We want to be transparent and accountable at all costs, which is why we work to create a program that is effective and sustainable, while fostering mutually beneficial learning opportunities. This results in multi-faceted outreach trips, which while planned with a high degree of detail can lead to hesitation on their short term nature. This often results in asking: “Why not hire local people to do the work, for cheaper?” This is, to a degree, a valid question. However, it misses what we believe to be one of the most fundamental points of these experiences.
The tangible outcomes of many of our Outreach Trips are often the structures built, which, we understand could likely be completed without SOS volunteers. However, we’ve found our on-the-ground collaboration with partner organizations facilitates a more efficient and accountable project outcome. Depending on the project, SOS and the partner organization hires and pays locals, where appropriate, which acts as a source of income for often otherwise unemployed labourers. Often times, communities feel ownership over the project and will offer their time to work alongside SOS volunteers. These locals may be unskilled in labour or infrastructure development, but are as imperative to the process as every other contributor.
For us (and we hope you too), what is as equally important as infrastructure development is the creation of interpersonal relationships and social justice education that does not occur with a simple transfer of funds. What we’ve learned is that fundraising money for projects without an understanding of a community’s context leads to a hand-out mentality that doesn’t encourage global collaboration. When students travel abroad, they learn and work with the communities to foster an experience where both participants and local community members are exposed to alternative forms of living. This encourages a broader understanding of the world and our role within the global context of development. Participants, be they international or local, carry these lessons home and spark long-term waves of change and opportunity.
It likely won’t be your manual labour skills that make the greatest impact, although they are in some situations a necessity to complete project. It will likely be the perspectives, understandings, and openness to change you gain while volunteering that continues to make experiences like these worthwhile for everyone that participates. It’s our hope that you carry the impact of this short-term experience with you over the course of your career and allow it to guide you in making choices that reflect equity, diversity and global development.