An interesting topic was brought up today via an innocent little Twitter tweet. Someone posted a list of great volunteer programs in Chiang Mai Thailand. Another Tweeter thought it was wrong to pay for volunteering. I raised the issue of the cost of accommodation and food – who should bear those costs? I also commented that I thought if a donation to the organization was included in the fee, that was ok. It all depends on the organization, of course and what the program involves.
For small organizations who operate mostly from the ground, with a few volunteers coordinating efforts, it’s impossible for them to pay for food and accommodation, airfare, and such. And in those cases, I don’t mind covering my costs and making a donation in addition to volunteering my time.
I suppose the main point is – does the organization tell you how much of the fee is a direct contribution to their cause? Do they provide a breakdown of costs? Do you know how your donation is being spent?
I do believe that in light of the many recent disasters in our world, we’ve learned that the NGO/NPO’s are not as forthcoming in providing information as to how your donation is being used. And as a donors, it is our responsibility to hold the organizations accountable…make them show you where your money is going. We are well within our right for asking and perhaps if more people did, we wouldn’t find so many organizations skirting the issue.
With any other type of travel, you do some research, you ask questions, you ensure that you are getting good value for your money. It should be no different for voluntourism. Make sure the organization is sound and willing to outline the program fees. It would also be wise to consider what contribution you are actually making and what is the value of that. For example, are you digging ditches and building an irrigation system or are you training elephants? What impact will you have by volunteering your time? Is building a house for a victim of a natural disaster a bigger contribution than picking grapes in a vineyard? That all depends on you, what you hope to contribute and what experience you are seeking. For me, I’m happy to pay a higher fee/donation for an organization I believe is really making a difference for those less fortunate or who are recovering from a disaster. I will be happy to pay a fee to cover costs and make a minimal donation for something which is more to my benefit (like training elephants).
The skeptical tweeter said, “Reasonably priced to volunteer? No such thing.” For me, that just doesn’t compute. I expect to pay my airfare, my accommodation and food and I do expect that some of my funds will go directly to the organization. That’s reasonable to me. I might be volunteering my time, but at the heart of the program is the fact that I am making a contribution. And when I volunteer, I want both my personal and monetary contribution to count.
As always – happy to hear your thoughts!
In the photo: Can-Do.Org I’ve mentioned this organization several times now, because this is the type of NPO which puts your donation directly to work. I respect and admire them very much for making great efforts to prove to donors that the money is directly helping the people it’s intended for.
9/2010 – UPDATE
I’ve been following this organization since I found CAN-DO in July. I continue to be impressed with how much CAN-DO can do with modest funding. On Founder Eric Klein’s Facebook, he talks about hiring electricians, installing boxes and lights all through the building for $500. This was just one check on the TO DO list for the Orphanage Revitalization Project which kicked off at Patience Orphanage earlier in the month. Local craftsmen built and installed kitchen cabinets for $625. Bunk beds and mattresses were found for little more than $300. And that electricity? First time this orphanage has ever had lights!
It’s been terrific to see their work unfold and I was and am so moved by their efforts that I donated $100 to their organization. I wanted to provide some help, and I have 100% confidence that my donation reached them and went into repairing that orphanage and putting a few smiles on some very special kids’ faces.
I don’t often use my blog to promote or publicize, but I feel very strongly that CAN-DO is the David versus the Goliath of NGOs. The big NGOs have collected millions of dollars in donations, filled up over 50 warehouses of goods, but have done very little to ensure that the assistance falls into the hands who need it. This is the biggest flaw in the system – accountability. And this is where CAN-DO comes in. This is very much a grassroots organization which was on the ground in Haiti just 72 hours after the quake, and has made several trips to distribute medical supplies and food, provide water, build structures, and now revitalize orphanages and build sustainable shelter. They work with and employ the locals, pay local companies to rent trucks, cut through red tape and deliver the goods where needed. As Founder, Eric Klein says in THIS VIDEO, “It’s not brain surgery.” It is refreshing to watch this organization’s “no-nonsense” approach and see real results.
If you’d like to visit the CAN-DO website to learn more, please go to: www.can-do.org.
I also enjoyed this video posted of a moment in the field.
If you’d like to learn more about their Haiti Domes Project (which is really cool) they have a dedicated site www.haitidomesproject.com
And finally, if you want to continue to follow CAN-DO’s projects in Haiti, you can Like them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CanDo.Org or for tweeters follow @candoorg.
I’m really pleased to shine the spotlight on this organization. And when you take a moment to learn more, I think you, too, will become a huge fan of CAN-DO.ORG.
7/2010 – ORIGINAL POST
I was sitting in my hotel room excited that I had most of the evening to myself. Ms. Lan, who was with me in HCMC to conduct sales calls had plans for dinner with a travel agent who didn’t speak English and who claimed she already met me. So much for me trying to build relations.
As I normally do when I’m in a hotel room, I turned on CNN to catch up with my news. It was a brief segment on Haiti which caught my attention. The situation is still dire after six months and much of the aide that was sent is caught up in red tape, sitting in warehouses, not being delivered to the people in need. Good old Sanjay called on of his “contacts” who happened to be a guy who runs an organization which is actually bypassing all of the bureaucratic nonsense, putting donations to work by paying for trucks and labor, filling up the trucks with supplies and delivering them to the people. Sanjay happened to be at an orphanage which was desperate to feed hungry and malnourished children.
I sat back and thought to myself a bit. I’m ashamed that I haven’t really thought of Haiti too much recently. And yet here was a guy and an organization using personal and donated funds, risking personal safety and health and helping to clean up a complete and utter disaster. I looked down at my notes from my appointments, “Discussed contract rate which is always an issue. Market still price conscious. Low season lower than last year. Eager for specials and discounts. Look to get the charter and reply on series booking.” Wow. My “work” for the day seemed like blowing dust instead of moving mountains.
I did a bit more research on CAN-DO.ORG. I discovered that they’ve been helping with recovery efforts in Sri Lanka after the tsunami in 2004, with Hurricane Katrina, the Iowa floods and now very much so with Haiti, among a host of other programs. Impressive, to say the least.
I was compelled to write to the founder, Eric Klein, to lend moral support and congratulate him on his efforts and well as see how I might do some volunteer work, even from afar. It’s a sound organization, remaining accountable for the donations it receives by filming all the drops and deliveries. So in short turn around, you can see your name on a water or delivery truck which you helped pay for. They do this through their www.virtualvolunteer.tv channel, also posting updates and any news they are featured in.
You know sometimes we meet someone, see something, read or hear news which lends us those ah-ha moments in life, the epiphany that allows us to envision a better version of ourselves, to look up and admire someone and hope that we can possess just an ounce of that compassion and drive which makes them a truly remarkable person. That was me in my hotel room in HCMC, wishing I could be as bold and brave as those folks helping the Haitians.
I hope you’ll take a moment to visit this website, learn more about the good work these people are doing and hopefully make a donation so they can remain on the ground helping where it matters and really getting it done. If you’ve already made a donation to an NGO or NPO, I have to ask if you have followed up to ask where your money and contributions have gone? It’s very clear that there is a huge lack of accountability with far too many and even very large organizations. If you did already make a contribution, raise your voice and ask for a progress report. Because from what it appears on CNN and with reports from workers joining forces with CAN-DO.ORG, Haiti is off the radar, it’s been just six months since the earthquake and the people are still very much in need of help.