Development is a complex issue. I don’t have all the answers, nor do I pretend to. However one thing I DO know, is that you shouldn’t be partaking in volunteer (or really, voluntourism) opportunities to travel to SE Asia to build a house for that ‘poor family’.
There are many organisations that offer for you to visit countries for a week or two, immerse yourself in the culture, and partake in voluntourism to build a house. While it may seem like a brilliant opportunity, as you get to travel AND help people, I am here to ask you to think again and ask yourself the following questions.
Are you qualified?
Are you a builder in your country? Do you actually have the skills and knowledge to build a house? If you aren’t there are issues with both your safety and the safety of the family that will be living in the house. Secondly, wouldn’t you feel bad if someone who wasn’t qualified came to your work and did your job for you?
Couldn’t a local do that job?
My friend recently enquired with a voluntourism company about their opportunities. She asked them if she would be taking a job from a local by building water sources in the village. They responded that the villagers would have to do it for free, which means they couldn’t support their families. My question is, why would they have to do it for free? Why couldn’t the NGO receive donations then pay the locals to build the water source, hence having jobs and an income to support their families?
Hiring local workers to do a job is much more sustainable. There are currently over 600,000 Cambodians (almost 4% of the population) living and working in Thailand, as they are unable to secure employment in-country. If they take the journey by foot, they are at risk of stepping on one of the hundreds of thousands of landmines that are still scattered around the country after civil war. Once they successfully reach the Thai/Cambodia border, there is a chance they will be shot by police. Once they reach Thailand and gain employment, they risk unfair working conditions and exploitation from their employers. Furthermore, given they illegally enter Thailand, the chance of them getting arrested for illegal entry is high.
By supporting local workers to build that house, you are contributing to whole families and communities, and making a much bigger impact than if you were to build that house yourself.
Who will take care of maintenance?
Building a house, water well, school, toilet or play equipment doesn’t just end there. Ongoing maintenance is needed. One of our sewing students at Human and Hope Association had a water well built a few years back. Once it stopped working, they didn’t have the money to pay for the maintenance, nor was any ongoing support offered. The well sat unused for a long time.
If you are participating in voluntourism with a company, how are they ensuring that maintenance is taken care of? Do they follow up with the families? Do they have a support liaison? Don’t let your time and money go to waste.
Is this a long-term solution?
Whether you are building a house or donating one, is it a long-term solution? Will this bring a family out of poverty? Will this create a dependence on aid? Will this cause them to stop seeking employment opportunities? There are so many questions to ask yourself.
So please, if you were considering travelling overseas to build that house, I urge you to think again. Voluntourism is NOT the solution to the world’s problems.