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.
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