Why are we here?

Last Thursday we had a house meeting - just like every Thursday. All volunteers get together with Johnson and it is a chance to bring up topics that need discussion.
Usually this means that Johnson puts one or two items on the agenda, talks about them, asks for feedback and doesn’t get any. Well, not much anyway.
Last Thursday he had just one item on the agenda, one question for all of us:

Why do people get involved?
What is the motivation for people to take their time, money and talent to become involved?
What does it take for volunteers to get involved and stay involved?

He gave that question to the group of about 16 volunteers and the answers were quite different:

  • Some said they were here, because their university send them to research volunteer work and they needed the work done to finish their studies.
  • Some said they were here, because they had the summer off after graduation and wanted to see what Africa is like.
  • Some said they were here, because a friend had been here and they also wanted to get involved and offer the skills and experience they have.
  • Some said they were here, because they have been here before and liked coming back and working with the people at the organisation and in particular projects and to see friends they made during previous stays.
  • Some said they were here, because they want their children to experience different countries and living situations.
  • Some said they were here, because they want to help the poor children.
  • Some said they were here, because they want to experience everyday life in Africa to understand the situation better when collaborating with African partners in business or research.
  • Some said they were here, because they had been exposed to similar conditions as those in some of the projects during previous travels and wanted to give something rather than just looking at people.

The reasons vary, but for me there are a number of facts that are valid for all of us, no matter what our motivation:
The local staff knows a lot more about the situation and the bigger picture than you do.
Setting up a project is not an easy and simple process, if it is to produce sustainable results.
Volunteers can support local staff and follow their lead, not take over the project.
Donating money to the need identified by the local staff in the project not by ourselves has the biggest impact.
Making a kid happy with some expensive item or brand from your world at home is not very sustainable.
When in doubt: Africa needs more business, not more charity. Buy locally, reduce your luggage to what is really not available locally.

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