A critical perspective of short term volunteering

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A critical perspective of short term volunteering

Name:Eva Mahon
Location:South India
Aiming for:Silver Award
About the Author:I am a 2nd year Commerce student who volunteered with UCDVO South India Project last summer

A critical perspective of short term volunteering

Volunteering is defined as an offer or commitment to help someone out of free will. Volunteering overseas is often something that is criticised, in particular the idea of short term volunteering is an ongoing debate. Before even applying to volunteer on the month long UCDVO program I had to ask myself is it worthwhile? Will I make a significant contribution in such a short period of time? I found that on an initial outlook the pros seemed to outweigh the cons and so I applied.
I soon realised that although we would only be in South India for a month, this program with UCDVO was a yearlong commitment. I would have to take part in workshops and trainings, as well as fundraising before leaving for India, and on return my work would still not be done. This somewhat extended my view of the volunteering program, nonetheless in a bigger perspective it is still considered short term.
To my surprise, as part of training with Comhlámh and UCDVO we debated and discussed the pros and cons of short term volunteering and what we were about to do. I was delighted to hear that I was not the only one with some worries, and even the leaders of the program understood both the disadvantages as well as the advantages to our program. So, what were my worries about short term volunteering? My primary worry was about short term focus. I feared that we would provide a quick fix rather than sustainable foundations for long term development. To my delight, our program did not have this problem. UCDVO have long term goals for their project locations and they split these big goals into smaller strategic goals, this means that each year as a new group goes out to the likes of India they can chip along on what is a long-term goal. For example, one of the goals on our project was to improve mental health facilities. During the South India 2015 project, the group created a relaxation room, a space where kids could go to relax. Then in 2016, we carried on this work by assigning some of our funds to hire a psychologist to be hired for Care & Share. As well as this we created mental health boxes in each orphanage house, encouraging kids to leave notes or thoughts about their feelings. I am sure that this goal will be further achieved this year, and in the many years to come.
Another worry I had was about building relationships and close bonds with the children, and then suddenly leaving after only a few weeks. I know children can be very sensitive to change, especially in this orphanage where kids have been separated from their families and are looking for love and affection. I cannot deny that this isn’t a problem. I did become close with many of the kids and I found it very tough to leave them, and they found it upsetting to say goodbye. However, many of the older kids were accustomed to this. UCDVO come and go every year, it is a continuous process. I know that this is still tough, but the reality is that many of the kids were surprisingly able to deal with us leaving better than we were. Of course, I can only imagine that the children too young to understand were left confused and upset, we do our best to explain our circumstances. Emotional issues like this are never easy to deal with, not a day goes by that I don’t miss the kids. I believe that it was better to have built those relationships, even if they were short lived, than to have never experienced them at all. We still have those happy memories from that summer, and I know just as I answered all the kid’s questions about how the previous year’s volunteers were getting on in life, this year’s volunteers will do the same.

Although some may worry about short term focus and emotional damage that can arise with short term volunteering, I know that in the case of my own experience anyway it was still effective volunteering. Sometimes people perform better when given shorter deadlines and time periods than in the case of long volunteering programs, especially when things like health and burnout are so common in the conditions of volunteer locations. I know that although I was only away for a month, I used that month well. I spent every moment I could having fun for the kids and making my own contribution to the long-term development of the UCDVO South India project.


Action at home

1. This year I decided to participate in 100 minds to help those at home. 100 minds is an initiative aimed at students, giving them a goal yo raise €1000 in 100 days for a charitable cause. It provides a platform and support network for students to achieve their goal. With the help of my mentor from Arthur Cox I aimed to raise money for Temple Street Children’s Hospital. This year 100 minds are aiming to raise €100,000 towards building a sateilite classroom for it’s patients. I mainly fundraised through a charity bag pack and my online donation page.

Target Group: After volunteering abroad and helping children’s education abroad, I decided I wanted to help children at home who need access to education. Currently sick children are receiving tuition at their bedside in busy wards, obviously not the ideal situation. This satelite classroom is to be built for Saint Gabriel’s Ward, containing some of the most vulnearable children. Many recovering from major brain surgery are attached to high tech equipment as they undergo weeks and months of on-going neuro-rehabilitation, and so they cannot move very far for lessons. Having a classroom on the ward will allow pupils access one-to-one tuition which is specifically tailored to their post-surgery needs. This quiet and personal learning environment will optimise learning for the kids. It will also enable children to attend an entire morning or afternoon session – the current bedside model only allows for 30-40mins tuition

Location: Dublin- I bag packed in Supervalu Blackrock for Temple Street Children’s Hospital Dublin