Core to everything we do is ensuring that our volunteer programs are ethical. But what does ethical mean in the context of volunteering? For us, the key element for ethical volunteering is a long-term, sustainable impact in the community.
The communities that we work with are some of the most disadvantaged around the world, and it can be very tempting to want to help by assisting with an immediate need, like donating money or supplies to families living on the poverty line. But who is going to ensure this support continues as vulnerable families come to rely on it?
While helping with an obvious need can make us feel good and we see a tangible improvement (if only temporarily), this isn’t addressing the reasons why families are living below the poverty line in the first place, or putting in place solutions that will help break the poverty cycle.
Being part of a an impact that will last for a long time and is sustainable is better. But to truly achieve this, it’s crucial that the local community is involved. Not only is the local community far better placed to know what their needs are, rather than what we perceive their needs to be, but the ultimate goal for sustainable development is that the community can become independent. This isn’t possible if they aren’t a key part of the decision making!
Challenges Abroad volunteers support the community development work of our charity in our overseas communities. FutureSense live and work permanently in our communities while building strong, equal relationships with community members and partnering with local organisations like schools, health centres and NGOs.
Together, they set long-term goals that align with the framework of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Some of our goals include reducing drop-out rates at schools, improving community health and wellbeing, finding solutions to plastic waste and pollution, developing local social enterprises and more.
We work with our communities to achieve these goals through education and capacity building, which is where volunteers like you come in. Over the 2-3 weeks that you’re volunteering with FutureSense, you’ll be working on a specific project that helps achieve our long-term goals.
You might be running conversational English sessions that boost children’s confidence and help them engage with their education, teaching about the importance of recycling plastic rather than burning it, or delivering first aid workshops to help build local capacity.
The nature of volunteering for a short period and being involved in capacity building work means that you might not get the immediate gratification you were expecting. But this means that you are doing the right thing!
By teaching first aid you’re not the person who will be saving a life, but you’re teaching others to be able to one hundred times over when you’re not there. By helping communities learn about sustainable practices to protect their environment you’re not making these changes yourself, but you’re allowing the community to take ownership and develop culturally appropriate practices that will be built upon for generations.
What you will get when you finish your volunteer program is not only immense personal growth, but a sense of satisfaction that you’ve contributed to something far greater than yourself. You might not get to see the children you were working with finish high school, go to university or get a well-paying job, but the role you played in engaging them with their learning and inspiring them to continue their education, which is then built upon by volunteers after you, is huge.
Volunteering abroad on a sustainable program means that you’re playing a small role towards achieving a much bigger goal. What you contribute might not seem like a lot at the time, but it is essential, because when everyone does their part all the pieces come together and we really can change the world.