Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Volunteering and purity

Libération has it in for volunteers. According to this article in Corriere della Sera, Libération says that NGOs have become institutionalised; ie their urge to survive vies with the work they were set up to do. The only example given in this article is taken from the book by Richard Werly, Tsunami, la vérité humanitaire (Jubilé) in which he says that "many aid teams could have left the devastated area 3 months after the disaster, but didn't because they wanted to be there longer just to justify the money donated". Libération concludes that even if the NGOs have not been reduced to the profit motive, this change amounts to a 'moral deviation'.
The article continues with further charges against the doers of good.

The historian Amina Yala, after 5 years of study and tens of interviews, has isolated 6 types: the Idealist, the Militant, the Opportunist, the Professional, the Part-timer, the Adventurer. Six very different types, some worthy of esteem, others less so. Yala speaks of the 'ambiguous adventure' in her book 'NGO volunteering: The Ambiguous Adventure'. She laments the scarcity of the Idealist, and the increasing number of 'Opportunists' and 'Volunteering Professionals'.
The first, evidently, just want to get away from Europe and their own problems, while the second choose the volunteer sector as a career, a well-paid international job.
I signal this article because it is one little example of a way of looking at the world that leads to despair in those that share it, and, because they always holler from any nearby moral high ground, a great deal of useless discussion among the rest of us. The question they always ask is, 'How pure are the motives?' Inevitably, the targets of the day are wanting in purity, and the activity is generally found to be yet another example of the capitalist corruption of the world.
The question should be (as it should be for government), 'How effective are they?' Because that is really all that counts to the recipients, either of aid or services.
I must declare an interest. My daughter is going to China next year as a volunteer teacher. Her motives are: she wants to get to know another culture; she enjoys helping people learn; she wants to see how well she can get along without her family. She's very balanced and has no illusions about saving anyone. Her experience with those few Chinese she comes into contact with shows every prospect of being mutually beneficial, which is the best of all possible outcomes. On which, see the answer to the first question here.

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