Why is Volunteer Training so Important?
Training takes time, effort, and costs money. Why should you invest in it? We have discovered that when volunteers are well trained, they enjoy the trip more and leave a tremendous impact on the people they serve. When volunteers are well trained, they don’t hurt hurt themselves or the poor they are trying to serve. To put it briefly, it’s a matter of considering harm and effectiveness. Untrained volunteers harm themselves and those they are trying to serve while well trained volunteers don’t. It’s that simple! This article will shed some more light on this.
Good Intentions Are Not Enough
It’s one thing to have a good heart to serve orphans. It’s quite another thing to be able to offer them safe help that local people can’t offer. Many of us Westerners who go to Africa to help have little transferable experience. We couldn’t even be allowed to work in day cares in our own neighborhoods without first getting trained. All we have is a good heart, a desire for travel, and adventure…mingled with a love for children. We don’t intend to cause any harm. We just don’t think we need to put in the time, effort, and money required to prevent us from causing harm when we try to help the poor. We need to realize that good intentions are not enough. Orphans have been exploited and harmed by the efforts of thousands of unsuspecting volunteers.
Local people Can Do Most Volunteer Tasks Better and Cheaper Than Foreign Volunteers
Hugging orphans, teaching them to read, and painting houses can all be done by local people better and cheaper than foreign volunteers can do. It costs less than $200 per month to hire a well trained local school teacher to teach orphans. They would do a better job because they know the culture and language. Sometimes orphans don’t even speak English, which makes it difficult for foreign volunteers to teach them.
It costs less than $700 per month to hire a well trained medical doctor to care for orphans full-time. But it will cost, on average, about $3,500 for one American volunteer to go and serve in Africa for one month. Some popular agencies will have volunteers spend, on average, over $5,000 to go serve for one month. If it’s only about caring for orphans, it will be wise to hire a local school teacher and pay them $200 per month to care for orphans for nearly two years instead of a volunteer going to do it just for one month!
Local People Desperately Need Jobs
In many poor countries, the unemployment rate is often as high as 60%! In Uganda, the youth unemployment is between 62-83%. There are many young people with college degrees who don’t have jobs. Many of them would love to be paid to work. If they get jobs, it strengthens their economies. That, in turn, makes their governments stronger so that they can provide some support to the poor in these countries. In the U.S, the government welfare system provides help to millions of Americans who otherwise would be on the streets. So hiring a local teacher to do the job gives them employment and prevent their own children from going hungry! The job gets done better and their local economy gets stimulated.
There is Significant Risk Involved in Living in a Developing Country
Have you considered the risk that the volunteer incurs, such as the stress of preparing for international travel? A lot of this could be mitigated in many cases if the desiring volunteer is trained and chooses to follow the best practices in poverty alleviation. Dollar for dollar, it would seem that it’s wasteful to go when the work could be easily done there by locals who will gain employment and be able to feed their families (so that they too don’t become beggars). We don’t see people following these facts. Instead, we wealthy Westerners raising thousands of dollars through our strong and powerful churches and sending our untrained and undiscipled teenagers to go “serve” orphans in Africa. When we say “serve” orphans, we really price the adventure that our children get, which is what we are paying for. We are the wealthiest generation of humans ever to walk on the face of the earth. God has blessed us tremendously with resources that could put an end to poverty worldwide. Instead, we love risk-taking and adventure and are improperly using these resources that we’ve been entrusted with.
Why Get Trained?
Here are some of the things that training does.
It equips volunteers to:
- Enter into synergistic relationships with local people that then empowers them to lead development in their communities.
- Go as learners instead of saviors.
- Identify their God-complexes and learn how to heal from them.
- Identify the inferiority complexes of poor people and learn how to keep from worsening them and also how to help them heal from that.
- Identify their own brokenness and the brokenness of their own societies, which is just as bad as the brokenness of the communities they are going to.
- Change their paradigms to more healthy and realistic paradigms.
- See the Westerner and the poor African as two poor brothers. Both are broken and poor, but they are just broken in different places and in different ways. They come together to partner with God so that together with God, they can find healing for themselves and for their brothers in ways that glorify God.
- Help the poor in ways that they don’t hurt the poor or themselves.
- Help the poor in ways that are sustainable.
- Help the poor in ways that glorify God and are not self-centered or designed to meet the needs of the volunteers while ignoring the plight of the poor.
- Let local people initiate, lead, and participate in the projects in their community.
Good Training Enables Volunteers to Help Without Taking Jobs Away From Poor People
Training can equip volunteers to go and participate in ways that don’t take jobs that local people desperately need, all the while doing things less efficiently.
Imagine that you live in America, for example, where the unemployment rate is 7.7% nationally. What would happen if volunteers from Europe, Australia, and Africa came and helped do the work for all the nonprofits in America and do the city government jobs for FREE? Americans would lose their jobs and unemployment rate will skyrocket! Such help would actually hurt instead of help America.
But what if the European, Australian, and African volunteers came and helped in ways that actually made it easier for Americans to get jobs? That would be so much better and respectful. We Americans are people who love to take care of our own poor in our own communities. We don’t want somebody coming and leading us in our own communities. When we need help, they can come and help us, but we would only want them to help us in ways that don’t make our problems worse.
Now, compare our 7.7% unemployment rate with 60% in these communities. They need every job opportunity they can get. A lot of people in America work as nannies and others work as builders and very many do many simple jobs to put food on their tables. Taking any job from them hurts. Doing that in Africa worsens the local economy. When they have jobs, they can shop and feed their families. The local shops owners make money and can feed their own families and employ other people. These employees can, in turn, feed their families. All of them can pay taxes and their local governments can become stronger. When you go and doing the work FREE in a way that doesn’t empower them to get jobs or become involved hurts the community.
Problems Are Job Opportunities
I believe that God allows problems and needs in every community to serve as the source of jobs for those who live in that community. If someone were to pray to God and say, “Please God, give me a job. I need to feed my family.” What would God do? He will show him a problem in his community that needs to be solved. Solving that problem becomes his job, it provides work for him. If the problem is one that people care about and he does it well, they would compensate him for it. That’s how it’s always worked. Inventors of new products and job creators are people who identify a need that people really care about and find a solution for it. That solution provides jobs for people. Consider the city you live in, if there were no problems and needs, would the people have jobs? Obviously not. If people don’t get sick, then there would be no need for doctors. If people don’t need an education, there will be no need for teachers. If people don’t need to receive mail, there would be no need for a postman. If people don’t have the problem of getting hungry, there would be no need for restaurants. The problems and needs that poor communities have are a source of jobs for the people living in these communities. Should we leave everything up to them? No. Perhaps, the best way to go about it is not go solve the problems but instead go and be part of a team that is led by them to do it. On the team, you serve mainly as a brother or sister, learner, catalyst, a motivator, sometimes as a coach, a caring friend, a source of good ideas and, yes, a set of hands to help when there is not enough local labor to do the hand work.
Training helps make that possible.
The needs that exist in developing countries provide opportunities for their governments and nonprofits to hire some of them to work and take care of those problems but also be able to put food on the table for their families. So the best way to help is first to do no harm. Then, to actually move them forward, not backwards. We want to you to get training so that you can do that.
If volunteers don’t get training, they are more than 99% likely to cause harm than good. It’s important to balance the need to gratify ourselves by going with the need for the people to be empowered and truly helped.
Voluntourism has become a 2 billion dollar industry in the U.S. According to a report by Al Jazeera television, one company, Projects-Abroad.org made a profit of more than 2 million U.S dollars that was shared between their two owners. I encourage you to do your homework so that you don’t become one of the volunteers who supports them with your dollars so that they continue to do things that cause harm to poor communities.
Wherever you volunteer, our prayer is that you would do your homework, get training, and be ready to go out and do the best. If you are going to do something that can be done by someone in that community, think twice. Help is always needed in these countries. The trick is to help without hurting. It takes self-less people to help without hurting. Training truly equips you to go help without hurting.