Why are volunteers needed?
We only send volunteers for two reasons:
- The presence of the volunteers makes an important contribution to the (unskilled) labour demands of the project and also allows HeiSDA to evaluate the project to ensure our money is being invested effectively. Volunteers can be important as mediators between the community and the local NGO who may not have been spending the money to the community’s wishes.
- We are emphasizing on the topic in Germany to increase awareness of development issues. Participation by the student in the project from its infancy in Germany to its completion on placement offers a valuable insight into international development and how the system works. In terms of hours, a significant proportion of time is spent by our volunteers training for the project, organising the team, fundraising etc. in Germany, not just abroad. We hope to change people’s attitudes to international development and hopefully invoke a long term interest in the sector.
Volunteers are needed as labour, to supervise the association’s investment, and to strengthen our partnership with the community. Further, all our projects are community initiated. The community defines the aims of the project and invests as much money as they can towards the project. We help the community by providing more money and by helping the projects to run smoothly, assisting according to the community’s wishes. We do not impose our values on the community and we spend a lot of time ensuring our volunteers understand, and so are able to respect, local customs.
But aren’t you just sending kids on holiday?
No. Heidelberg Sustainable Development Abroad spends a lot of time researching and developing projects and partner NGOs. Volunteers stay in family homes in the host community building up close relationships with the local people and developing an atmosphere that enables valuable cultural exchange and understanding. Living and travelling conditions are far from luxurious, with volunteers often living together in one room, full working days (often manual work), and a simple diet based on local produce and tastes (e.g. rice, lentils, vegetables etc.). There is also hard work before arriving in the country, with at least a term spent fundraising and training.
Training consists of being educated in development issues, first aid, cultural awareness, and language training, and there is also a full week programme of training on arrival in the foreign country. We specifically search for, through a rigorous selection procedure, students who are dedicated, understanding, hard working, and able to work in a team – not those looking for a cheap travel ticket or CV points. We hope to foster a long-term interest in development in our volunteers.
I’m worried that my donation will be used simply to pay for students to go abroad.
The money raised does not go on financing the private costs of travel for volunteers. A very small amount is contributed to the families in the villages that provide accommodation and food, but both these provisions are very basic. Money raised is to cover project costs, which may include materials, labour, and a local English-speaking counterpart, depending on the country and project.