In the most recent period, in our Facebook group, we received many requests for information about volunteering, about where or how to volunteer, etc… Many doubt were expressed, but also the desire to get a priceless experience, which had a positive impact on the lives of the community that benefited from the aid.
After all, we can’t assume that you can find dubious or even poorly organised associations. It’s easy to be led even unwittingly in a negative form of “voluntarism”: just two or three weeks in order to volunteer and then come back home without providing any practical aid to the community but with a clear conscience.
It is precisely because we want to give you correct information that we interviewed Diletta, an experienced girl who has been writing volunteer projects for years and who decided to share her knowledge and opinion to Viaggio da sola perché.
Here is our interview. Enjoy!
Hi Diletta, tell us something about you.
I’m Diletta, I’m 29. Unconfident by nature, I find my place only when I move alone or together with other people, possibly with a backpack.
I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. Until I moved led by my feelings, changing cities, studies and ideas and only knowing that travelling was very important for me.
Tell us about your volunteer experience. How did you begin it? How did these experiences affect you?
During the bachelor and the master in Foreign Languages, I dreamt of spending part of my life volunteering because I wanted to feel useful, to discover the world, to learn about other cultures, to pay off the debts – at least partly of it – for being born in the land of opportunities. The search for the right organisation was a frustrating path inside a labyrinth full of dead ends, and I’ve never found the way out. Specific skills and large sums of money required, uncertainty about the real impact of my job, many emails without answer convinced me to give up, to continue studying and to postpone my dream.
I found my future by chance in a newspaper article about a little local association operating on women’s right in Italy and all over the world through development co-operation programmes. During the first meeting, the president said he would travel to Nepal soon. Usually I’m not impulsive, but in that moment I felt something inside me. I approached him to ask if I could leave with him. His affirmative but mostly stunning answer was an act of great trust: he had no idea who I was, and I didn’t have any experience in that field. That night, at home, I bought the travel ticket with the money I had earned during a seasonal work in a chalet.
A week later i was in Kathmandu, surrounded by the dust and the noise of horns, delighted with the rough beauty and the freshness of what was flowing around me.
I spent two weeks together with the widows in the farthest villages, simply by listening to their mourning, discrimination, poverty and exclusion stories and sharing with them foods, tea and a blanket. What struck me were the dignity of their always right heads and the determination to react. But I realized something else: my desire to help about the change was stronger than a short volunteer experience.
Once back home, in my free time, I tried to write down a project aiming at giving their children the possibility to go to school, and changing the fates of their families and community through the education. The project was financed by a foundation, and then it became a reality. Last year, after a year as a volunteer, the association hired me and today I work as a Project Manager. I write and manage projects from Italy; once a year I go there for two weeks in order to monitor and evaluate them: I carry out interviews, photos and collect documents.
Was it your dream?
Yes and no. In my imagination, volunteering meant sitting among children, playing with them, helping them in the building of a school. Today, I work on the international cooperation sitting from a computer in Italy. I try to travel – that’s always an important part of my life – during the long weekends and the two weeks off in August, like everyone else. Yet I don’t feel to have given up on my dream: I fulfil it every day when I open emails and find the children’s school notes who finished the school year, when I tell about their mothers’ stories to the students, when I receive a package containing a yak scarf from my friends in Nepal. And when I think back to my frustrating search for an organisation, which allowed me to volunteer somewhere, I realize that it was all my fault. That’s what I understood.
There are many misunderstandings and doubts about the sum a volunteer has to pay to take part in the projects. Can you explain us why volunteers have to pay the costs and what include the costs the association pay?
Managing a volunteer is very expensive. He/she costs financial resources and times to select a candidate, to train him/her, send him/her abroad and ensure that his/her work will be really useful once there. Goodwill, unfortunately, isn’t enough: skills and not always qualifications are required, but at least some abilities (language teaching, children animator, creativity are some of the basic ones). When we think of our period abroad, we have to put ourselves in the position of the people welcoming us, who often work under difficult conditions and with few resources. Organising our accommodation, our tasks, managing our adaptation to the place is a full-time job for them and not often you get resources to do it. It’s even more difficult if the volunteer has short time available: two weeks or a month aren’t enough to have a positive impact on the community and to amortise costs with benefits.
We must consider that resources for the volunteers are taken from the implementation of the projects: that’s why the future volunteer is asked to pay the costs.
Even if i chose to work as a volunteer, i often ask to myself if i’m really useful
How can we make the most from our desire to be useful?
If our priority is to volunteer, we can look for organisations in our city. If our priority is to travel, we have to do it by weighing as little as possible on the people who are going to welcome us. If we want to combine the two aspects, we have to choose a responsible tourism that creates real positive impacts on local people and during our trip we have to collect stories, images and thoughts in order to give a voice to people who don’t have one. This also helps and allows us to come in contact with the people we encounter. Reflecting on these points doesn’t mean to be discouraged, but only to see the situation from the point of view of the others, in order to move forward together.