International Volunteering
International volunteering is the process of completing unpaid work in a foreign, and often developing country in great need. It is an extremely diverse practice and includes teaching, environmental conservation, and supporting communities. This is an excellent practice to have a positive impact on the people and environment of the country.

One can view international volunteering and poverty reduction as two interrelated aspects. The practice has received great commemoration for its impact and success in addressing poverty. For example, the U.N. recognizes international volunteering with International Volunteer Day, celebrated every year on December 5. Despite this, it is not without its criticisms.

International Volunteering and Poverty Reduction

According to World Vision, about 9.2% of the world’s population (689 million people) live in extreme poverty and survive on less than $1.90 a day. Poverty has extensive repercussions including hunger and food insecurity, increased crime and child mortality rates, political instability and corruption. Many households that suffer from poverty are exposed to precarious situations. For example, they deal with exploitation due to their limited access to employment. Poor labor laws, insufficient political and trade-union representation and general economic issues are making this issue worse.

Oftentimes, in these low-income and developing countries, there is a lack of key public infrastructure including schools, hospitals, security services and social protection schemes for people to access. Even in areas where they do exist, there is no way for the poor and marginalized to engage with them.

Others have regarded international volunteers as an under-recognized yet essential source to support poverty reduction and service delivery in low-income countries. In a 2015 report, Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) discovered how they play a significant role in “bridging the gap.” Not only do they add to the number of those working, but they also bring their own experiences to the workforce, helping to ensure that the services are relevant to those using them.

In Mozambique between 2004 and 2008, the number of those providing home-based care for AIDS patients increased from 17,170 to 99,122 because of international volunteers.

In Lesotho in 2015, international volunteers had the task to design and implement training programs for more than 400 youth leaders in an initiative that was volunteer-run. Using social media, the volunteers were able to teach the youth leaders how to establish their own platforms and engage with other young people, thus, creating a sustainable method of poverty alleviation.

In Burkina Faso, a partnership between the Ministry of Youth and Employment, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Volunteers and France Volontaires had tremendous results. They established programs designed to target the employability of young people in the early 2010s. They mobilized more than 13,000 youth volunteers which gained many new competencies such as how to access information on gender issues and learn about labor market competitiveness. Overall, the program resulted in 66% of the youth gaining ‘decently paid jobs’ after.

Disadvantages of International Volunteering

Despite international volunteering having a fruitful impact on poverty reduction in low-income and developing countries, it has been receiving extensive criticism as well. Perhaps the most condemned aspect of going abroad to volunteer is the idea of ‘stealing’ local job prospects. Rather than prioritizing local needs, organizations place money, effort and energy into international volunteer programs where the volunteer’s experiences and activities are often more important to some. Furthermore, volunteers tend to be young and inexperienced, and thus, can hinder poverty reduction. Shannon O’Donnell, the author of the Volunteer Traveller’s Handbook, stated that ‘”there is no doubt that volunteer programmes shift jobs from locals to potentially less skilled labour.”

Another key disadvantage is the duration of volunteer projects. Although many organizations offer and promote long-term projects, most of them are short-term. This is mostly based on the volunteer’s ability and time available to commit to a project. Like the criticism above, these projects become ‘volunteer centric,’ creating an array of short-term placements which enable a constant flow of new volunteers. This means that the organizations put more effort into training them rather than actually supporting poverty reduction initiatives.

An interrelated criticism focuses on international volunteering projects which focus on poverty reduction for children. During their time, volunteers build deep connections and relationships with children. They might do this by supporting their education in schools through lessons or extracurricular activities, community events or even helping in orphanages, all of which prove how the existence of volunteers is beneficial on multiple levels. As a result, the departure of these volunteers at the end of their projects may lead to psychological and emotional consequences for the children. Stephanie Halksworth from ReSet stated how these consequences include a “sense of abandonment, invalidation and stagnation.”

Ethical Volunteering: The Future of Poverty Reduction

The disadvantages stated above of international volunteering question its ethics and how these may be skewed in favor of the volunteer. A new form of volunteering branded as ethical volunteering emerged in 2016 to address these concerns. Ethical volunteering ensures that volunteers are not only doing so for themselves but also providing aid in a responsible and sustainable way. With support from the U.N., such activities are relevant to poverty reduction and staying aligned with this cause.

Here are five ideals associated with ethical volunteering:

  • Making a sustainable impact
  • Contributing to community development
  • Interacting with the environment (including animals) responsibly
  • Personal development grounded in ethics
  • Gaining a global perspective

International volunteering can be a positive force for supporting communities and poverty reduction. Regardless, its core elements have received critics, something which hints at the need for a change within the practice. Ethical volunteering overcomes these considerations and represents the future of international volunteering for poverty reduction.

– Harkiran Bharij
Photo: Flickr

volunteers in Ukraine
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022, Ukraine’s health system has been operating under severe pressure. It has become increasingly crucial for international organizations to collaborate with local groups in order to respond to the health crises that the war posed. Two organizations that have done this are the World Health Organization (WHO) and Doctors Without Borders/Medicines Sans Frontieres (MSF). Additionally, volunteers in Ukraine are proving crucial.

The World Health Organization (WHO) in Ukraine

Since the beginning of the war in February 2022, WHO has provided medical supplies and cooperated with neighboring countries that welcome and host Ukrainian refugees. The war has sapped Ukraine of resources to devote to health care, and there have been deliberate attacks on health facilities. In collaboration with Ukraine’s Ministry of Health, WHO plans to remain involved in Ukraine for the foreseeable future, giving support to the country’s overwhelmed medical professionals and facilities. It is doing so in several ways. It is building ‘healthcare hubs’ in heavily conflicted areas to treat patients suffering from war-related trauma.

Additionally, WHO successfully appealed for $147.5 million to foster humanitarian efforts, ensure emergency health care and help the country rebuild its health care system. Part of the funding will go to Ukraine directly, while the rest will go to surrounding countries with Ukrainian refugees, such as Moldova, Romania, Poland and the Czech Republic. Through this funding, health care facilities within Ukraine can increase their staff and have access to critical medical supplies such as ventilators, electric generators and ambulances. Between February and June of 2022, more than 1,300 new medical staff received training and the funding helped form more than 40 emergency response teams.

More funding will provide supplies to treat burns and chemical injuries and to handle mass casualties. The war has also led to an increase in psychological illness and distress – symptoms of these medical problems manifest in various forms, including sleeplessness, anxiety, grief and psychological pain. In collaboration with Olena Zolenska, the First Lady of Ukraine, WHO hopes to create a national mental health program.

Medicines Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Ukraine

The work of WHO alone is not enough to combat this crisis. Local organizations are proving essential in providing emergency humanitarian care, and MSF is helping mobilize local relief efforts. When investigating Ukraine’s needs, MSF noted how swiftly Ukraine’s population mobilized to create volunteer networks, NGOs and civil society groups. These quickly formed, efficient, local organizations are the main providers of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. MSF contributes to these groups by helping them with supplies and logistics to deliver food boxes and medications to remote areas, as well as by helping them coordinate emergency evacuations.

Coordinating Volunteers in Ukraine

One such local volunteer is Dmitry Zakharov, owner of a barbeque restaurant and car wash in Kharkiv, who was interviewed by MSF. Soon after the war broke out, Zakharov transformed his business into a hub for humanitarian aid. He began by distributing free water, and when a nearby meat factory stopped its operations, he gathered up what was left and distributed it to those who needed food. He turned his restaurant into a free medical clinic, and he coordinates volunteer efforts to serve free daily lunches to the community. Another volunteer is Yana Biletskaya, who has coordinated food and medical supply distribution from a massive storehouse near her home.

The need to provide mental health services has dramatically increased. Children and adults suffer from extreme anxiety. In coordination with MSF, volunteer teams provide mental health support in shelters, clinics and metro stations. They conduct individual and group mental health sessions to address issues of fear, stress, worry, hopelessness and panic attacks. While this is a good start, there is still a lot of work to do.

Other Organizations

Many other organizations are aiding these efforts. Team Rubicon coordinates volunteers in over 15 locations in Ukraine, Hungary and Poland. They treat wounds and chronic diseases no matter the condition – whether in a school or community center where hundreds of refugees sleep and live. Medical schools at Yale and Stanford have coordinated donations of medical supplies. Volunteers from the Global Surgical and Medical Support Group, a nonprofit, are training Ukrainian civilians on coping with wounds and fear.

There is a lot that still needs to occur. However, it is encouraging to see so many communities, organizations and volunteers working together, whether on the ground or from a distance, to help Ukraine in this time of need.

– Shiloh Harrill
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Fight for Girls' Education
Jana Amin has taken great strides to fight for girls’ education. She researched a societal issue and suggested solutions for a school project when she was 13 years old. She decided to write about girls’ lack of access to education. Thus, she contacted Heya Masr, a nonprofit that organizes local educational and empowerment workshops for girls. Then, Amin hired a videographer to film her with Heya Masr’s students. Finally, she created an online fundraising campaign and raised more than $6,000 for the cause.

“We were going to visit family in Egypt anyway,” Amin told The Borgen Project. “And I thought to myself, I’m doing this work anyway. Why not use this as an opportunity to create tangible change?”

This was her first foray into activism. The 17-year-old Egyptian-American has given a TEDx talk, spoken about gender equality on a United Nations panel and curated an exhibit at the American University in Cairo. She advocates changing Western perceptions of Muslim women and wants to fight for girls’ education.

Changing Western Perceptions of Muslim Women

This was Amin’s first time formally conducting advocacy. However, she already had some experience. She lived in Egypt until she was around 10 years old when her family moved to Boston. Her activism began through one-on-one interactions with Bostonians about her life as a Muslim girl.

“On a daily basis, I was asked questions about if Egyptian girls could drive, if my mother could drive, if I was allowed to go to school in Egypt,” Amin said. “And it was all these misconceptions about Islam, the faith, about Middle Eastern culture, and more generally about women in the Middle East, about women in Islam. And so I think that’s how I first initially got pushed towards activism.”

Her desire to fix misconceptions about Muslim women led her to give a TEDx talk, where she spoke about how Western media often portrayed Muslim women as victims of oppression. She suggested that amplifying Muslim women’s voices would change this singular narrative.

Additionally, Amin curated an exhibit at the American University in Cairo. The exhibit featured Princess Fawzia Fuad of Egypt, the first wife of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the shah of Iran. Furthermore, the exhibit focused on the differences in how the Western and Egyptian press depicted Princess Fawzia. While Western media portrayed the princess as a helpless political pawn. Egyptian press depicted her as a humanitarian, champion of girls’ education and representation of the modern woman. Amin presented her research to bring awareness to Princess Fawzia’s accomplishments and to give other young Muslim women a powerful role model.

Fighting for Girls’ Education

Jana Amin continues to fight for girls’ education in many different ways. She recently spoke on a United Nations panel about how governments can tailor their policies to specifically address gender disparities.

“We often think that change in somebody’s life or change on a meaningful level requires so much,” Amin told The Borgen Project. “Something so simple as giving someone an education can do so much for their life.”

On her 17th birthday, Amin invited and interviewed 17 experts in female education and empowerment. She streamed this digital event “#17for17: Advocating for Girls’ Education” for many to view. The speakers included prominent writers, artists, activists and humanitarians.

Collateral Repair Project

As one of her ongoing projects, she also volunteers with a nonprofit organization called Collateral Repair Project to directly support women’s education efforts in the Middle East. Collateral Repair Project (CRP) is a nonprofit organization based in Amman, Jordan. It supports refugees living in Jordan through educational and female empowerment workshops and basic needs assistance.

Jana Amin discovered Collateral Repair Project during a school trip to the Middle East in her freshman year of high school. She was struck by its SuperGirls workshops, which provide young female refugees with a space to express their feelings, overcome trauma and speak up for themselves.

After Amin returned to Massachusetts, she volunteered with Collateral Repair Project. She met with refugees over Skype to help them practice conversational English. After three years, she also began teaching English over Zoom. However, the lessons were unreliable due to Wi-Fi issues and Amin began to doubt whether the lessons were useful. Yet after about four weeks, a Yemeni woman lined up her four children in front of a camera, who recited basic English phrases that Amin had taught their mother.

Amin said the experience reminded her that “you educate one woman and she has the ability to educate her family and in turn her community.”

The Power of Activism

Amin believes that she has a responsibility to create positive change in her community. To many people, fearlessness propels Amin’s activism. This courage is evident when she cold-called Michelle Obama. While preparing for her “#17for17” birthday event, she called and messaged the Obama Foundation’s Girls Opportunity Alliance to ask if Michelle Obama could speak at her event. Although Amin did not expect to succeed, the program’s representatives responded within 24 hours to say that Michelle Obama was busy that day. However, its executive director, Tiffany Drake, was willing to be a speaker. She was delighted to discover she is not alone in the fight for girls’ education.

“I think we do the craziest things when we don’t hold ourselves back,” she said.

– Sarah Brinsley
Photo: Courtesy of Jana Amin

IVolunteer International
IVolunteer International is an online platform that mobilizes volunteers to local projects and exposes thousands to volunteerism. The nonprofit powers mostly grassroots movements and connects them to volunteers in their local area in real-time. The co-founder, Nipuna Ambanpola, envisions a world of 7 billion volunteers. By addressing barriers for volunteers and digitalizing the process, the organization is simplifying the process of volunteering. IVolunteer International is reimagining the future of volunteerism and creating a space for volunteers to unite across the globe.

The Borgen Project spoke to Nipuna Ambanpola, the executive director of IVolunteer International. Ambanpola was born and raised in Sri Lanka and moved to the United States as an international student in 2015. During his time as a student, Ambanpola searched for volunteer opportunities and found many obstacles to the simple act of volunteering. The creation of IVolunteer International stemmed from a basic question: “what are the barriers of volunteerism?” Since its creation, IVolunteer International has mobilized more than 6,000 volunteers worldwide and promoted volunteerism to more than 200,000 people.

The Reasons 7 Billion Volunteers Do Not Exist

In the process of creating IVolunteer International, Ambanpola and his team spoke to individuals worldwide about the difficulties of volunteering. Ambanpola finds that four main problems exist that deter people from volunteering. First, devoting time to volunteering is a challenge for people who already have commitments to other tasks. People occupied with jobs, children or other obligations do not have the spare time to attend weekly meetings or volunteer projects.

Second, volunteering has a financial obligation from transportation costs to membership fees. Financial well-being is a privilege that can permit or prevent someone from volunteering.

Third, there is no single user-friendly platform to find volunteer projects. And fourth, organizations that rely on volunteers often have a finite group. To generate 7 billion volunteers, organizations must find the potential of every community member to participate.

Without time, finances, listings and open groups, there is a low likelihood that people will devote their efforts to volunteering. IVolunteer International compiles the needs of volunteers and addresses these complications. Ambanpola describes IVolunteer International’s solutions to volunteerism as a combination of “a mobile app, projects to raise awareness and mobilizing local activists.” A future mobile app will include real-time access to volunteer efforts in a user’s local area. Currently, the website offers location-based and virtual volunteer projects that it categorizes by project focus. From alliances with grassroots movements to United Nations service projects, the volunteer opportunities appeal to a sizeable audience.

Initiatives: #BirthdayDeed and IVolunteer Series

To create action and awareness for volunteerism, IVolunteer International promotes inspiring initiatives in its campaign. As part of the action campaign, IVolunteer International encourages users to register for #BirthdayDeed. People sign up and pledge to do one act of service on their birthdays. A week before an individual’s birthday, IVolunteer International sends an automated email with personalized volunteer opportunities. Whether writing a letter to a loved one or participating in a beach cleanup, this campaign is spreading positive change. By simply involving people on their birthdays, this initiative can be a catalyst for people to realize the importance of volunteering.

The IVolunteer Series is part of an awareness campaign that brings attention to volunteerism. The series spotlights individuals that share their personal experiences with grassroots movements, finding a passion for volunteerism and other social impacts. The goal of the IVolunteer Series is to show relatable stories that can motivate people to start their volunteer journey. The interviews range from presentations on eradicating college hunger to finding a passion for volunteering in a new city. This initiative spreads awareness of activism and generates interest from potential volunteers.

How Volunteering Unites the World

Volunteering is a worldwide effort to better communities and uplift those in need. The benefits of fulfillment and connection are the main reasons that many choose to volunteer. Volunteering can strengthen ties and create an investment in the future of a community. When Ambanpola moved from Sri Lanka to the United States, he formed a network and community with those he met while volunteering. As Ambanpola found, participating in local activism can increase connections and provide insight and awareness for local issues. The generosity of volunteers worldwide shows that volunteerism has a personal gain at stake. From combating depression to finding a support system or fulfilling a purpose and avoiding loneliness, any number of reasons can inspire people to find the benefits of volunteer work.

A New Era of Volunteers

With technology increasing at an exponential rate, volunteer organizations are utilizing new methods of communication and outreach. The future of IVolunteer International is a mobile app that serves both volunteers and nonprofit organizations. An app stands as a user-friendly and convenient way to link organizations or individuals to passionate volunteers. The user will submit their location and be able to immediately connect to real-time projects happening near them. These projects can be low-level commitments to encourage more individuals to participate. Organizations and individuals can find volunteers by simply submitting a project and each party will benefit from the streamlined process.

Since technology provides vast amounts of data, a long-term goal of IVolunteer International is to compile data about volunteerism. The data will be available to the public as well as governments, organizations and agencies to give insight into who volunteers in their community. Also, statistics will be a meaningful way to attract certain populations to projects they would find interest in. IVolunteer International proves that technology provides the tools for change. The organization continues to empower local communities to find solutions and is contributing to a new era of digital volunteerism.

– Eva Pound
Photo: Courtesy of Nipuna Ambanpola

Tourists at Kawah Ijen
In Indonesia, 9,000 feet above sea level, on the Kawah Ijen volcano crater, one can see two kinds of people: sulfur miners suffering backbreaking labor in toxic conditions, and tourists wealthy enough to afford gas masks and enjoy the rugged beauty of the landscape.

Background

The miners are locals of the region. They trek up the steep cliffs, carrying 80 kilograms of sulfur per trip for compensation of about 7 cents per kilogram. PT Candi Ngrimi employs them and processes the sulfur into powder, slabs and granules for sale to manufacturing companies. In particular, sugar processing companies use sulfur to refine and whiten sugar crystals.

Despite working next to the most acidic lake in the world and within the toxic fumes of the volcano, the workers have virtually no equipment to protect themselves from hazards. Most wear only a thin piece of cloth over their nose and mouth.

Unlike the miners, who have been active since 1954, the tourists at Kawah Ijen are a new addition to the volcano. East Java was rather obscure until 2010. Then, Abdullah Azwar Anas became regent of the Banyuwangi Regency (the city in which the volcano is located). Upon his election, Azwar developed fervent promotions for tourism, and now millions of people visit Banyuwangi yearly.

Benefits of Tourism

The economic impact of tourism is immense for many countries around the world. For instance, Maldives has shifted from a least developed to a developing country largely because of tourism, which is the dominant economic sector for that country.

Tourism is a growing economic force for Indonesia, too, as it accounts for 5.2% of GDP and 3.7% of total employment. Tourists at Kawah Ijen create the potential for public and private sector cooperation. This relationship could build infrastructure to support tourism, ultimately increasing employment and income.

Tourist attractions like the Kawah Ijen crater rely on the environmental and cultural health of the area. Thus, the governments and corporations in Banyuwangi have the motivation to preserve these aspects. Although there may be increased infrastructure development in the area, it is unlikely that there will be large-scale changes that would alter the natural and cultural beauty of Banyuwangi.

Consequences of Tourism

The primary concern of tourism at Kawah Ijen is that the sulfur miners become an attraction, much like the alluring blue fire, yellow sulfur and acidic lake of the volcano’s crater. Tourists reflect this concern by taking selfies with miners who are about to begin their trek back to base for their daily $5. Despite their popularity, the miners have not seen any monetary rewards during Banyuwangi’s tourism boom, barring small fees for photographs. Their wages remain as they have for decades.

Tourists at Kawah Ijen are not an inherently bad thing, of course. However, the sulfur miners are a big reason that the volcano is a tourist attraction at all, yet they continue to live in poverty. It is an extreme example of exploitation without compensation.

So popular is the hardship of the sulfur miners’ lives that they are documented on a database of “dark tourism.” Dark tourism, according to the website, is “travel to sites that are in some way connected to death or disaster.” Kawah Ijen received a 10/10 on its “dark-o-meter” rating, alongside memorials to the Hiroshima bombing and the Rwandan genocide.

How to Ensure Positive Development

There are ways that tourism can theoretically provide a positive experience for host communities. These ways not only avoid voyeurism but seek to alleviate some of the challenges host communities experience.

One example of this is voluntourism, which melds volunteer service work with tourism. Tourists could plant trees resistant to sea-level rise on the coast of East Java. They could help build a road to make the miners’ travels easier. Voluntourism, however, is a potentially deleterious activity that can strip local communities of their agency. If implemented at Kawah Ijen, officials would have to monitor voluntourism with extreme caution and attention to detail.

Another example is pro-poor tourism, which aims to create a net benefit for impoverished communities in host countries. This often takes the form of governments or private companies training impoverished populations to take part in the tourist industry, perhaps as a travel guide or an education specialist.

Because of tourism’s growing economic importance in Banyuwangi, tourists themselves have indirect political power in the region. Considering this, tourists at Kawah Ijen have an opportunity to become activists. If they demanded that miners received just compensation for their work, the regency or PT Cambri Ngimri may oblige. This is called justice tourism, and although it may seem idealistic, it could produce a serious change in places like Kawah Ijen, if it were done correctly.

Sublime photos of Kawah Ijen’s sulfur mines and blue fire continue to circulate on the internet. It is clear that the volcano’s popularity is not dwindling. Governments and companies, then, should try and discover ways to make tourism socially sustainable. This practice is necessary not just in Indonesia, but in any place that is worth visiting and celebrating.

Christopher Orion Bresnahan
Photo: Flickr

 

COVID-19 disrupts volunteer workAs the COVID-19 pandemic has swept across the world, no area of life has been left untouched. From millions of people working remotely to the severe curtailing of international travel, COVID-19 and its impacts are inescapable. One area of work in particular has been impacted. In many ways, COVID-19 disrupts volunteer work around the world. Efforts to fight the pandemic have been absorbing much of the global community’s attention and resources. However, the global community is now in danger of neglecting some of the most essential and under-appreciated workers in the word: volunteers. As wallets tighten due to the economic impact of the coronavirus, volunteerism may experience harsh cutbacks.

In some cases, volunteer organizations are finding that their previous model of activity, usually focused around bringing people together, is no longer possible due to social distancing requirements. This has sparked creative and thoughtful solutions about how to serve people who most need help without further endangering their health, overcoming the ways in which COVID-19 disrupts volunteer work.

Who Are the Volunteers?

While these solutions are helpful, there is another problem that is more difficult to confront: the general decline in volunteers. American senior citizens volunteer at a rate of 23.9%, as opposed to the 18.8% of people in their early 20s who volunteer. This rate is consistent in other countries, such as in Northern Ireland, where an estimated 25% of volunteers are over 65, and in France, where the vast majority of regular volunteers are over the age of 55. CDC data shows that COVID-19 becomes far more deadly as people age, with hospitalizations per 100,000 increasing exponentially past the age of 50. Regardless of creative solutions, the essence of volunteer work requires close contact between volunteers and the people they are trying to serve. Thus, the crisis in volunteerism becomes evident: older people are the majority of volunteers but are also those most vulnerable to the coronavirus. Consequently, COVID-19 disrupts volunteer work.

A Local Impact

Ms. Violaine Motte, a volunteer at the Église de la Sainte Trinité, understands how COVID-19 has disrupted volunteer work. The Parisian church distributes food four times a week to any who ask. Motte, who has worked with the church for six years, says that they have been distributing food for over 30 years.

The church sees a large variety of visitors seeking help, from workmen who cannot afford local prices to homeless people to retired people living on a fixed income. In the time of quarantine and social distancing, people coming from such diverse and varied backgrounds present a danger of infection. It is impossible to control or even fully know their movements and contacts. This is a particularly relevant risk for the volunteers at the Trinité church, as they fit the global trend of volunteers. Ms. Motte says that, before the pandemic, volunteers “were getting quite old because the average of the ladies coming is more or less 70 years old.” This creates a serious risk for volunteers at the church, who are thus unable to help while protecting themselves from infection.

As a result, COVID-19 disrupts volunteer work at the church. “The day of the confinement, due to the fact that we have old people in the volunteers, they were no longer allowed to come,” Motte says. “They’re too old; it’s a risky population. The priest decided not to have them anymore preparing the meal or serving the food.” Furthermore, Motte says that as a result of the new rules, the group was forced to take its operation out of the church and into the street, as well as drastically reduce the size of the team preparing food.

In addition, COVID-19 disrupts volunteer work through forced quarantine, which impacts many elderly volunteers. “For the old volunteers, it’s something very sad because they were told not to come anymore. In my point of view, the service is very important for the people who receive the service, but also for the people doing the service,” said Motte. “A big part of them are people living alone, and to come to the church and prepare food for others is a way to be inside their lives.” As the church moves forward in its activities, it remains unclear what can be done to ensure the participation of older volunteers.

This is a problem for the church, as they find it difficult to attract new volunteers. Motte says, “Since I’ve worked there, it’s still quite the same volunteers.” As a result, while older volunteers have been compelled to stay home, there hasn’t been anybody coming to take their place. Motte is frank about the challenges the church faces as a result of the coronavirus: “Now the rules are totally changing, and we don’t know what’s going on in September.”

However, Motte is equally frank about what needs to be done in order to ensure that this important work continues, despite the ways in which COVID-19 disrupts volunteer work: “Encourage more young people to volunteer.”

– Franklin Nossiter
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

volunteerism in IndiaAs the effort to contain the spread of COVID-19 continues globally and conditions remain unclear for many people throughout India, what started out as a 21-day lockdown has since been extended for high infection areas until June 30th. The country has slowly started re-opening a variety of businesses and organizations by the Ministry of Health Affairs despite a spike of 68,566 reported cases from May 25 to June 3. The vulnerability of poor and homeless people throughout India poses an additional threat to the already fragile hunger crisis underway. Luckily, volunteerism in India is saving lives.

Migrant Workers and Homelessness

There are currently more than 1.7 million homeless people living in India. During a nation-wide lockdown, this is extremely problematic with lacking resources and little capacity at homeless shelters. Previous to the lockdown, an estimated 250 million Indian people were living underfed or malnourished. According to statistics gathered over the course of the last three months, these numbers have increased by 22.2 million. Many migrant workers trying to return home were forced to isolate in conditions that put their health and livelihood at risk. In many of these places, following social distancing guidelines is extremely difficult if not impossible.

Homeless shelters in India are working to get as many people off of the street as possible; however, this comes at a price. When the country went under strict order and work was quickly put to a halt, migrant workers had no choice but to begin their journey home. Many shelters houses more than 10,000 migrant workers and homeless people. This results in limited masks and sanitizers becomes an added issue on top of limited food and space. For nothing more than “a ladle of poorly cooked food poured roughly into a plate or plastic envelope”, masses of people would stand in line for hours, uncertain of when their next meal may come.

How Volunteerism in India is Saving Lives

Once lockdown restrictions began to lift, the community of India wasted no time giving back to those most vulnerable. The reliance on government programs during crisis can be taxing, specifically when there is not near enough meals to cover the amount of people in need. Many charities and organizations saw this need and teamed up with locals to shine a light on the issue. Together, they urged the government to provide aid as soon as possible. Here are a few stories of how volunteerism in India is saving lives.

Project Mumbai

Khaana Chahiye, created by Project Mumbai, in an initiative that continues to work tirelessly to provide meals for thousands of migrant workers and displaced people during the lockdown and pandemic. The initiative does not discriminate against who receives the meals; however, the focal point of this initiative is to feed as many homeless and migrant workers as possible. During this time, the organization averages an output of 70,000 meals per day to the poor. Luckily, the consistency of this output has sustained the lives of thousands. The organization also offers ways for civilians to bring attention to areas in need not being reached.

How An Individual Has Made a Difference

Local Tagore Government Arts and Science College Principal Sasi Kanta Dash, PhD, has always dreamt of helping his community. Dr. Dash knew that the lockdown could go on for a number of months and saw the need for positive change. At the beginning of the lockdown, he gathered a group of volunteers and started by feeding 250 people on the very first day, and the “immense satisfaction at the end of the first day catalyzed the actions on the future”. Over the course of 40 days, Dr. Dash has served more than 10,000 meals to the elderly, sick and poor across India.

The reality for thousands of people in India means limited access to preventative measures for the coronavirus, extreme food scarcity and the uncertainty of what tomorrow will bring. Although this can be daunting, with the help of local heroes like Dr. Dash and Project Mumbai, the goal of sustenance for all becomes that much closer.

– Katie Mote-Preuss 
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Bulgaria
According to the 2019 Global Hunger Index (GHI), Bulgaria was one out of only 17 countries with a GHI score of less than five. The GHI collectively puts together this score encompassing the factors of undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting and child mortality. Here are four facts about hunger in Bulgaria.

4 Facts About Hunger in Bulgaria

  1. Volunteer Intervention: Over the past years, there has been quite a lot of overseas intervention by universities and international organizations to address the previous issue of hunger. For example, in 2015, a group of students at Rice University in Texas traveled to Bulgaria to help the Bulgarian Food Bank with its biannual food drive. This food drive typically takes place between May 19 and June 3. Alongside the Global FoodBanking Network, the students spent approximately a semester in Bulgaria learning about international service, making space for collected food and engaging in other volunteer opportunities. In the end, these students learned quite a lot throughout their semester, and the food drive was a huge success. Many volunteer projects and service trips like this one have become a large staple in Bulgaria’s plan to eradicate hunger. With overseas support, there has been a push for various food drives and other initiatives to raise food and awareness for hunger in Bulgaria.
  2. Policy Changes: Bulgarian lawmakers have also implemented various policy changes aimed at fixing the number of cases regarding hunger. In 2016, lawmakers amended a tax law allowing for a waiver of the value-added tax (VAT) on food that companies donate to food banks and other charities. In the past, companies faced a 20 percent VAT on food donations which meant it was more expensive to give food to a food bank than to throw it away. With the action taken by organizations such as the Global FoodBanking Network and the Bulgarian Food Bank, Bulgaria amended the tax law, allowing many food banks to receive more donations from companies. Policy changes like the one discussed above are a win for Bulgarians suffering from food insecurity, food banks and companies.
  3. The Global FoodBanking Network: The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) has played a role in addressing food insecurity in Bulgaria. The GFN is an international nonprofit working against world hunger by supporting food banks worldwide. Its entire approach mainly runs on four ideas: partnering with new food banks, knowledge exchange, building capacity and assuring safety. With these four goals in mind, the GFN has provided expertise, resources and connections for many food banks in Bulgaria to prosper. Individuals and groups can involve themselves as well. Find more information at foodbanking.org.
  4. Bulgarian Food Bank: In addition to the Global FoodBanking Network, the Bulgarian Food Bank (BFB) has also played a very vital role in improving hunger in Bulgaria. Being the biggest initiative actively present within Bulgaria, the BFB has been the hub for food banks and raising awareness around world hunger. It is also a member of the Global Food Banking Network and the European Food Banking Federation. To provide some history, founders including Association of Meat Processors in Bulgaria, Bella Bulgaria AD, Bio Bulgaria Ltd. (Harmonica), Kraft Foods (Mondelize), Neterra Ltd., Piccadilly JSC (Deleuze Group), Road Runner Ltd. (BG menu), Tandem-V Ltd. and FORA – Community Development Foundation created BFB in 2012. Since then, it has grown to work with various other organizations and help millions of citizens. The BFB has held numerous food drives and events on occasions such as World Food Day.

Bulgaria, as a whole, has taken quite a lot of action to ensure food security. By working with various organizations, implementing different policy changes and providing volunteer opportunities for individuals and groups, Bulgaria is decreasing hunger at a fast rate.

– Srihita Adabala
Photo: Pixabay

Tourism in Peru
When thinking of tourism in Peru, one’s mind quickly turns to Lima and Machu Picchu, which are areas that tourists often visit due to their immense popularity. However, just miles away, local communities, such as Luquina Chico and the Cordillera Blanca mountain region, provide the same otherworldly experience, including magnificent sights, sounds, eats and more. With new varieties of tourism, including experiential and volunteer tourism in Peru, tourists can immerse themselves in the Peruvian culture outside of the immensely populated and toured areas while also providing economic benefit to the people.

Experiential Tourism with Homestays

About 80 percent of tourism in Peru consists of Turismo financial or experiential tourism. In this homestay option, families provide their homes to tourists to teach them about Peruvian culture by fully immersing them in it.

The community council facilitates all homestays in order to provide fair opportunities for economic benefit to all families. An area with homestays is Luquina Chico, a quaint community an hour and a half plane ride away from the regular tourist go-to, Lima, which resides on the edge of Lake Titicaca. To tourists, an experience in a Luquina homestay feels like full cultural immersion. To the communities and Peruvian families offering homestays, it feels like economic assistance and an entrance into Peru’s thriving tourism sector, symbolizing a well-developed system of exchange. For instance, while staying at a homestay, LA Times writer Thomas Curwen experienced the tranquility of the Luquina environment, as well as the Peruvian culture and food the Gutierrez family offered.

Host families benefit from receiving fantastic interactions with foreigners as well as monetary benefits when tourists pay for meals and nightly lodging. Such earned income provides a sustainable tourist economy for hosts, and also allows Luquina residents to work from home rather than having to migrate outwards to bring income in. It also provides the ability for Peruvian host families to undertake structural repairs to homes or new construction to build paths.

Volunteer Tourism

Volunteer tourism in Peru offers another immersive experience to tourists while also directly assisting individuals and communities with volunteer time, skills and energy. In this exchange, tourists experience Peru through skills exchange, which directly makes valuable contributions to communities in need. There is usually a contradicting image of tourists in poverty-stricken areas often overlooked in the face of vacation. Inspired by this, the owner of WWTrek, Dean Cardinale, found a sustainable way to give back. The organization does so by hosting treks across mountainous areas to provide community assistance for at least one day on the trip.

For 2020, treks include Peru’s Cordillera Blanca mountain range in Huaraz, with a stop in the village of Pashpa, for tourists to complete a computer community center. Such a project at completion will provide Internet access to 400 residents with 10 laptops and digital cameras and 500gb of new educational content, thus providing a significant impact to an otherwise remote area.

It is imperative for one to note that approximately 6.9 Peruvian individuals live in poverty, living on less than $105 U.S. a month. At the same time, Peru’s tourism industry contributes $19.6 million to the economy while providing 1.2 million residents with jobs. With such a huge impact, responsible tourism could positively impact the alleviation of poverty when considering the potential amount of people that could vacation responsibly. People often think of a vacation as a treat to themselves, however, homestays or volunteer experiences show that one’s presence in another country could be a treat to locals as well.

– Elizabeth Yusuff
Photo: Flickr

 

Kiwanis International Unites Local and Global ActionThink globally, act locally: this sentiment is shared by city planners, activists and businesspeople alike. Worldwide issues can appear so large as to be insurmountable. When a problem’s scale is overwhelming, taking action is a challenge, but small-scale, grassroots actions can make a massive difference over time. The spirit of global thinking and local action is the drive behind Kiwanis International, an international association of clubs that focus on helping children and fighting poverty and disease. The organization’s self-stated mission is to “improve the world by making lasting differences in the lives of children,” a goal which they pursue through community service projects and fundraising campaigns.

History

In 1914, Allen S. Brown and Joseph C. Prance created The Supreme Lodge Benevolent Order Brothers in Detroit, Michigan. This original organization was not focused on community service but on professional networking, a far cry from what it would become. In 1915, the name was changed to Kiwanis, from an Ojibwe expression that the founders translated as “We build,” which is now the organization’s motto. Around the same time, the founders began to pivot toward focusing on community service rather than business. Kiwanis was quick to grow, with chapters soon being formed in Cleveland, Ohio and Hamilton, Ontario. In the 1960s, Kiwanis began to expand outside of North America, and today there are more than 600,000 members in eighty nations and geographic areas.

Youth Activity

Many members of Kiwanis clubs are youth — the overarching Kiwanis organization includes K-Kids for elementary school children, Key Club for high-school students and Circle K International (CKI) for college-aged members, all of which focus on leadership skills and service projects. CKI has an established partnership with UNICEF, raising money for UNICEF’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) project. CKI’s work with WASH focuses on Haiti, and in the past three fiscal years, CKI has raised more than $58,000 for WASH. CKI clubs also do locally-focused projects, like volunteering at food banks to help feed the poor or decorating trash cans in order to discourage littering.

CKI’s work is an excellent demonstration of Kiwanis’ overall strategy: clubs organize their own projects based on local needs, while the larger organization tackles large-scale issues, primarily through fundraising. Kiwanis International recognizes both that individual communities have their own needs and that some problems are global. The organization reports that its clubs host nearly 150,000 service projects each year.

International Projects

The Kiwanis International website lists winners, runners-up and other submissions for their yearly Signature Project Recognition Program and Contest, which recognizes Kiwanis clubs doing great work around the world. For example, the Kiwanis Club of Bendigo, Australia, has a book box program inspired by low literacy rates in the community. The Kiwanis Club of Taman Sentosa in Malaysia runs the Kiwanis Careheart Centre, which offers vocational training and support services to people with intellectual disabilities.

Other projects are larger in scale, such as Threads Across the Pacific, an initiative financially supported by several Kiwanis clubs from New Zealand. Threads Across the Pacific donates sewing machines and other sewing supplies to women in Vanuatu and trains them in sewing, with the goal of helping them pull themselves out of poverty. Projects like these are still regional and focused on the needs of specific communities, unlike Kiwanis’ organization-wide initiatives, meant to combat large-scale, global issues.

One of the international projects Kiwanis International has worked on concerns maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), MNT has been “among the most common life-threatening consequences of unclean deliveries and umbilical cord care practices,” and in 1988, approximately 787,000 newborns died of neonatal tetanus. In areas with sub-par maternal healthcare, MNT is a serious threat to new mothers and their babies.

In 2010, Kiwanis International partnered with UNICEF in an effort to fight MNT through vaccinations for women and newborns. Kiwanis pledged to raise $110,000,000 for the project, with clubs around the world hosting fundraisers to contribute to the effort. The project involved vaccinations in fifty-nine countries, and as of July 2019, MNT had been eliminated in forty-six of them. In this context, “elimination” is taken to mean that MNT affects fewer than 0.1 percent of births.

Kiwanis International differs from other organizations in its commitment to empower communities to identify local problems and work toward solving them, without losing sight of the bigger picture. After all, who better to identify problems that trouble a community than the people who live in that community? Kiwanis supports grassroots actions by teaching leadership skills and organizational planning to members through online and in-person training. In turn, Kiwanis clubs support the larger initiatives of Kiwanis International to effect change around the world. This approach to nonprofit organizational structure makes has made Kiwanis projects particularly impactful.

– Meredith Charney
Photo: Wikipedia