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Volunteering is certainly one of the many ways in which you may be able to lend your support to our ongoing efforts here in Nepal. just-one‘s particular interpretation though, of what is generally a very laudable and worthwhile idea, may not quite be in line with the varying views expressed by many of the growing number of volunteer placements agencies who facilitate the matching of countless organisations across the globe waiting to be connected with potential volunteers wishing to do more than just go on holiday

The emerging industry of voluntourism has managed to generate a somewhat contentious and increasingly convoluted debate, which deserves to be carefully researched and thoughtfully considered by any individual or group contemplating engaging in any of the huge variety of alternative travel experiences widely available throughout our rapidly changing world. While just-one, as a general rule, does NOT facilitate the evermore popular one or two week tail-end-of-holiday volunteer placement sought by a growing number of travellers (more often than not, well-intentioned and genuine) wishing desperately to ‘give something back’ – it needs to be stressed that we DO recognise the immense long-term valuable benefit which appropriately skilled and capable individuals can and do bring to many organisations (just-one included) both here in Nepal and far beyond.

just-one has always been, and will continue to be, completely open to the various kind offers of voluntary assistance made by those genuinely interested in contributing any individual experience and expertise, relevant to specific areas of our work, which have the potential to provide clear benefit to our developing operation and/or positively influence the overall impact and effectiveness of our work. Facilitating such placements generally takes quite a lot of time and effort on behalf of just-one‘s dedicated team of local staff and, as we are NOT a volunteer placement agency (neither requesting nor expecting financial compensation of any sort), we can only ever agree to accept offers of voluntary assistance when the actual value of the proposed placement, significantly outweighs the commitment required on our part to ensure that each placement will be as successful as it can be.

Depending on the nature of the specific skills offered by the potential volunteer and how the these can be best utilised and shared amongst our local staff for the long-term benefit of just-one‘s work in Nepal, we generally expect a minimum time commitment of at least 6 to 8 weeks before we will consider engaging in the process required to facilitate a meaningful placement. That is not to say that we don’t or won’t consider shorter placements – but all such decisions are based primarily upon the potential benefit our operation stands to gain from each proposed placement. This very web-site, for example, is the result of a chance encounter with a US-based web-designer who was travelling through Nepal and kindly offered his services over a few short weeks to help improve our internet presence. There’s a similar story behind how each of the short films on our Media page were made for us and we have been equally happy to host even shorter-term placements in the past – such as a performing trio from Ireland’s chapter of Clowns without Borders who put on a wonderfully memorable afternoon show which brought much needed smiles and therapeutic laughter to just some of the children we work with.

You know best what, if anything, you are willing and able to offer just-one and, as such, it’s down to you to decide where your laudable search now goes from here… We get more “Hi! I’m coming to Nepal for 3 weeks and would just love to volunteer with your organisation during my last week there. I’m excited to hear back from you soon how I’ll be able to help out with your great work. Thanks!” emails than you would care to believe, so please do bear this in mind if you choose to contact us regarding a potential placement. If you’re an educational psychologist, for example, with 5 years experience of working with emotionally troubled youth and feel that you’re capable of developing and delivering a 10-day workshop to our local staff on alternative approaches to behaviour modification or some equally relevant topic, then we’d be very happy to receive a detailed email from you in this regard. Similarly, if you’re a micro-finance graduate who has only 5 weeks to offer but feel that some of your knowledge and experience could be successfully shared to improve the income generation support we offer to the families of children we work with, then please do let us know. These are simply random examples of the endless valuable skills and services out there which we would most likely be very happy to avail of – as long as the timing of any such offers fits with our specific requirements at that particular time.

Volunteering IS a largely positive concept which stands to provide immense benefit to both parties involved, as long as the placements are carefully developed to ensure that the primary beneficiary is the host organisation rather than the actual volunteer. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with the volunteer being rewarded with the personal growth and development that is likely to result from the overall experience; if this is to be the primary gain from any particular placement, then it would be wise for any individual contemplating such a placement not only to question the possible reasons for such placements actually being offered in the first place, but also (and perhaps more importantly) to closely analyse their personal desire to volunteer… Perhaps, if there was enough serious consideration given, by ALL parties involved, to the negative impact that can be (and often is) caused by poorly implemented volunteer programs, then perhaps the voluntourism industry wouldn’t be going in the direction that it seems to be at present…

Given that many developed nations regard and actively promote volunteering as a rewarding and character building experience for their citizens (the European Voluntary Service’s ‘Guide for Volunteers’, for example, highlights that “volunteering is one of the most effective instruments fro young people’s non-formal education! Through volunteering young people acquire new knowledge, skills and competencies. At the same time, being exposed to intercultural challenges and new personal experiences, they expand their horizons, learn more about themselves and grow as human beings.”) and countless volunteer placement agencies exalt similar benefits to their prospective clients (although usually with a more counterbalanced emphasis on the potential advantages also enjoyed by the hosting beneficiary); one could be easily forgiven for believing it’s always a carefully developed win-win situation that requires little or no further thought before signing up to what may well be a life-changing opportunity…

Having first-hand experience in Nepal of the negative impact that some of the increasingly popular volunteer placements available here can have on various sectors of local society, just-one wishes (somewhat reluctantly) to play devil’s advocate and outline a few hypothetical scenarios in the sincere hope that, one or other of them, might provide valuable food for thought for at least some of those considering a volunteer placement – be that with just-one or any other organisation, here in Nepal or elsewhere…

  • While the ever-popular ‘help out at a local orphanage‘ placement (be it for a single afternoon or five memorable months) will almost certainly provide a humbling experience and a host of beautiful memories for the individual volunteer; how much thought do you think goes into the lifelong effects of a childhood filled with the endlessly changing stream of foreign buddies that these already rejected and vulnerable children see disappear from their lives as randomly and unexpectedly as they first arrived..? Are you confident that the stringent child-protection guidelines and procedures which developed nations would almost definitely insist upon for their own youth, have been given sufficient consideration in the development and implementation of such placements..? Is it not worth considering that many of these orphanages and children’s homes may well have (perhaps unintentionally) become over-reliant on the valuable financial input that comes through playing host to well-intentioned (and, occasionally, otherwise) volunteers..? Should such organisations not perhaps be encouraged to carefully explore more sustainable sources of funding if the safety, welfare and long-term security of the children under their care are indeed their primary concerns..? Would you believe that some organisations pay fees to less-scrupulous volunteer agencies so as to ensure they continue to receive support in the form of having volunteers placed with them..? Are you comfortable with the fact that the parents of some of these orphans, in the sincere hope of providing them with a brighter future, may have paid to secure a highly-prised place for their child in one or other of the growing number of children’s homes operating in Nepal – some established simply due to the considerable profits available from cash-paying volunteers..? Are you really still interested in being an integral part of why many of these types of questionable placements continue to be offered..?
  • Quite often, teaching-related placements can provide a generally beneficial opportunity to both parties involved – particularly when the volunteer is a qualified teacher willing to work closely with a local counterpart and share any relevant knowledge and experience of the educational sector. Even those though whose sole qualification is that they are native speakers of English, can find worthwhile and meaningful placements to engage in – as long as sufficient research is done from the outset. Be aware of the two-tiered education system that exists in Nepal (government-funded schools vs. private schools) and carefully consider the logic of volunteering ones services, as many seem to do, to a private educational enterprise which charges (often, significant) fees to parents wanting to provide their children with the benefit of a good education… Aside from the direct positive impact of any particular teaching placement, it’s also worth considering the additional advantages which may be experienced by schools hosting (and, often, boasting of) ‘foreign staff‘… Volunteers, by their very presence at one particular school over another, inadvertently bring one of the best forms of free advertising to the heart of the local community which can directly impact future enrolment numbers in an already unbalanced educational sector… Would you prefer your time and efforts here in Nepal to benefit the struggling government sector or its private-sector competitor which is, increasingly, winning-over all but the poorest of parents in a battle which certainly won’t help narrow the growing gap between the ‘haves‘ and the ‘have nots‘ in Nepali society..? Even if the conditions and structure of the overall volunteer experience at a government school isn’t quite on par with that available at a private school, wouldn’t you prefer your energy and enthusiasm to benefit those most in need..? Or is the overall quality of the placement and your personal experience of greater importance to you..?
  • Regardless of the actual nature of any particular volunteer placement, the general appeal of those offering a ‘village home-stay’ element as part of the overall experience is understandable. Aside from considering important factors related to placements with the potential of having an unnecessary negative impact upon the local labour market (as school-building, orphanage-painting, well-digging projects using paying-volunteers often do), potential volunteers might also consider further enquiry as to the actual set-up of the home-stay placement… Which caste does the host family you’ll be placed with belong to? While you most probably won’t be very aware of the caste system during your brief placement, don’t be under any illusions – it’s alive and well here in Nepal and is all too often unwittingly supported by well-intentioned volunteers happily paying the equivalent of a month’s salary for a week’s worth of basic room and board provided, quite often, by the higher caste households in the village. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with paying a relatively substantial amount (in local context) for room and board, wouldn’t you like to think that such a profitable opportunity would be available to ALL members of the community..? Especially in a society that still suffers significantly from the divisive imbalance caused by a rigid system of social elitism, ingrained inferiority and untouchability! In reality, there’s probably not a whole lot you can do to change well established cultural practices that have existed for generations, but is it not worth knowing that some of the home-stay experiences you’ll find on offer do little more than support and propagate social discrimination..? At least then you can make a more informed decision as to whether or not you want to sign up to an experience which may have the very real potential to cause a far more negative impact than those profiting from your involvement would ever care for you to even think about…

In closing then, it is perhaps safe to assume that, considering that you’ve made it thus far, you have more than a passing interest in volunteering and it needs to be stressed that this is indeed an admirable ambition. Hopefully some of what you’ve just read will be of some use at least in helping with your current research into doing something worthwhile and different. As previously stated, just-one is happy to hear from anyone willing to share specific skills and expertise which stand to provide relevant benefit to our work here in Nepal. It can’t be over-stressed though that ALL potential volunteers need to take GREAT care while researching and arranging any prospective placement. Ultimately, supply and demand WILL dictate how both volunteerism and voluntourism will develop over the years to come. As long as enough individuals remain willing to pay handsomely for the ‘privilege’ of volunteering, placements (often of questionable value) will continue to be created to meet the demand. Don’t forget that partial responsibility rests with each and every individual who chooses to volunteer based solely on the clever marketing prose often found on various web-sites of countless placement agencies and meaningful-travel tour operators who boldly claim that to just go on holiday can be such a selfish thing to do – especially when there are so many more real and worthwhile experiences just waiting for you to enjoy as soon as you share your credit card details with them…