Sunday, 08 May 2011 14:01

Doing something good - volunteers and development

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Have you ever thought of volunteering in Africa, Asia or the rest of the developing world? Motivated because you don't know what to do after graduation and volunteering makes your CV more impressive? Maybe you are eager to learn a new language, a new culture while doing something good and finding a sense of belonging?

Whatever reason it is, many young Europeans plan to volunteer in developing countries. But here comes the question: are their motivations good or bad; selfless or selfish?

In the workshop led by Maaret Jokela from Finland, an experienced volunteer to developing countries, around 20 participants from Europe reflected on their own motivations and explored ways to make volunteering in developing countries sustainable.

Sitting in the inner courtyard of the Frank-Loebsche Haus, the former residence of Anne Frank's grandfather Zacharias Frank in Landau, volunteers from Romania, Russia, Germany, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Hungary and the UK were divided into small groups to discuss their own definitions of good and bad motives for volunteering. And the (un)surprising result is, of course, that it is impossible to define good or evil.

While some consider "travelling" or "gaining a personal sense of belonging" to be somewhat self-centred, such motivations are not necessarily harmful, as long as the volunteers are committed to the project and fulfil their responsibilities.

In fact, Jokela explained, volunteers' motivations changed during the course in many cases. No one can predict or guarantee what they will gain, but participants all agreed that as long as one is willing to give and teach, one will receive and learn eventually. Volunteers also bring some economical benefits to developing countries, and when volunteers share their experience with their friends, they can make a difference.

Some participants argued that as long as results are achieved, motivation is not actually important. Many at the workshop believed that volunteering can only bring good, but is this really true?

If a volunteer is motivated because he or she believes that Western ideas have to be imposed to "civilise" the locals, without the desire and room for the exchange and sharing of knowledge, what good does this kind volunteering bring?

At the end of the day, the decision lies within the organisation. From experience, volunteers with diverse motivations can bring out unexpected potential from individuals and, one way or another, change someone's life.

Last modified on Monday, 09 May 2011 06:59

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