BeachCorps is partial to the beach, but there is life beyond the beach. One of the most wonderful aspects of the Dominican Republic is its enormous variety of climates and topography. After all, the Dominican Republic has Pico Duarte, the tallest peak (over 10,000 feet) in the Caribbean (here we see Interact kids BeachCorps is supporting along with the Punta Cana Group as they rise to the top of Pico Duarte).
We recently ran into a nice couple from the DC area, Janice and Joe, who told us of their adventures driving into the mountains around Santiago, Jarabacoa and Constanza. We were impressed with their willingness to brave lonely, foggy mountain roads, but that's one of the beautiful things about the Dominican Republic: it's pretty safe to go many beautiful places off the beaten path. They were particularly surprised and pleased by their stay in Moncarlo & Mon of mine Hotel & Restaurant in Constanza, where the rooms and the service were on a par with any boutique hotel in the USA, and the views are beautiful. Rancho La Aurora in Jarabacoa is another stunner (Access DR Photo below).
Jarabacoa and Constanza are the center of eco-tourism in the Dominican Republic. Bring a jacket if you go because it can get cold at night! It's a lush area with many outdoor activities, including rafting, horseback riding and hiking. It also has a marvelous and inexpensive golf course in the mountains! The Jarabacoa Golf Club is carved out of the Cordillera Central Mountain Range with beautiful vistas on every one of the nine holes. It's a short course favoring accuracy at 2911 yards with two par 3, five par 4, and two par 5 holes on 43 acres.
If you have made it all the way to the central mountains of the Dominican Republic, you should continue wandering off the beaten path to the North Coast. One of the pleasant drives we've ever had is through the town of Moca, over the top of the mountains, and down into the coast around Puerto Plata. The view on both sides of the mountain are strikingly different and awe-inspiring. On one side looking over the great Cibao Valley, and on the other side the gorgeous and sunny view down to the ocean.
We won't even begin to try to touch on all the great activities that there are in the mountain area of the Dominican Republic. Suffice it to say, however, that if you think you know the Dominican Republic and you've only been to Punta Cana, you are missing a whole other world!
We leave you with one of the classic gag photos of the Dominican Republic. In Pisa you hold your hand out to hold up the Leaning Tower, and in Puerto Plata just north of the Cibao Valley you take the gag photo of one of you dangling from the famous cable car ride that gives you the stunning view next to the cross at the top. Thanks Janice and Joe for sharing this photo with us!
#DominicanRepublic #PuertoPlata #Jarabacoa #Constanza #OfftheBeatenPath
What is your dream vacation? For us, it's a vacation where you get to relax with friends and family, dip your toes in the ocean, take a walk on the beach, and also get outside of your beautiful resort to see the world around you--and maybe help make that world a little better.
Does our dream vacation sound good to you?
If so, we've got good news. This summer of 2018, BeachCorps is proud to announce that we will launch the “Dream Volunteer Vacation” video contest offering 15 grand prizes of free airfare, hotel, transport and volunteer program. Dream Volunteer Vacation contest winners will post a video saying 1) what nonprofit cause they support, 2) why that cause is the best and 3) why they should win the prize. Videos with the most “likes” will win. Contestants can also suggest other US or Dominican nonprofits to carry out a project in the Dominican Republic that they would like to support and BeachCorps can add them to the list.
The campaign will give out 15 free trips to: a family of five, five people from the same pro-corporate social responsibility (CSR) business, and one group of five kids from the same university. These groupings will allow BeachCorps to target our key markets of families, millennials, and businesses. In each category, five semifinalists will compete in a final round, creating exciting competitions among different nonprofits, pro-CSR businesses, and universities.
This contest is inspired by one of the most successful viral marketing efforts ever: the Queensland Australia “Best Job in the World” Campaign, which was hugely successful in showcasing the coastal beauty of Queensland. Similarly, the Dream Volunteer Vacation contest will draw attention to a brand new tourism product: beach vacations tied to worthy, independent nonprofit causes.
The contest will draw attention to our summer 2019 launch of five summer English language programs with the Puntacana Foundation; the Dream Project (which will execute one project in Cabarete in the North Coast and another in La Romana); and other excellent nonprofits. This contest will also help draw attention to our numerous other projects supporting Rotary clubs, scholarship opportunities for youth in Interact and Rotaract; health and home construction projects; projects with Dogs and Cats of the Dominican Republic and Rescatame Punta Cana protecting stray dogs and cats; and our programs promoting the environment, particularly our “Recycling for Education” program giving school supplies for recycling and our “Flea Market Carnivals” with our nonprofit partner FECOTUR selling items donated by tourists to raise funds.
So stay tuned to BeachCorps on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Instagram for more details!
#IncentiveTravel #FamilyTravel #MillennialTravel #BeachCorps #ALittleGrainofSand #Interact #Recycling #ToxicCharity #SustainableDevelopment #VolunteerVacation #DominicanRepublic #Sustainable #Voluntourism #Voluntourist #FaithBased #Nonprofit #SustainableTourism #SustainableTravel #Culture #ImpactTravel #ServiceTravel #TravelDeep #LittleGrainofSand #Rotary #DreamVolunteerVacation #VideoContest #Rotaract
Canita is strongly committed to promoting the beauty, community, and culture of Altagracia province and is one of the sponsors of the La Altagracia Province 15K run. Canita has investors that include Frank Elias Ranieri, part of the Punta Cana Group that has long been one of the companies most committed to a strong private sector role in promoting sustainable development, primarily through its nonprofit the Puntacana Foundation.
Canita Beer is from the province of Higuey, which Canita notes comes from the indigenous Taino people word for “place where the sun is born.” Canita is indeed a not too heavy, crisp lager beer that is perfect for the beach and the sun and other festive occasions. BeachCorps can confirm this from personal experience. :-)
Another hat that Andres wears is tourism advisor to the President Danilo Medina on issues related to Altagracia Province, the heart and soul of the Dominican tourism industry. So we had a lot of interest in hearing what Andres said about sustainable tourism in the Dominican Republic.
Probably the most interesting comment that Andres made was that sustainable development in Punta Cana is limited by the fact that the vast majority of local inhabitants don’t really think of Punta Cana as home. Of course, the vast majority of inhabitants in Altagracia Province on any given day are tourists, who obviously aren’t as concerned about the prospects for the area around them beyond the week ahead on their vacation.
There is also a vast array of foreigners and Dominicans who come from other parts of the DR who live and work in Punta Cana, but have no sure plans to live there forever. This is true at all income levels, from the high paid hotel executives to the hotel porter. So very few of the locals are thinking in terms of the long term, of their children’s future in Punta Cana or their children’s children.
Andres wants to change that over time through education, by giving people a vision of the importance of sustainability in all its facets: economic, social and environmental. He also wants tourists to know that they can contribute to sustainability by supporting greener travel that invests in people and doesn’t over-stress the local environment.
Of course, Andres said he loves what BeachCorps is doing and wishes us luck as we work to support great nonprofits in the Punta Cana area. We want tourists and the people of Punta Cana to think of Punta Cana as a place and a home worth loving and protecting.
We want to help Andres and other great Dominicans like him to teach more locals that when thinking about sustainability in Punta Cana and the Planet Earth they should think of the words of Dorothy in the wizard of Oz: “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”
Photo: Outside the Four Points Sheraton in Punta Cana, part of the Punta Cana Group.
#BeachCorps #ALittleGrainofSand #Interact #Recycling #ToxicCharity #SustainableDevelopment #VolunteerVacation #DominicanRepublic #Sustainable #Voluntourism #Voluntourist #FaithBased #Nonprofit #SustainableTourism #SustainableTravel #Culture #ImpactTravel #ServiceTravel #TravelDeep #LittleGrainofSand #Rotary #Canita #CervezaCanita
It’s one of the most typical images in impact travel; the tourist handing over a big bag of donated stuff to a grateful recipient in a developing country. Big smiles all around. It sure can feel good to give something we don’t need anymore to someone in real need. BeachCorps is developing such a program—but with BIG differences to make sure the donations get to the right place and are effectively used.
It’s true that in many developing countries in-kind donations of school supplies and clothing are very much appreciated. Certainly in an emergency situation, such as after a hurricane, people are desperate, so food and clothing donations are useful (though of course cash donations to worthy relief organizations are even more effective). That's why donating to trustworthy groups like the Salvation Army is so smart.
The question, however is whether large amounts of donated items during non-emergency situations that aren’t part of some organized system with transparency and accountability and a real plan to make good use of the donations actually do any good. Most of the time, they don’t.
In the Dominican Republic, there is a huge second hand market used clothing, much of it coming from well-intentioned donations from countries like the USA. While this market does create some jobs and income in underserved communities, many people would feel defrauded knowing that the donations they gave had been sold. Often, these sold items come from donations to organizations that portray themselves as nonprofits and claim the donated items will go directly to needy persons, like school supplies donated for kids in schools. Sometimes none of the benefits for intended beneficiaries come to the intended recipients.
Another major problem is that giving stuff for free on a repeated basis can create and expand a culture of dependency in any country, not just developing countries. The classic book on effective volunteer vacations Toxic Charity cautions against free handouts to avoid advancing a culture of dependency.
To give visitors to Punta Cana a way to donate effectively, BeachCorps is developing a system to support for donating items via an outstanding Dominican Republic nonprofit, the Fundación Ecoturismo Responsable (Responsible Ecotourism Foundation, or FECOTUR). Donations will support FECOTUR’s Recycling for Education program by bringing school supplies to give to kids who support recycling as well as second hand items for FECOTUR’s planned thrift store sales modeled after a key proposal in “Toxic Charity” that will raise revenue for FECOTUR’s sustainability mission. FECOTUR will receive and process donations with an efficient system promoting transparency and accountability to advance sustainable development. Donations will be sold via mobile thrift stores that one day can be combined with volunteer vacations to help assemble and disassemble the mobile sales markets to ensure that donations reach multiple underserved communities while never putting a single business in those locations out of business because of the competition. These sales at lower-than market prices will also be a direct benefit to poorer communities as well as raising revenue for the great cause of FECOTUR.
#BeachCorps #ALittleGrainofSand #Interact #Recycling #ToxicCharity #SustainableDevelopment #VolunteerVacation #DominicanRepublic #Sustainable #Voluntourism #Voluntourist #FaithBased #Nonprofit #SustainableTourism #SustainableTravel #Culture #ImpactTravel #ServiceTravel #TravelDeep #LittleGrainofSand #Rotary
Your volunteer vacation bus pulls into the school and you all stream out. The children are all waiting in the courtyard. As you come in, smiling, happy children perform a culturally appropriate dance to welcome the volunteers. Sounds wonderful, right?
The first rule of trying to do good on a volunteer vacation is to do no harm. Unfortunately, far too much voluntourism involving children focuses more on making tourists feel good about themselves rather than protecting and helping children. Some of the harm is subtle and not easily apparent.
For example, in the example noted above, two things may be going wrong. First, did the entire school just stop its job of teaching kids in order to welcome volunteers? If so, how often does this happen? Once in a while on a special occasion like Earth Day or Valentine's Day is fun; too often and the focus on education suffers. What are the children getting out of the visit? Maybe the school administration is being paid for the visit; but what are the kids getting out of the volunteering?
A second apparent error is that the cultural exchange is one-way. The kids performed for the volunteers, but did the volunteers perform for the kids? It’s great to have respectful mutual cultural exchanges, where locals learn about foreigners and foreigners about locals. This kind of exchange encourages people-to-people connections and creates global citizens who think globally and act locally. A one-way cultural exchange reeks of cultural superiority, like the kids are paid performers—but not paid. One-way cultural exchanges rob children and locals of self-respect. BeachCorps will ensure that cultural exchange is mutual and respectful.
SAIH Norway has taken a strong stance against the darker side of voluntourism, often with humor, as in this video "Who
Wants to Be a Volunteer?" (Photo: SAIH Norway). Images matter. Responsible photography is critical with children. Not all parents want their children to appear in photos. Photography should not serve to boost the ego of the volunteer, but should empower local causes, including children. BeachCorps discourages selfies on a project, which tend to demean the cause and the children while inflating the ego of the volunteer. Particularly in poorer neighborhoods, BeachCorps will practice responsible photography and will restrict the number of cameras on projects, for security reasons as well as to ensure that photography advances the cause and doesn’t focus on sensationalizing poverty. A limited number of our volunteers will join us in capturing the project in photos and video, but under the condition that BeachCorps controls what is released in order to protect the cause and ensure we are conforming to their rules, including rules to protect children.
Other kinds of voluntourism cause worse harm. In too many volunteer vacations, unskilled volunteers actually teach classrooms in an endless parade of well-intentioned pedagogic incompetence. In BeachCorps projects, unskilled volunteers will never lead classes. Rather, they will be teacher assistants working under the supervision of a locally employed teacher. Our partnership with Rotary clubs will launch this new kind of volunteer vacation in the summer of 2019, with sales beginning in the summer of 2018.
The most notorious kind of voluntourism gone bad is centered around orphanage voluntourism, where kids are often separated from their families for a fee to pretend to be orphans. (Photo above: www.thinkchildsafe.org) Often volunteers stay a month or two with orphans, developing strong emotional ties to the children that are easy for the volunteers to break but not the children. Volunteer programs that are that careless with children might commit the ultimate sin of creating scenarios where unvetted volunteers might abuse children. That’s why BeachCorps has no current plans to work with orphanages, though one day we hope to provide scholarships to orphans who give back to their communities. All BeachCorps projects are designed to allow volunteers to interact with kids without creating the kind of emotional ties that can be harmful to a child.
Working with kids is great. It brings out the kid and the hope and the joy in us. Kids are our future. BeachCorps will create many opportunities to work with kids. Most of all, our long term goal is to ensure that half of all donations from BeachCorps volunteers go directly to scholarships for kids who are giving back to their communities. We are working on a plan with the Punta Cana-Bavaro Rotary Club to support Interact kids with scholarships, part of the Rotary worldwide network. Scholarships are a great way to ensure a bright future for kids while having fun on your volunteer vacation.
Because the best way to protect a kid is to empower them to protect themselves. That's the BeachCorps plan!
#Interact #Recycling #ToxicCharity #SustainableDevelopment #VolunteerVacation #DominicanRepublic #Sustainable #Voluntourism #Voluntourist #FaithBased #Nonprofit #SustainableTourism #SustainableTravel #Culture #ImpactTravel #ServiceTravel #TravelDeep #LittleGrainofSand #Rotary
Life’s happiest moments generally have one factor in common: other people. Yes, there are many prayerful, introspective mountaintop moments, but for the true joy of living there’s nothing like enjoying a moment with others.
So probably the MOST important part of a volunteer vacation that is irreplaceable is people-to-people engagement. BeachCorps will always guarantee your volunteer project will include excellent people-to-people time. We will also guarantee that you will learn about the cause and why it’s worth supporting (wherever possible from the actual beneficiaries of the nonprofit cause, not just the nonprofit leaders). We will also guarantee you a fun, rewarding activity chosen by the cause that advances the cause, an activity that isn’t chosen to give a volunteer a false sense of having “made a difference.” But learning about the cause and having a fun activity can always occur outside of a volunteer project. It is the people-to-people engagement that really is the most rewarding and can only occur during the project.
We applauded the Carnival Cruise Fathom volunteer projects and were sad when they ended full-time operations on the Adonia cruise ship in June 2017. But Fathom continues today, having just finished an excellent series of cruises supporting Caribbean islands devastated by hurricane Maria, with new bookings coming on. And Fathom learned from their initial efforts that by far the most rewarding and memorable moments in their volunteer projects were not the working moments planting trees or crafting a ceramic water filter by hand. Rather, it was the real, honest-to-goodness people moments where Fathom volunteers got to see Dominicans in the places where they worked, ate, laughed, danced and lived. A beauty salon, a backyard meal of sancocho stew. Carnival received some of the highest customer satisfaction ratings from those projects focused on people-to-people engagement than any cruise excursion in the company’s history.
One of the top executives of one of our favorite nonprofit partners once told us “I’m getting tired of painting the same wall for the 10th time.” All of his volunteers had the false impression that the only way that they could contribute was by painting or digging or hammering something. If they didn’t do that, then it wasn’t “real.” We knew then that this nonprofit would love to work with BeachCorps.
Our BeachCorps volunteer projects may be service projects, with light work, or maybe the activity will be baseball. We’ll let the nonprofit cause decide what helps them best, and what helps is a variety of different activities. So we don't describe BeachCorps as "service travel" but "impact travel" because maybe you work, maybe you just play. What we will guarantee is that during your project, volunteers will learn about locals and locals will learn about volunteers. Too many volunteer vacations focus entirely on teaching the volunteers about the locals and their culture; BeachCorps recognizes that the cultural exchange has to be a two-way street to be respectful. Many volunteer projects supporting kids start with the kids performing some kind of native dance; that’s great, but why shouldn’t the volunteers perform something fun for the kids in return? Otherwise kids learn that they must "perform" to please rich foreigners. Hardly a way to change a culture of dependency.
It is from those two-way street, people-to-people connections that friendships and global citizens are born and truly great things can happen.
#Recycling #ToxicCharity #SustainableDevelopment #VolunteerVacation #DominicanRepublic #Sustainable #Voluntourism #Voluntourist #FaithBased #Nonprofit #SustainableTourism #SustainableTravel #Culture #Fathom #ImpactTravel #ServiceTravel #TravelDeep #LittleGrainofSand
What’s better, a nonprofit volunteer vacation or a for profit volunteer vacation? Without a doubt one of the biggest problems in “voluntourism” today is the rise of numerous smaller, fly by night for profit volunteer vacations that are taking advantage of the growing demand for impact travel. Many of the worst horror stories involve travel companies that market trips to help but lack ties to reputable nonprofits overseas.
But it would be wrong to conclude for-profit is better than nonprofit. It’s more a question of how the structure of the organization advances or harms the impact of the volunteering. Sometimes nonprofit status can help because of the increased transparency and accountability involved in countries with good laws and regulations like the USA. In other countries with few development NGOs, “nonprofits” like orphanages have been linked to the worst kind of financial abuses that also put children in danger, like this ABC story: The Dark Side of Orphanage 'Voluntourism' in Nepal. BeachCorps personally knows of an orphanage in the Dominican Republic where the director was soliciting multiple donations of food and then selling the extra food to pad his/her paycheck. (Note: this is NOT an orphanage associated with any great nonprofits like the Charles Decker Foundation, which does amazing work helping kids who otherwise would fall through the cracks).
Some great organizations with a strong nonprofit leaning have chosen for-profits as partners in service and impact travel. Americorps Alums is the only national network that connects the nearly one million alumni of all AmeriCorps programs who have served since 1994. Americorps Alums has a partnership with the for-profit volunteer vacation Discover Corps when they just as easily could have chosen a reputable nonprofit volunteer vacations like Cross-Cultural Solutions or Global Brigades.
Show Me the Money!
One of the most important examples of a great private (i.e. “for-profit”) volunteer vacation firm is Pepy Tours, led by impact travel Ted Talk expert and practitioner Daniela Papi. Papi and Pepy Tours advocate and practice what few other volunteer vacation firms do in practice: separating the vacation from the donation to a worthy cause. Most volunteer vacations bury a small donation to the cause in the overall price they charge you, but if you ask them how much of your money actually went to the cause, they either can’t tell you or won’t tell you because it's so little. Separating the vacation costs from the donation helps increase transparency and accountability so that any part of the experience can be improved and monitored. Pepi co-founded Learning Info, where you can find the outstanding guide on volunteer vacations called the “The Volunteer Charter.” They also do excellent informational videos like Learning Service: Finding a Responsible Volunteer Placement.
Think about it: if a vacation firm is 100% nonprofit, then one of two things are true. One possibility is that the nonprofit firm handles or helps with all your logistics AND it also tries to set up not just your volunteer work, but your volunteer cause and its long-term results. Which means the nonprofit is trying to do vastly different things at once. That’s not easy. The other possibility is that the nonprofit is setting up or helping on all your travel AND it is connecting you to other nonprofit causes. In that case, it is a nonprofit with an inherent conflict of interest with the nonprofits it is supporting, since both nonprofits need direct donation support from volunteers and others to exist.
So in the end, it matters less whether your firm is for-profit or nonprofit. It matters more whether your firm gives you a great experience and, more important, actually makes the world a better place. And often that means combining the best qualities of a for-profit company (agility, innovation and customer service) with the best qualities of a nonprofit (integrity, social impact, long-term focus). It often means teamwork between for-profits and nonprofits! If you can do that, you’ve got the best situation of all!
#Recycling #ToxicCharity #SustainableDevelopment #VolunteerVacation #DominicanRepublic #Sustainable #Voluntourism #Voluntourist #FaithBased #Nonprofit #SustainableTourism #SustainableTravel
Does your volunteer vacation follow the Buckeroo Banzai philosophy? Buckeroo Banzai was the 1984 cult classic that crossed the action/adventure and sci-fi film genres, including elements of comedy, satire, and romance. The most famous line in the film was Buckeroo offering a deep sounding but hilariously meaningless pseudo-philosophy: “No matter where you go… there you are.”
Too many volunteer vacations follow the Buckeroo Banzai philosophy. They seem to promise the volunteer that their program will help some cause, but when pressed they are unable to say how or why. They seem deep but are meaningless.
Let’s take a typical volunteer vacation. The bus pulls up to the school in a third world country. A bunch of tourists pile out. They go to a classroom where happy children perform a welcome song. The tourists clap and then present the teacher with a bag of notebooks and pencils, taking multiple selfies of the tourists with teacher and donated items. Then all the tourists pile into the bus and leaves. Sounds like you are helping kids, right?
Probably not. That little pitstop has violated just about rule about successful volunteer work. First, the project interrupted a classroom to please tourists in a way that had no educational value. Worse, it taught the kids to beg from foreigners. The project was a classic one-off project with no real plan to make a difference over the long-term or follow up, even if just to see that one week later the teacher hadn’t sold all the notebooks and pencils to buy supplies for their own weekend party.
RoadMap For Success. What that volunteer vacation project was missing was a roadmap for success. A roadmap implies many things. First, it implies you have a goal worth achieving, a destination worth going to. Was dumping a bunch of notebook and pencils off at the school a goal worth achieving with a volunteer vacation? Not really. The volunteers could just have easily sent them in a truck with no volunteers for less. But most short-term volunteer vacations with unskilled workers find it impossible to set goals that make a difference because the causes they are supporting have no strategy for change, no real goals.
A second feature of roadmaps are mile markers. Mile markers you tell you how close you are to your objective and whether you are making sufficient progress in achieving your objectives. So great causes are able to show you records for results. The first kind of results great nonprofits can show are outputs: houses built, kids who learned English, plastic trash recycled and kept out of landfills and water supplies. The second, more difficult mile marker are outcomes, or fundamental changes in attitude or structure or behavior that has long-lasting impact.
That’s why BeachCorps works to support FECOTUR, an up and coming nonprofit in the Dominican Republic that promotes recycling education and community empowerment. FECOTUR is backed by the sustainability leader in the eastern Dominican Republic, Ecoservices Dominicana. These guys are whizzes at planning, logistics, and numbers. They have a roadmap for success for FECOTUR, and BeachCorps aims to add a little gas to their tank and help them pick the final destination. They will avoid giving out free handouts to comments and instead will develop programs that help communities address their own needs, including in recycling and anti-littering. FECOTUR has embraced the philosophy of the great work on volunteering “Toxic Charity,” which shows how well intentioned volunteer work can often get locals to depend of foreigners to solve their problems. FECOTUR will show strong output data that their projects aren’t just reducing dumping into landfills and carbon emissions; they will show that their projects are changing a culture of dependency and littering into a culture of empowerment and clean communities. Both outcomes and outputs.
Avoid the Buckeroo Banzai philosophy if you aren't making an awesome and hilarious sci-fi/action movie. Make sure your volunteer vacation isn’t deep sounding but ultimately meaningless. Get a roadmap and plan your goal or goals. Such a philosophy is great for a fictional action/comedy hero. It’s not good for ensuring that your vacation helps real people. Because in the end, No matter where you go… make sure you want to be there.
#Recycling #ToxicCharity #SustainableDevelopment #VolunteerVacation #DominicanRepublic #Sustainable #Voluntourism #Voluntourist #FaithBased #BuckerooBanzai #Recycling #PlasticRecycling
What is the cardinal sin of most volunteer vacations? Focusing too much on the volunteer and not the cause. Organized volunteer trips make this mistake in the pre-trip marketing to get volunteers to sign up, during the volunteer work, and then in evaluating the impact of the trip. As the classic work on sustainable development “Toxic Charity” showed, this cardinal sin isn’t limited to organized volunteer vacation firms (both for-profit and non-profit). Toxic Charity showed that many faith-based volunteer projects or other projects organized by universities or individuals or groups commit the cardinal sin in focusing on the volunteers, not the cause.
First, let’s look at the pre-trip marketing. It’s simply unrealistic that a short term volunteer project involving unskilled volunteers can have a major impact in promoting sustainable development. And yet the hype of many volunteer vacation firms would make you think that in one week, two weeks, or even a month the efforts of an unskilled local volunteer will significantly change a community, particularly when the volunteer doesn’t speak the local language or have a strong understanding of local culture. So often volunteers are encouraged to believe that their short time volunteering will have a significant long term impact. Volunteers think they will be greeted like Mother Teresa as they wade into a sea of grateful faces, with rose petals thrown in the path before them.
Volunteers are encouraged to see locals as helpless and in need because this view makes the volunteer feel generous and powerful. Even the tendency to “slum it” with mediocre to abysmal room and board gives volunteers the short-term rush of poverty themselves, relieving years of guilt in lives of privilege. “I will know the suffering of the poor by sleeping in a shack on a cot for a week.”
During the volunteer work, volunteers often want to take the lead, to leave their mark in the form of sharing great ideas and wisdom with locals. Instead of working with locals to help them implement and improve their own sustainable development plans, volunteers believe they will shine the light of civilization on backward people. Volunteers will take charge of the project, often overlooking or ignoring the wants and needs of locals. Most important, volunteers will often do the work that locals should have done themselves, thus perpetuating a culture of dependency where locals look to foreigners for solutions to their own problems. Often volunteers steal jobs that would have gone to locals, thus destroying jobs and businesses and the economic pillar of all sustainable development. Years ago, Conde Nast looked at the pitfalls of volunteer vacations in an article regarding volunteering in Haiti that still rings true.
Finally, too many volunteer trips measure their success in the enjoyment and impact on the volunteer, not local sustainable development. The trip is deemed a success if the volunteer “feels” good about what they did, if they got to meet some friendly locals, if they left their little physical mark in the form of some nails in a roof or paint on a wall. The trip is deemed successful if the volunteer was safely exposed to people in need before getting back onto the jet back home, where they can proudly post dozens of selfies of the volunteer with sad and/or helpless locals (as this hysterical video from SAIH shows). SAIH is the Norwegian Students' and Academics' International Assistance Fund that fights stereotypes in aid and development. All too often, volunteers work on one-off projects with no long-term plan or measurement of success and no effort to gauge whether well-intentioned efforts to help might have produced unintended consequences.
How do you avoid committing the Cardinal Sin of volunteer vacations? Focus on local heroes. Remember that on good volunteer vacations, the heroes are not the volunteers. Instead, the heroes are local leaders who fight for a worthy cause and remain on site after the temporary volunteers fly back home.
So in your volunteer vacations, support and empower local heroes in all three stages of the volunteer experience. Stress the focus on supporting and empowering local leaders in pre-trip marketing, making sure that volunteers understand that locals are in charge. During the volunteer work, make sure that local leaders are directing and approving work and priorities. Exercise judicious humility in trying to get locals to “do it another way,” realizing that locals might know something you don’t. Make sure that clear and appropriate economic support goes into local priorities, and not just into making the trip more fun and rewarding for volunteers. Finally, measure success in how projects impacted locals and helped locals. If possible, try to set up both short-term measurable goals and medium to long-term goals. Get real feedback from locals, including areas for improvement next time.
If you’ve successfully avoided the volunteer vacation Cardinal Sin, your thoughts and your photos that you share back home with your 500 Facebook friends will reflect your focus on local heroes. You shine as a volunteer when local heroes shine. In helping local leaders to shine, you might encourage some of your Facebook friends to come and support your favorite local hero!
#Recycling #ToxicCharity #SustainableDevelopment #VolunteerVacation #DominicanRepublic #Sustainable #Voluntourism #Voluntourist #FaithBased
(Photo of Cristobal Rijo, Community Leader in Monte Verde, Dominican Republic promoting recycling and anti-littering)
BeachCorps is different from other volunteer vacations because we don't invent the nonprofit cause to please the tourist—or worse, create a for-profit “cause” designed to fleece the volunteer. Instead, we find nonprofit causes that are worth supporting and then bring the tourists to the cause. It's easy to understand that volunteer vacations should support worthy nonprofit causes. But how do you know if a donation to a nonprofit cause is well used or not? That's not so easy. But here are some ideas to guide you.
An Open Book, A Straight Shooter: Transparency and Accountability
Major US nonprofits have official IRS 501c3 status that requires them to report income and use of funds. For large, well-established nonprofits there are several online sites that help you gauge transparency and accountability. Mike Montali, CEO of Harbor Compliance, shared some ideas in The Huffington Post:
1. The IRS Nonprofit Charities Database has a tool called “The Exempt Organizations Select Check Tool”. Check to see if your donation is tax-deductible.
2. Charity Navigator rates charities based on their financial health, accountability, and transparency to help donors make informed decisions about their contributions.
3. GuideStar maintains information on 501(c)(3) nonprofits. Financial documents, such as the 990, help you evaluate the legitimacy of an organization. The 990 discloses where and how an organization’s donations are spent, including the earnings of top officers.
Helping the Little Guy: Help Little Nonprofits Grow
But not all nonprofits make full use of these online platforms, and many are good causes. In particular, causes that are focused overseas often don't appear on these major platforms. Furthermore, big nonprofits with lots of donors have the ability to fill out all the forms and show donors exactly how they spend money and the results achieved. But if we only support big nonprofits, then the innovations of small nonprofits will disappear. It’s critical to support worthy up and coming nonprofits grow and mature to the point where they have the institutional capacity to become more transparent and accountable in their reporting.
Eye in the Sky; Eyes on the Ground
So helping little nonprofits is important, but which ones? Which nonprofits can you trust if they aren’t on major online platforms? The fact of the matter is that if you are volunteering in a far-off land you don’t know well (which is part of the fun and learning) you need to find a trusted partner to help you find the good nonprofits. You need someone who is willing to stake their good name on a nonprofit. You need someone that has both an Eye in the Sky to see the big development picture to know what causes need support. You also need someone with eyes on the ground to know if the nonprofits are run by people worth trusting.
Measuring Success: Home Run Tally
Another key question for your volunteer vacation is: does the project describe what results will be achieved? These results can be of two kinds: outputs and outcomes. When you input a donation, any good volunteer project should be able to point to short-term, home run outputs: Hour of English teaching delivered; a home repainted or rebuilt; 100 pounds of recycled plastic recycled. But don’t stop there. Ask yourself this: beyond outputs, what outcomes does the nonprofit hope to achieve? Outcomes are longer-term changes like growing empowerment of local leadership; an expansion of a “pay it forward” ethos in helping others after you’ve been helped; a change in a culture of littering. Those important outcomes aren’t just home runs; they are grand slams in the World Series! And they require patient and a longer-term commitment to achieve. Your BeachCorps “Little Grain of Sand” by itself is not going to make much of a difference. But by supporting nonprofit causes that seek to bring about positive change over time, you can be a little part of something big and beautiful.
Earmark Donations for Great Uses, Like Scholarships
A great way to make sure that your donations to a nonprofit cause are being used wisely is to wisely earmark some or all of the donations to specific purposes that make sense. Wherever possible, donations should be restricted in their use to promote transparency and accountability. For example, many BeachCorps projects are going to limit the use of all or some of the funds to expenses directly related to the execution of the project as well as measurable long-term investments, particularly in scholarships for kids who are supporting the volunteer work. (Photo: Graduation at Puntacana Foundation supported Kheel Politécnico).
Scholarships are awesome. By earmarking funds to scholarships, we help create a virtuous circle where kids are empowered via education to be agents of change in their community, the friends and family of those kids join volunteer operations, and other kids hoping to earn scholarships join volunteer efforts. In addition, scholarship systems have built-in oversight: the institutions supporting the volunteer work, the kids and their families, and the educational institutions where the scholarships are being paid all provide oversight to make sure funds are being properly used. Finally, adding kids who are earning scholarships allows BeachCorps to support nonprofit work that helps the poorest of the poor who may be unable to “give back” in that moment, but we are still promoting local empowerment by giving kids an education and getting them involved in solving the problems of their own community. Win-win!
#VolunteerVacation #Sustainability #SustainableTourism #PuntaCana #DominicanRepublic #Nonprofit #Education #ToxicCharity #SustainableDevelopment #Scholarships
The BeachCorps Beach Bum!
The BeachCorps Beach Bum loves great vacations and great volunteer work!