26 January 2010

the value of a volunteer

Randy LeGrant, Executive Director of GeoVisions, a US-based organization that offers volunteer abroad programs, work and travel, teach abroad, and wildlife conservation projects, does an excellent job explaining the role of a volunteer, the responsibilities of the project coordinator and how I will impact the 12 communities I serve. Thank you, Randy, for taking the time to comment on this topic. I really appreciate your insights and hope it lends some clarity to those who may be unclear of the vital role of the volunteer.

From Randy LeGrant:

As the Executive Director of GeoVisions (we send thousands of volunteers abroad each year), we work hard everyday to staff 70 projects globally. The notion that a volunteer can do no good unless they commit to a really long project is an argument we are dedicated to eradicating.

It isn’t the VOLUNTEER who is sustainable. It is the project. If I have 3 hours to volunteer at the local food pantry, I might never go back. But the food pantry had me for 3 hours to help unload a truck. The local food pantry will be here years from now. It is the project that is sustainable. Next week I might volunteer at a soup kitchen for 2 hours. I’ll be gone. The project will be there. The notion that we have to dedicate weeks or months to one project for our volunteering to be worthy is wrong. And it sends a negative message to people who are PLANNING to volunteer and now might think they are not doing enough.

I’ve personally looked over the 12 projects Ms. Pfeuffer plans to make a part of her life. She is:

• Giving up a year of her life to help others

• Calling attention to voluntourism through her writing and Kickstarter

• Making her trip “interactive” by listening to her readers about which projects will receive her

• Dedicating a lot of time to researching available projects and asking lots of questions

I head up a voluntourism organization, and if I had to choose to send one of our volunteers to one project for a year or 12 projects over the year I’d suggest to them the latter. In fact, you cannot volunteer with GeoVisions longer than six months.

Again, it isn’t the volunteer who is sustainable. The volunteer helps for a day, a weekend, a week or a month. Even gap year kids move around – usually 3 to 4 projects in a year.

Lastly, Ms. Pfeuffer is a writer. Her talents will be used to call attention to 12 projects in 12 months. I would love for her to be on one of our projects because not only will she write about it from first-hand experience, she would be able to tell us where we could strengthen the project and that is always information any project needs.

$20,000 for 12 months? I dunno. I look at one of my competitors here in the U.S. just down the road from me and it costs $4000 for a month. If Ms. Pfeuffer can do a year on $20,000, that is a story all on its own.

I don’t want anyone to think volunteering is based on how long you can contribute your time. Or that it is the volunteer who has the responsibility of sustainability. We place college study-abroad students on weekend projects. We have people call us from tours asking us if they can volunteer for a day – most recently a magician we sent to a school for a day (after his references were checked out). We send people for a week. And for six months. It is the responsibility for the project and for the project sponsor to make certain the work is sustainable. It is for the volunteer to lend a hand.

Volunteers always go abroad thinking they will change the world. Even those who are on site 6 months may return home disappointed that they leave behind a project still in need. That’s normal. That is part of the process, and from my perspective, Charyn will learn that on her own, if she is funded. She has some lofty goals, and some won’t pan out. Some will change and go in other directions. And she will have helped a lot of people, she will have written for a year and inspired a lot of people, and she will come home a different person.

You go girl.

Randy LeGrant

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