Empowering the poor?

What’s with the current rush of young inexperienced people to volunteer with international aid organisations? It was not so long ago that New Zealand Volunteer Service Abroad recognised that the school leaver programme they ran in the 1960s was merely exporting young people without skills or anything much else to offer developing countries and stopped this programme.

But today young people are flocking to sign up with agencies who are paid large fees to jack up ‘aid and development’ work for them. But this strategy ignores all the best evidence about what works in the aid arena. And this is not well-meaning but naive westerners coming in and, as one recently said, “empowering” people.  As the Volunteer International website says (to justify its fees):  “A host community generally will not have the extra resources to house and feed you. If they had the funds to pay a stipend, they would probably hire a local person instead – someone who speaks the language, understands the community and culture, and is more inclined to stick around.” Yes, exactly!

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