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Is volunteering always helpful?

As a volunteer organization in SE Asia’s poorest country, we take our responsibility towards the community we strive to help as our greatest concern. We acknowledge that the desire to help is simply not enough. Our work is always adapted based on the village’s premises and preconditions. As our project’s founder, Aay, is a local citizen, our visions, the work we do, and the changes we make are always founded from a local perspective. We avoid idealistic and privileged volunteers wanting to ease their conscience or boost their SoMe profiles. Instead, we want volunteers who will never compromise Aay’s Village over their own or other volunteers’ expectations or ambitions.

Over the last decades, well-intentioned volunteers who travel around the world to offer their help has increased in huge numbers. Popularly known as voluntourists, privileged western travelers embark on journeys to excotic places with a desire to help people less fortunate than themselves. They are often driven by a desire to contribute to save the world, simultaneously with an urge to take a selfie with smiling local child in an exotic background that can be spread on SoMe with a caption describing that they are, indeed, saving the world. No matter how well-intentioned and honest their desire to help is, it is important to question whether their work actually does contribute with anything else than to increase the amount of likes the volunteers receive on their profile picture. Because while volunteering is founded on the desire to help, there is nothing that suggests that well-intentioned volunteering solely is enough to do any good. And unfortunately, in many instances, volunteering can actually do more harm than good.

Places and countries are often stereotypically targeted as impersonal developing countries, in which Western voluntourism is presented as the solution to all their problem. Especially with volunteer organisations that profit from their work, the focus tend to be concentrated on the volunteers’ experience of their stay, causing the actual charity to be neglected. This may lead the charity to be ineffective, or cause problems or harm to the place and the people they try to help. Western countries would never let inexperienced people build their houses or let untrained youths teach their children, which is why we neither should allow for it to happen in Asia or Africa, just so we can help some idealistic travellers ease their conscience.

We take important and necessary steps to ensure that Aay’s Village actually is an advantage to the village. Our volunteers will never alone be in charge of the teaching. We regard our volunteers as an asset that can help boost the children's’ education by teaching them English and IT, and discussing topics of values, responsibilities and equality. There will always be an educated teacher helping the volunteer and making sure they are adequate for the job. We ensure that our teacher volunteers are taught basic principles of pedagogic and understand the responsibility it is to teach children and youth. Furthermore, all our volunteers are taken through Child Safe’s course. We believe that volunteering is an enrichment for both the local community and the volunteer as long as we are conscious of our responsibility and invest in necessary precautions.

We are aware that volunteering sometimes can do more harm than good, which is why our project is critical to negative aspects of what is generally known as voluntourism. A term that we believe define an increasing problem within international volunteering. The issue of voluntourism is difficult, and we acknowledge that the matter is far from black and white, but rather presents a lot of grey areas. Nevertheless, we insist that all volunteer at Aay’s Village are attentive to the local community, and that their welfare always is our first priority. We are determined to employ volunteers whose first priority is to contribute in the most efficient way based on what benefits the local community the most. In order for us to work together towards our common goal of helping the village to help themselves, it is necessary for our project that all our volunteers embrace this philosophy.

That said, our project offers an unique experience, and we encourage all our volunteers to make the most of their trip. As a volunteer at Aay’s village you will have your weekends off, and we help you facilitate trips in order for you explore what Laos has to offer. Adventurous hikes in the Lao jungle, visits to markets offering excotic fruits and spices, and a beautiful and interesting village culture are something we desire to become a part of all our volunteers everyday-life during their stay at Aay’s Village. Nevertheless, we insist that all our volunteers always are humble, open and respectful towards the people, their culture and way of life in Aay’s Village.

We are proud of the work we do, and as a volunteer you can always be confident that your stay first and foremost will be arranged in such a way that it benefits the community. That is why we insist that you as well, when volunteering for Aay’s Village, have the same philosophy – volunteers must always adapt to what is best for the village, and not the other way around.

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