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2 posts categorized "author-Grace Sato"

[Review] Hoping to Help: The Promises and Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering

May 06, 2016

Global health volunteering — medical missions, health brigades, "flying" surgeons — is a huge and growing enterprise. An estimated two hundred thousand Americans engage in such activities each year, and their time is valued at more than $750 million — not including the hundreds of millions of dollars in direct costs such as air travel, administration, and supplies.

Book_hoping_to_help_for_PhilanTopicDespite this enormous investment of resources, very little is known about the actual benefits of short-term volunteer service trips, of which the vast majority last less than two weeks. Volunteer trips are seen as opportunities to "make a difference" or to "give back," and most people who engage in such activities intuitively believe they accomplish some measure of good. Yet whether these efforts actually benefit the host communities, how those benefits are measured, and what other objectives are involved are rarely discussed or considered.

As they have grown in popularity, such activities — often grouped under the heading of "voluntourism" — have become a target of criticism. In a scathing critique in the Guardian a few years back, Somalian blogger Ossob Mohamud wrote: "Voluntourism almost always involves a group of idealistic and privileged travelers who have vastly different socio-economic statuses vis-à-vis those they serve. They often enter these communities with little or no understanding of the locals' history, culture, and way of life. All that is understood is the poverty and the presumed neediness of the community, and for the purposes of volunteering that seems to be enough."

Judith N. Lasker engages this debate with her latest book, Hoping to Help: The Promises and Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering. A professor of sociology at Lehigh University, Lasker examines the landscape of short-term volunteer trips; the benefits and drawbacks of such activity from the perspective of the sponsoring organizations, the volunteers, and the host communities; and what can be done to make such activity more effective, particularly for the latter. The research on which the book is based includes a national survey of a hundred and seventy-seven U.S.-based sponsor organizations, more than a hundred interviews, and participant observation by the author on two short-term trips.

To assess effectiveness, one has to identify program goals, and in the case of voluntourism that ends up being more complicated than simply saying "improving the health of host communities." Indeed, sponsoring organizations — which include churches, universities, hospitals, and NGOs, as well as large corporations and other profit-making companies — often state that providing health services and building public health capacity in underresourced communities is one of their primary goals. However, organizations oftentimes have other, competing interests, including their ability to recruit talented professionals and their own financial sustainability. "[E]nhancing the organization's reputation" and "promoting volunteers' personal growth," writes Lasker, "are often considered just as important [as any benefits created for the host community], raising questions about whether a focus on them might reduce the effectiveness of a group in promoting health."

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[Review] Compassionate Careers: Making a Living by Making a Difference

August 18, 2015

Book_compassionate_careers_for_PhilanTopicWhen you have a choice of paths to take, take the path with a heart.

– Yaqui Indian proverb

In Compassionate Careers: Making a Living by Making a Difference, Jeffrey W. Pryor and Alexandra Mitchell encourage young people to take "the path with a heart" when considering how they want to spend their lives. Filled with the stories of people who did just that, the book describes the joy and fulfillment — as well as some of the challenges — of a cause-focused career.

There is plenty of inspiration, and even humor, in the stories Pryor and Mitchell share. Who knew, for example, that the initial motivation for Jane Goodall to visit Africa was her love for Tarzan? Or that, as a young girl, Goodall was convinced she would make a better partner for the jungle swinger than his "wimpy" wife.

More typical is the story of Ana Dodson, a young woman who was adopted from Peru as an infant and raised in Colorado by her adoptive family. At the age of 11, Ana and her mother made plans to visit Hogar de Ninas, an orphanage outside of Cuzco, Peru. Thinking the children in the orphanage probably had no one to hug, Ana decided to collect books and stuffed animals for them and approached the local Rotary Club for help. Invited to speak at a club luncheon, she raised $700 on the spot — and received a standing ovation. That was the beginning of Peruvian Hearts, the organization Ana started to provide orphaned girls and young women in Peru with medical care, skills development, and computer training. "The girls at the orphanage were wearing clothes that were all torn. They were malnourished and had no education," Ana, now seventeen, says. "It hit me that I could have been living in that orphanage. That...could have been me. And I wanted to do something to help them."

Ivan Suvanjieff had a different journey. The creator of PeaceJam, he and his girlfriend (now wife), Dawn Engle, envisioned bringing Nobel Peace Prize-winners together with young people to create a movement for global peace and justice. They had one contact — the Dalai Lama, whom Dawn had met while working in Washington, D.C. Intrigued by their idea, the Dalai Lama agreed to participate — but only if the couple could get other Nobel laureates involved. With no connections to speak of, Suvanjieff and Engle did the one thing they could: they picked up the phone and began making calls. Almost twenty years later, PeaceJam offers programs to young people from kindergarten through college and has engaged more than a million youth participants, as well as thirteen Nobel laureates, in its cause.

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