I received an email today. At first glance I thought it was an April Fools.
Been thinking about taking part in a GVI childcare programme recently? Well, today could be your lucky day!
To raise funds for the GVI Charitable Trust, we’ve partnered up with PrizeAid and StudentUniverse to provide one lucky donor with a free 2-week place on any of our childcare programmes, including return flights!
A competition being run by Student Universe and GVI with the prize being a two week opportunity to spend on one of their childcare projects. This might be working with orphans in Mexico, teaching English in Thailand or looking after children in Nepal.
So, what’s wrong with this? The prizes are worth a large amount of money (it costs over $2,000 before flights to work in an South African orphanage) and maybe the volunteer will do some good whilst there there right? Maybe they will but I have serious reservations about this kind of offer.
Firstly, since when did it become acceptable to offer time with children as a prize? Would you be happy if your son, sister, nephew or grandchild was being offered up as a competition win for people from thousands of miles away? Have the families of these children given consent for their youngest to be sold in this way? There is a reverse lottery at play here. The children in Nepal, Mexico or Thailand don’t know if they are getting a “good” volunteer of a “bad” one. The difference being is that they didn’t enter that competition.
Secondly, childcare is a profession, not something you win. People study many years to become workers in this field. They don’t walk in to schools, care homes and institutions in the UK proclaiming themselves as experts, and rightly so. They train, get qualifications, receive feedback on their work and slowly learn what it takes to work with vulnerable children. Why do StudentUniverse and GVI think that an 18 year old should be allowed to walk in to an orphanage overseas? Would they advocate this in the UK? It cheapens the profession as a whole. I’ve also noticed in the T&Cs that as long as you have no medical conditions and pass the background checks then you are good to go. No experience of working with children? Not an issue.
Thirdly, as I mentioned in a previous rant, we need to stop volunteers seeing themselves as customers. They should be looking to apply for an opportunity, go through a strict application process (with the possibility of being rejected) and training before going on any overseas volunteering trip. As a customer you have rights, as a volunteer you have rights AND responsibilities. This promotion taps in the worst of a narcissist culture that can prevail in some voluntourism organisation. The competition, and the culture behind it, is all about the volunteer and not, what should be the main concern, the beneficiary.
Fourthly, GVI continues to push volunteering in orphanages as a way young people can make a difference. There are so many problems in this area and I’d ask you to read a recent interview with Anna McKeon of the Better Care Network for an insight in to this area. UNICEF are becoming increasingly concerned about this tourism fad as well and recently published this press release.
So where do we go from here? How can we encourage organisations to stop promoting these sorts of initiatives and just as importantly educate potential volunteers about potential areas of concern?
Feel free to reply to this tweet from Student Universe UK explaining why you disagree with the way they are running this competition. Educating organisations about the importance of the above is an important step.
Educating potential volunteers is even more important. Organisations will be forced to change if their customers tell them too. I’d encourage you to engage with the following networks who are doing some fantastic work educating young people across the UK and beyond about responsible volunteering.
- Impact International
- Better Volunteering
- Better Volunteering, Better Care Network
- LSE Volunteer Centre
- Learning Service
The last thing I want to do is to have young people stop engaging with the wider world and making an effort to understand the issues that face us all. However, they barely stand a chance if this is the marketing that is being sent to their inbox and appearing on their social media on a daily basis. I hope to see this style of promotion resigned to the dustbin of history in the coming years.