Old 10-11-2012, 09:45 PM
 
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I personally find the micro-loans and business development area very interesting.  Micro-finance has become huge in development and if it is done right, it is great.  It is a fantastic way to see the old "Give a man a fish ...." adage play out and it is very empowering for the recipients.  She is only 16, so this is just gonna be a start for her.  When she graduates from college, she can go into the Peace Corps if she is still interested in international affairs.  

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#5 of 13 Old 10-16-2012, 07:19 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ollyoxenfree View Post


I have some concerns about aid and development work because I dislike the "white knight" attitude that is sometimes perpetuated when starry-eyed idealistic people parachute into cultures, economies and political situations that they don't really understand. She doesn't want to participate in something that is little more than a "feel-good" exercise to massage egos.

 

 

coming late to the party --

 

I worked for an NGO for awhile and as part of my job I visited a series of projects in Subsaharan Africa and reported back about them. I bumped into a teen volunteer group from the states at one of the projects (a teacher training college in up country Mozambique). The teens were doing physical work such as painting, cleaning up a garden space, etc.

 

Although part of the reason they were there was to get some needed work done, the real reason the NGO allowed/incorporated such groups was for the sake of the teens. It got them out and about, seeing how real people lived, meeting students, having real experiences. They go back different than they came.

 

No one on the planet earth thinks American teens are white knights. Far from it. They are, however, future American adults who will most likely make better decisions and help create a better US (which is the only remaining super power) if they have a little better grasp of the rest of the world.

 

My experience with teen volunteer programs with my own kids here in our home town is similar -- it's about personal development of the teens as much as what they are doing/accomplishing.

 

I suspect that part of the reason that these international programs include such a component is to get the kids away from being tourist and give them something more of a real experience. They aren't trying to make them feel good, they are trying to help them become less ignorant.

 

Without doing some volunteer work, what opportunities would your DD have to have a conversation with regular person from the country she is visiting? One of the listed things, "helping local students with their studies" could be a lot of fun. The Africans I met loved meeting and talking to Americans. The invited me home, wanted to introduce to their friends, one took me to her choir practice! It's all so much better than snorkeling. Your DD could come back with friends, may be some pen pals.

 

It can be quite difficult to sort out good programs from not good programs. There is a long history of misguided attempts to help others without the least understanding of what would be helpful -- whole books have been written about it. With the NGO I worked for, ongoing conversations about what actually worked were the norm. While I do see tremendous value in people to people programs, I'm not sure how I would determine if a specific program were something I wanted my own teen to participate in.


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#6 of 13 Old 10-16-2012, 11:51 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks for the input, it's helpful. To be honest, I'm a little more skeptical about the micro-loans projects because it's easier to imagine teenagers doing some manual labour to help out or tutoring local students. It's within the stereotypical teenage experience. I'm not saying that they couldn't help local business set-ups. It's just a little harder to imagine what teens from a different country and culture could offer in that situation. I'm probably selling teenagers short. I agree, though, that micro-loans have the potential to make a significant difference to individuals and their communities and if the volunteer teens can participate in making that happen, that's a good thing.    

 

Linda, your experiences in Africa sound wonderful. I agree that a major purpose of the volunteer program is personal development. It's the concerns you identify in your last paragraph that have us seeking others' experiences and advice, so thanks again for sharing your story. In fact since I wrote, she has applied for a program in Africa and we are putting together transcripts, references and so on. 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Emaye View Post

I personally find the micro-loans and business development area very interesting.  Micro-finance has become huge in development and if it is done right, it is great.  It is a fantastic way to see the old "Give a man a fish ...." adage play out and it is very empowering for the recipients.  She is only 16, so this is just gonna be a start for her.  When she graduates from college, she can go into the Peace Corps if she is still interested in international affairs.  

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Linda on the move View Post

It can be quite difficult to sort out good programs from not good programs. There is a long history of misguided attempts to help others without the least understanding of what would be helpful -- whole books have been written about it. With the NGO I worked for, ongoing conversations about what actually worked were the norm. While I do see tremendous value in people to people programs, I'm not sure how I would determine if a specific program were something I wanted my own teen to participate in.

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#7 of 13 Old 10-16-2012, 12:36 PM
 
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Originally Posted by ollyoxenfree View Post

 

Linda, your experiences in Africa sound wonderful. I agree that a major purpose of the volunteer program is personal development. It's the concerns you identify in your last paragraph that have us seeking others' experiences and advice, so thanks again for sharing your story. In fact since I wrote, she has applied for a program in Africa and we are putting together transcripts, references and so on. 

 

 

 

 

Where in Africa? Where in Africa? energy.gif

 

I meant to go back. I had a job offer to teach English at a college in Mozambique. But I met my husband on the way home and got sidetracked. It's a serious "road not taken" for me.

 

I hope it goes well for her. It can be a truly remarkable experience. I've seen some amazing things and met wonderful people. When these programs are done well, the teens really can come back with their perspective of the world having been shifted for the better.  IMHO, the more of a real country experience she can have and the more opportunities to met regular people, the better.


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#8 of 13 Old 10-17-2012, 08:01 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Tanzania - near Kilimanjaro.  From the perspective of sending our teenager across the globe to an unknown (to us) part of the world, there's a little comfort in knowing that Tanzania is stable and has a developed tourism industry (knock on wood). DH has had qualms (and to be truthful, so have I) but I pointed out that the kids going on Ancient History and Art tours through Greece (another option) could find themselves in the middle of rioting next summer.  Recently, there was a shooting in front of the Empire State Building just a few weeks after DD and her friend were there at the same time of day (about 9 am).  

 

This has been a test of my willpower to let her make her own decision. She was very interested in another program in Central America. She made long lists of pros and cons and changed her mind several times. I tried to be absolutely neutral and just say "good point" whenever she raised an issue. 

 

We're really excited about it.  I think it will be a life-changing experience. Now we just have to get the supporting material together to complete the application.   

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#9 of 13 Old 10-19-2012, 12:42 AM
 
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That sounds really wonderful!

 

I hope she has a great trip. thumb.gif
 


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#10 of 13 Old 10-22-2012, 07:49 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks!! I'll update as she goes along.....

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#11 of 13 Old 09-27-2013, 08:54 AM - Thread Starter
 
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*We just got the final report from DD's summer course so I thought I would offer a few thoughts in case anyone is considering this kind of program.* 

 

She had an incredible experience in Tanzania. She was with a group of 2 dozen students and 3 teachers. She studied 2 high school courses, English and Global Issues. I don't want to make this post any longer and I could say a lot more about "study abroad" programs and courses/credits while travelling. Perhaps that deserves it's own thread, separate from this voluntourism discussion, if anyone is interested. The group also travelled on safari, did some hiking and backpacking in the mountains, experienced town life, and stayed for awhile at a beach resort. 

 

There is a lot of criticism these days about voluntourism, which is why I posted in the first place looking for some experience and insight. When we were assessing different organizations, we looked for a some self-awareness within the organization of these criticisms. There were some groups that offered volunteering-only trips for various lengths of time. A lot were the stereotypical "dig a well" or "build a school" kind of efforts. Instead, DD chose a group that offered an educational experience as well. She wanted to get some of her high school credits, as well as vacation and volunteer. I think this choice helped avoid some of the problems of the voluntourism experience. The students were reading and discussing the cultural, social, political and economic issues that confront aid and development workers. They dissected past faliures of good intentions and studied best practices in community-based initiatives. When they visited communities, it was with an appreciation for local autonomy and a respect for community-based decision-making abilities.

 

The group worked with local organizations that were started by and employed local people. They met community members and learned their personal histories. DD's group were invited to work with them. DD's group did help with an irrigation project but it was a community effort that they were invited to participate in. 

 

As part of their coursework, the students were challenged to come up with a concept for a sustainable community-based business. They were allowed to use the typical resources available in the village where they were staying. It was enlightening for them to understand the challenges in sourcing material, creating a product, and distributing it in a sustainable, robust, self-reliant business model.

 

They stayed in tents in a village for a while, living within the community, rather than staying in a comfortable hotel. During this time, they visited and worked at a local school helping the local students. It was an eye-opening experience. The school had no heat or air-conditioning and no electricity. The school day started at 8 a.m. and some of the "local" students had a 2-hour walk (straight up a mountainside) to get there. The school was supposed to provide lunch for its students but because of lack of funding, it had been unable to do so. Therefore, the school day was shortened and the children sent home early.  

 

As Linda noted above, the largest benefits of the experience were making personal connections and gaining insight into a different culture.  DD says that it was a profoundly meaningful experience. She is usually expressive and outspoken but says that she struggles to find the words to describe it. It was a huge success and she's recommended it to everyone she knows. 

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#12 of 13 Old 09-30-2013, 11:56 AM
 
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thank you so much for the update. I’ve been looking forward to this update. I am thrilled that it went so well for her. Its V. Rare that it doesn’t.

 

ESP. Having a child who wants to follow in your dd’s footsteps this is future research squirreled away for future use.

 

I really enjoyed your update. Its really telling when such an expressive child cannot find words to express.

 

This is what i wish on every school student before they venture off into planning their future. I wish it was mandatory part of the curriculum. We dont even have to leave the country to find similar situations to help out with.


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#13 of 13 Old 09-30-2013, 07:20 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks meemee :). I hope your DD finds a chance to do something similar. You are correct, there are lots of opportunities out there. 

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