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10 Inconvenient Truths About Voluntourism

10 Inconvenient Truths About Voluntourism

Are you attracted by the idea of helping desperate people in Haiti or working with an orphanage in Nepal? The concept of volunteer tourism or voluntourism is a noble and worthy one. But when I started to investigate, I realized that there are some uncomfortable truths that have to be faced before volunteering.

I was shocked to realize what big business this has become. There are well over one and a half million tourists (mostly college students and retirees) who offer their services worldwide every year which is worth about $2 billion. These are the figures quoted in a book Volunteer Tourism- A Global Analysis which provides a fascinating insight into what is often a very murky business, unfortunately.

1. Do you know anything about the volunteer organization?

There are excellent bodies doing Trojan work out there. But there are also some very shady operators who are exploiting, not only the well meaning tourists but the poor people, children and the homeless in the developing world. Here are a few examples:

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  • Costs are high – staff and resources have to be found. Is this the best use of the time and money spent?
  • Many of the 800 orphanages in Nepal, for example, are bogus institutions and unregulated.
  • Unscrupulous operators trick poor people into sending their children to be educated in one of these institutions. In reality, they are neither educated nor fed properly.
  • One Unicef report found that 85% of the children in these so called orphanages in Nepal had at least one living parent.

2. Why not send money instead?

One volunteer who worked in post earthquake Haiti, helping to rebuild homes, found that the actual cost was almost $1,000 per volunteer. Half of that money was spent on building materials and hiring local construction workers. The other half was spent on feeding and housing the volunteers. This volunteer was convinced that sending all the money would have been much more helpful in the long run.

3. Children are abandoned

The volunteers are encouraged, when working in the orphanages, to bond with the children to strengthen the emotional attachment. This, in my view, is a particularly useless and cruel approach. The volunteers will abandon the vulnerable and needy children, once they leave. Many children suffer the trauma of another separation as they are abandoned yet again!

4. Employment could be given to local people

Many volunteers turn up to roll up their sleeves for tough manual or skilled work. There are local, unemployed people who could easily do the work and be paid a fair wage. This would really help to make a difference. The volunteers arrive, work like slaves and leave without making any impact at all on the local economy. In many ways, they have made a bad situation worse!

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5. Are you encouraging a new type of colonialism?

Throughout Asia, Africa and the Caribbean, many countries are still struggling to shake off the shackles of colonialism which have left many unwelcome legacies. Volunteer tourism can interfere with this process of independent and positive growth. This should include long term strategies and help people develop new skills to face local economic challenges. The fact that volunteers are trying to feel good by working in the field is often a hindrance. Much better to do some serious fundraising at home.

6. Are your skills a match for the job?

Most student volunteers know nothing about building or child-rearing. In many cases, senior citizens or retirees are better placed here as they have considerable experience in various jobs and will have a better skills match.  If you are considering voluntourism, think about the project and what skills are required. What are your language skills, social skills, parenting experience, manual skills, and so on? Then, honestly reflect on whether you would be really useful or not

 7. Volunteers come first

“It’s done for the experience of the volunteer. It’s all about the volunteer, with the pretense of helping someone, and I don’t buy it.”- Roger O’Halloran, director of PALMS International.

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Many volunteers are accepted and their needs seem to come first. Lots of expense, time and effort are put into making their experience a memorable and self fulfilling one. They are offered a unique experience which their cosseted upbringing has never allowed. The actual recipients of the aid come a very poor second.

8. Who is really benefiting?

Did you know that many of the ‘fake’ orphans I mentioned above are often cast out on the streets, once the volunteer tourist project ends? They will be forced to beg and be forced into prostitution. This is the time to think about the middlemen and how these organizations are run. Who is really gaining? Very often, the middlemen, travel agencies, and so called institutions are gaining a lot of ready cash.

9. Are you willing to be complicit in child trafficking?

This is the most serious issue of all. Many volunteers are unwittingly entering into the murky world where children are exploited, abused and trafficked. They would be shocked to find out what is really going on.

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10. 10 things to check out before volunteering

  1. Check out the organization you hope to work with. Ask a lot of questions, especially about employing locals, skills sets and costs. You need to know if they are reputable and reliable.
  2. Visit their website and their Facebook page. This is a good way of connecting with past volunteers and learning from them.
  3. Learn about the country you hope to visit. Study the history, culture and economic situation.
  4. Examine honestly your motives and ethics in volunteering. If you are looking for photo-ops, it may be best to consider something else.
  5. If the organization is a religious one, are you comfortable with any preaching or evangelism to be done?
  6. Ask about support and training you will receive if you do decide to go.
  7. Find out about their finances and their involvement with local NGOs. You may want to check out what their goals, ethics and values are.
  8. Be very clear on what the project hopes to achieve and how it will help local initiatives/employment after you leave.
  9. If you decide not to go, consider other ways you can help the organization if you feel it is a worthy one. Do you have IT skills where you could build a website for them?
  10. Consider a financial donation, if you feel that your skills set and physique are not up to it. Check out how they manage their funds, if you can.

Voluntourism is great, if it is carried out responsibly with local people’s needs in mind. If not, it may well be a scam that should be avoided at all costs.

Featured photo credit: Group 20 -015/Visions Service Adventures via flickr.com

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Robert Locke

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Last Updated on October 15, 2018

Why Am I So Tired? 10 Reasons You’re Extremely Tired And How to Fix It

Why Am I So Tired? 10 Reasons You’re Extremely Tired And How to Fix It

“Why am I so tired?” is a question that people ask themselves pretty frequently. Everyone gets tired at one point or another, particularly after something like an illness, a long night up with a sick child, or a busy week at work. When tiredness is persistent, however — when you feel tired as soon as you wake up in morning or when sleep doesn’t seem to help, no matter how much rest you get— it may often indicate a deeper, underlying problem.

While there are a lot of possible reasons for tiredness, here’re some of the most common causes of fatigue:

1. Dehydration

If you want to boost your energy levels, first check whether you are dehydrated. The human brain is 85% water, and needs to maintain this level in order to perform its essential functions.

If you fail to drink enough water, the brain extracts fluids from your blood to compensate for the deficit. As a result, the oxygen levels in your blood drop, reducing the amount of energising oxygen available to your organs and tissues. Fatigue and sleepiness set in rapidly, leaving you more vulnerable to the 2 pm post-lunch crash that many of us experience.

You cannot cure this crash with caffeine – the only long-term, effective solution is to drink hydrating fluids throughout the day.

2. Lack Of Exercise

A workout will surely leave you feeling even more tired, right? Wrong! As counterintuitive as it may sound, physical activities have an energizing effect. Moving your body releases endorphins, increases your heart rate, and boosts your concentration.

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Try to fit in at least 30 minutes of medium-intensity exercise every day. It’s easiest if you can make this part of our everyday routine, either as soon as you wake up or right after work.

3. A Poor Diet

The food you eat has a direct impact on sleep quality and the amount of rest you get every night. For maximum energy, stick to protein, slow-release carbohydrates, and a moderate amount of healthy (unsaturated) fats. The majority of your food should be plant-based, high in fiber, and low in sugar. These choices will prevent blood sugar fluctuations, which can leave you feeling exhausted.

An easy way to make sure you stick to a good diet is through meal preparation. It’s easy to just get take-out when you’re tired after work, but if you have a meal ready for you in the fridge, you’ll be less tempted by pizza or cheese.

Find out more about healthy meal prep here: 10 Meal Planning Apps You Need To Have To Get Healthier Easily

4. Skipping Breakfast

Physician Dr. Nerina Ramlakhan advises that eating breakfast is key to maintaining a good level of energy throughout the day. When you eat breakfast, you are sending calming signals to the areas of the brain responsible for avoiding danger, along with those that instruct the body to conserve as much energy as possible.

Ingesting food signals to your brain that there is enough food available to ensure our survival. This encourages it to stay relaxed, which in turn, promotes restful sleep.

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Some great ideas for a healthy, filling, and make-ahead breakfasts include overnight oats, smoothies, and freezer-friendly breakfast burritos.

Or if meal-prepping isn’t your think, stock up on easy but healthy breakfast foods like multigrain cereal, yogurt, and fruit: 20 Healthy Breakfast Choices That Will Save You Time

5. Poor Quality Of Sleep

We all know that it’s important to wind down a couple of hours before bed. But did you know that it’s what you do throughout the day that promotes good-quality sleep? It’s not just about the number of hours you sleep, but how restful and deep that sleep is.

TO feel rested, try to regulate your everyday routine to make your sleep deeper and better. Get up at a regular time in the morning to ensure that you get regular sunlight.

Eat nutritious foods in moderate amounts, and make sure you stay hydrated. Go to bed at the same time. And before bedtime, avoid screens that can give off harmful blue light and also keep you stimulated when you need to prepare for a restful night.

Read more about how to develop a routine that will get you better sleep: Poor Sleep Quality Comes from All the Things You Do Since Morning

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6. Sleep Apnea (A Person’s Airways Get Blocked off While They Are Asleep)

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder where a person’s airways get blocked off while they are asleep, causing their oxygen levels to drop while they are asleep. This often causes people to stop breathing at night and then to jerk themselves awake (this can happen over 30 times an hour).

Because of this, people with sleep apnea can feel short of breath and have low energy levels. Mouthpieces and other devices to aid in breathing as well as the use of a special breathing machine to keep oxygen levels in a safe zone.

If you feel tired all the time and think you might have sleep apnea, consulting with a doctor is important. Do a sleep study, as this can often reveal if there is an underlying problem causing your tiredness — and once a diagnosis is made, treatment to help you get your energy back begins.

7. Depression

Depression is the most common mental health disorder in the United States (and in many other countries of the world as well). It is marked by persistent feelings of sadness or unhappiness but has physical symptoms, too. Apart from fatigue, people may also experience changes in sleeping and eating habits and difficulty concentrating.

Treatment can often center on anti-depressants, counselling and lifestyle changes like stress management to help manage this condition. You can take a look at these 15 Ways To Overcome Depression And Sadness.

Many people also benefit from activities like yoga and meditation, which help regulate both the body and mind.

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8. Hypothyroidism

If a person has hypothyroidism, their thyroid gland does not produce adequate levels of these important hormones— and the result can be a persistent and unrelenting fatigue, even if someone is getting enough sleep. Other common symptoms of this disorder include mood swings, weight gain and feeling cold all the time.

Fortunately, simple blood work can reveal if there is a problem and it can be treated with artificial thyroid hormone pills like Synthroid. Check here for signs of having a thyroid problem. If you suspect that you might have hypothyroidism, talk to your doctor.

9. Anemia

People with anemia are not able to make enough red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the their bodies. This is often due to a lack of nutrients like iron or B-12 and can be caused by problems such as heavy periods, bleeding in the digestive tract or pregnancy (due to the increased demands of the growing baby).

However, in most cases, this can be resolved with treatments like changes in diet, iron supplements or B-12 shots.

While here are some drinks you can try to relieve symptoms of Anemia, it’s best to do a blood test and consult your doctor in case of any hidden medical conditions.

10. Cancer

While you shouldn’t be freaking out about cancer just because you are tired, it is a fact that fatigue is one of the symptoms of cancer. Other common symptoms can include unexplained weight loss and the presence of palpable lumps or growths. This disease is marked by the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells that can do damage to surround tissues and possibly spread to other parts of the body.

Diagnosis is usually by biopsy and treatment often focusses on radiation, chemotherapy or surgery— and generally when a diagnosis is made early, the outcomes for the patient are better.

Featured photo credit: Lily Banse via unsplash.com

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