Is Volunteerism the Answer to Ending Poverty?

Send money or dedicate a few days of volunteer work? Which is more effective in fighting extreme poverty?

ONE posed these questions on their website, and then asked for feedback. Opinions were varied with most people believing that, because volunteerism is here to stay, there needs to be an efficient model to help get the most out of volunteers’ short time abroad.

“There are well-intentioned organizations that offer trips to Africa that include mountain-climbing, wildlife safaris, even trips to see volcanoes, paired with a few days spent passing out rice packets to those in need,” said Joe Mason from ONE. It seems that volunteers are often more like tourists, seeing exotic places rather than working hard to end poverty. To make volunteer trips more effective and efficient, organizations should cut down on leisure time and place volunteers directly in communities that need help.

Sam Sanden, who leads volunteers at ONE, argues that volunteerism can be even more beneficial to everyone involved if there is a community based approach. “When outsiders come and impose their desires and ideas without local support, it can easily become a burden and waste of resources. However, working with local established partners, serving their needs and their vision, I have found short term volunteer trips incredibly helpful and rewarding for both the attendees and the recipients,” says Sanden.

The debate over the importance of volunteering abroad is an interesting one. It all too often becomes a tourist experience or a line on one’s resume, and less about the actual work being done to end poverty. Effective volunteer work requires a combination of passion and an efficient system that can help direct that passion, enabling communities to be better served.