TEN YEARS ON FROM VOLUNTEERING WITH DEVELOPMENT IN ACTION MANDARIN BENNETT IS STILL PASSIONATE ABOUT ENSURING THAT INTERNATIONAL VOLUNTEERING HAS A LASTING IMPACT AND ETHICAL UNDERPINNING. HERE WRITES ABOUT WHAT SHE HAS LEARNT (AND CONTINUES TO LEARN) SINCE HER TIME WITH DIA.
I became the UK coordinator for Development in Action nearly a decade ago. What drew me to DiA was that its philosophy on volunteering and development was exactly in line with what I had learned experientially after a year volunteering in Nepal.
I volunteered with a rural development organization straight after I graduated from university. Every time I thought I could offer a solution or way of contributing, I would realize that it wasn’t so simple. In fact, the more I looked into the root causes of the problems faced in Nepal, the more I discovered how closely interlinked they were with issues back in the UK. I remember thinking that whatever small contribution my presence could offer to a remote Nepali community, I would be able to have a more powerful impact on the same issues as an activist and educator in my own country.
To sum up what I had learned during my year volunteering in a sentence, it would be that the impact of an international volunteering comes only marginally from what you contribute overseas, and much more about what you do with the knowledge and experience you have gained later in your life.
DiA encourages volunteers to continue to engage in debates on global issues, to get involved in activism, to make conscious and conscientious lifestyle choices, and, most importantly, to educate others by sharing what you have learned while volunteering.
Volunteers with DiA don’t go to India to ‘help’, although of course they contribute what they can while they are there. Instead, they go to learn – to understand the root causes of complex issues and to contribute to long-term solutions, maybe long after their placement has finished.
Loving both the philosophy of DiA and the community of passionate and dedicated activists, I stayed involved long after my contract ended, as a committee member and then as a trustee. I only eventually stepped down when I moved to Cambodia in 2008 to continue my escapades in volunteering with VSO.
More recently, my passion for channelling the enormous potential of global volunteers as a force for positive and sustainable change (and away from the increasingly-accessible poorly planned and tokenistic placements that are also on the market) has brought me to join forces with the Learning Service movement.
‘Learning service’ is a concept which emphasizes the transformative power of being truly open to learning about the world. Proponents of the concept have formed a small, global advocacy group that aims to reframe the conversation around international volunteering to focus on the learning that has to take place before and during a volunteer experience, and throughout the rest of your life.
Learning service have recently launched a mini-video series which includes sound bites of our research. They offer some things to consider when trying to volunteer abroad responsibly – see if you think DiA aligns with them! The first four videos have been released, and the others will become available over the next three weeks.
Finding a Responsible Volunteer Placement
Being a Valuable Volunteer
Returning from your Volunteer Experience
Are you thinking of volunteering with DiA in India this year? How do you think our volunteer opportunities align with the points in the Learning Service videos?
If you are interested in volunteering with Development in Action in India, you can find more information on our volunteering principles here. You can ask any questions about our programs and find out how to apply by emailing us here.
Learning Service promote a movement of learning, designed to better prepare young people about to travel abroad for the first time. They are in the process of writing a book that explores the idea of learning service and offers advice on preparing for a responsible overseas volunteer placement. Their website contains lots of information, competitions and they will be uploading more videos in the coming weeks. Visit www.learningservice.info and follow on twitter at @LearnSer
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.
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