A Dutch news channel, RTLnieuws, recently published an article about voluntourism, something that has been going on for quite some time now. The reason to publish this article is because of the new campaign of Unicef: #StopOrphanagetourism (translated from Dutch). This article stresses that voluntourism is doing more harm than good to vulnerable groups, like orphans. Read the entire article (in Dutch) here.
Indeed, volunteering comes from a good hart; I’m convinced so. But in all our enthusiasm to help ‘the world’, we might have lost our critical thinking along the way. How much good is it actually going to do to volunteer abroad for a period of a month (maybe two), to cuddle cute orphans or dig a waterhole fór the local people? Those children will likely be disappointed, every time a volunteer takes his leave again, and the local people might have well, but probably no idea how to maintain this waterhole.
But what can I say? I am currently in South-Africa for eight months to contribute to the work of an organization called Health Promotion South Africa Trust (shortly Health Promoters). Still, I think I can contribute to the discussion around this topic in a good way. Before I came here, I studied International Development Work. During this study I faced a lot of facts; painful, heart-breaking facts. But I never considered to give up hope. I learned think critically about sustainable solutions and possibilities to improve the lives of local people. Keeping my studies in the back of my mind, I agree 100% with Unicef’s campaign. So when I was preparing for my stay abroad, I specifically looked for an organisation that invests in sustainable, long-term relationships with the local people, to empower them to gain skills and knowledge for themselves to improve their own lives and future.
Health Promoters is such an organization. They give free health education to predominantly women in the townships around Cape Town. The beauty in it is that this education will not be given by me, but local people, who have been trained for this especially will be providing the classes. They even do this in such a way that the children that go to school don’t get the health education from their teachers, but from their own parents who don’t have a job. With this opportunity, the parents will be trained in health education themselves and have a chance of earning money again. Health Promoters provides 10.000-20.000 people annually with basic health education, by the dedication of the Senior Health Promoters who will bring up topics like HIV/AIDS, diarrhoea, obesities, healthy nutrition and hygiene, day in, day out. All finances that are entrusted to Health Promoters will be going directly to this purpose.
I can only cheer for an initiative like Health Promoters. Even with my critical way of thinking on development work. They do fantastic work in the townships. The fact that I’m not educating myself, only contributes to the well-being and growth of the local people. What I cán do, is to make sure that they can maintain to do this job for a much longer time, by focussing on marketing and fundraising to be able to keep on providing free basic health education to the inhabitants of the townships. Something that I can also keep on doing while being back in the Netherlands; in my opinion a sustainable and long-term contribution that, contrary to the article written by RTLnieuws, will cause the local people to profit and to thrive.
- Hanneke de Bie, student Social Work, International Development Work,University of Applied Sciences – Utrecht, Netherlands, 25/11/2017