Posts Tagged Activism

The problem with volunteering in the Global South

Voluntourism – the act of both volunteering and travelling a new place at the same time – is a booming multi-billion dollar industry; with some sort of trip to the Global South to work in an orphanage or build a well becoming a rite of passage of sorts. This market for Western volunteers is fuelled by the belief that because we come from financially wealthier countries, we have the right or duty, to bestow our benevolence on people. Who cares if we don’t speak the language, don’t have the experience for the jobs we’re doing, or don’t know anything about what life is like in the country we will be visiting? We want to help, and that’s a good thing.

More harm than good?

Christina and two Ugandan youth activists sitting along with their backs to the wall of a shop chatting

Meeting with local youth activists at a village shop in Busede, Jinja District, Uganda

 

Despite this obvious ethical nuance, and the “Gap Yah” stereotypes of posh kids with saviour complexes, sporting elephant print trousers, I have no doubt that most people who undertake voluntourism do so with the best of intentions. I was one of those people once (sans the elephant print trousers) and I’m pretty certain I am not a horrible person. I was, however, hugely naive, ill-informed and probably as much use as a chocolate teapot. People don’t choose to travel halfway around the world to spend weeks or months of their life doing more harm than good, but often, being part of a voluntourism scheme can do just that. If you’ll forgive me the religious nod, as the old saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

A group of UK and Ugandan volunteers and activists stood together in front of a tree facing the camera

UK volunteers with Zambian volunteers and community activists at a community HIV testing event. Nkumbi, Mkushi District, Zambia

A group of Ugandan young people and Christina pulling faces and waving their arms towards the camera

Filming a music video with a local youth group. Busembatia, Iganga District, Uganda

After school games and songs with local children in Mukonchi, Kabwe District, Zambia

A group of Zambian students all holding a white certificate proudly and smiling at the camera outside in Zambia

Students of Nkumbi Basic School proudly displaying completion certificates for a Peer Leader training event. Nkumbi, Mkushi Distric, Zambia.

We’ve seen this pattern of failing at intervention in the past, with foreign aid propping up dictatorships and fostering corruption and with the dumping of cheap food and clothes collapsing industry and encouraging a dependency culture. This is down in large part to outside actors deciding what is good for people without research or consultation, and yet we appear to have not learnt from our mistakes. Voluntourism has been linked to commodifying children, endangering vulnerable people, encouraging harmful stereotypes and to damaging local economies, as it is often organised by profit driven companies. Being suckered in by a company, who will charge you thousands of pounds to gawp at some poverty porn for a fortnight, brings broad and complex socio-economic and ethical issues. By continuing to support voluntourism trips to countries that have historically been classified as the “third world” we reinforce ideas that countries in the Global South need to be saved by us, which further disseminates a colonial mindset between Western countries and the rest of the world.

Commodifying the vulnerable

Perhaps these issues are best illustrated by means of example, so let’s look at working in an orphanage, which is one of the most popular voluntourism trips. Orphanage programmes, whilst being really good at pulling at the heart strings of travellers, are also hugely problematic. In areas of extreme poverty, people paying money for the chance to interact with orphaned children creates a market for orphans. It has become a good business model to fill orphanages with children with families to tempt tourists in to donating, indeed it is estimated that 80% of children living in orphanages have one living parent. That’s of course not to say that orphans don’t exist, but it does mean that you should be cynical about the opportunity to “help out some orphans.”

A group of Ugandan students all wearing a school uniform of white shirts and navy trousers sat at wooden desks watching their teacher at the front of the class. Many of the students are looking at the camera.

Sexual health class with students of Busede Basic School. Busede, Jinja District, Uganda

But, what if the orphanage was legitimate? I’m pretty confident in saying a short term volunteering stint still isn’t a good idea. For children growing up in orphanages, being able to create long-term, stable attachments to caregivers is paramount and parading twenty-odd, twenty-somethings through for a cuddle every other week does the exact opposite thing. Research shows that the experience can have a terrible impact on the physical, social and intellectual development of children, with a 2009 Romanian study showing that the institutionalisation of toddlers is one of the biggest threats to early brain development. And that’s before we’ve even discussed the ethical issues of pimping out affection from orphaned kids to strangers who have rarely gone through any comprehensive vetting procedure!

Still want to volunteer?

If you still really want to volunteer in the Global South, and there are lots of reasons why you should, there are a few questions you can ask yourself, and a few measures you can try to put in place to avoid doing more harm than good:

A Ugandan teacher and her young students gathered around a blackboard while a young girl writes on the board.

Pre-school class in orphanage near Bugagali, Jinja District, Uganda

 

  • Why are you doing this? Are you going overseas to help, or to look good or forward your career? Be introspective about your motives and avoid saviour complex.
  • What are the intentions of the organisation you’re working with? As we’ve learnt, even if your intentions are well meaning, that might not be the case for the organisation you’re working with/for. Don’t be afraid to look in to their financial breakdowns, impact reports, the types of marketing they use (and why!) and whether they offer community led initiatives, which are often much more sustainable. If in doubt, don’t give them your money.
  • Are you the right person for the job? Would you be trusted to do this work in your own country? If the answer is no, then you’re probably not the right person for the job in another country, either. A popular activity for many volunteers is building, but if you’re not skilled in building then you could be putting people at risk and stealing work from community members who do have the experience that you’re lacking. The kind of volunteering you do should depend on your skills and qualifications, not just what you’d like to do.
  • Do you have the time needed for this project? It should go without saying that longer term development projects tend to be more sustainable and effective than flash in the pan initiatives. If you’re going to be volunteering as a teacher then a week is probably not long enough to have any real impact, however, perhaps it could be enough time to do some skill sharing and peer training with a teacher in the community, so do look at other “less hands on” ways to support.
Walking down a populated street in Uganda, a group of Ugandan and UK volunteers with their backs to the camera

Group of volunteers in Jinja Town, Uganda

 

Better ways to help

Perhaps after asking yourself the above questions you’ve realised that voluntourism isn’t for you, but you probably still want to do something. Luckily, there’s lots of ways you can influence change without hopping on a plane and parting with huge amounts of cash. You can volunteer at home, in person and online, on campaigns that will directly impact the issues you care about. You can also vote with your money by buying ethically, donating wisely and supporting entrepreneurs with microfinance loans.  Finally, you can start to dismiss some of these stereotypes about the Global South and how much voluntourism really helps, maybe sharing this blog could be a good conversation starter with your networks?

 

Christina Berry-Moorcroft

Christina is a Communications and Fundraising Manager for a UK wide dementia charity, and Trustee for a women’s focused refugee and asylum seeker charity. With over a decade of experience in the third sector, and a specialism in campaigns, capacity building and social impact, Christina has worked on issues like global health, hunger, and wealth inequality in both the UK and across Sub-Saharan Africa. In her spare time she’s an avid bad dancing doer, board game player, city break haver and tea drinker. She tweets as @ChrissieBM, but can make no apologies for her endorsement of terrible puns online.

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Have your say on NHS Homeopathy funding in the Wirral

3736069_1426544235.2609_funddescription-300x225Last year, skeptical charity the Good Thinking Society successfully challenged NHS Liverpool CCG over their decision to spend over £30,000 per year on homeopathic remedies. Given that homeopathy has proven to be nothing other than placebo, they argued that spending any money at all on this treatment was unjustifiable and possibly unlawful, and we at the Merseyside Skeptics Society supported them full. We’re expecting the results of the consultation soon, but meanwhile some of the few remaining CCGs to still fund homeopathy are beginning to conduct their own consultations, with NHS Wirral CCG next to seek the opinions of the public on the funding of homeopathy.

Please take a moment to share your thoughts with the CCG via their online survey, which is open to everyone, even if you are not a resident of the Wirral: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/WHDHW3X

This is a rare chance for us to make our opinions known. Liverpool CCG’s online consultation doubtlessly received responses from a great deal of homeopathy supporters, which we were hopefully able to balance out with the views of members of the general public, including scientists and rationalists. It is almost certain that this consultation by Wirral CCG will receive just as much attention from supporters of homeopathy. If supporters of evidence based medicine don’t speak up, the consultation will be swamped with homeopathy fans and funding may continue.

It takes less than 5 minutes for you to do your part to ensure the reputation of the NHS is not used to lend credibility to a system of alternative medicine that can offer no benefits to patients. Take the survey now >>

If you’d like to understand more about the consultation, the accompanying pages offer some insights into the issues surrounding homeopathy in the Wirral.

Once you’ve taken the survey, be sure to share it with friends and colleagues – the more support NHS Wirral CCG gets for ending homeopathy funding, the better chance we have of helping them make this decision happen.

You can also support the work the Good Thinking Society is doing to challenge NHS homeopathy by making a small monthly or one-off donation. It was their legal challenge which pressured Liverpool CCG to consult on homeopathy and which contributed to the pressure to consult in the Wirral, and it was their legal challenge which resulted in the current nationwide consultation on banning homeopathy prescriptions on the NHS. If you think that’s worth a fiver or a tenner, you can donate now.

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NHS Wirral and The North West Friends Of Homeopathy: A Typical Wednesday Evening Out

I’ve had a rather interesting evening. Last week, MSS member and local councillor Darren Dodds alerted me to the fact that Wirral NHS were holding an open meeting to discuss whether to continue funding homeopathy in the region, with the recommendation being very much ‘No, we absolutely shouldn’t’. Needless to say, I agree with this recommendation, and wanted to go along to let them know that I – and by extension the hundred or more local MSS members – applaud their step in the right direction. Interested parties should read the report they came up with, it’s really pretty good. Some highlights:

The paper concludes that the lack of evidence on efficacy and cost-effectiveness of homeopathic therapies means that it should not be a high priority for the PCT at this time. It is recommended that NHS Wirral does not commission homeopathictherapies.

The key risk is that NHS Wirral fails to maintain its reputation as an evidence-based commissioning PCT.

Excellent stuff. Still, it seems we weren’t the only ones made aware of the open meeting – also invited were patients currently or formerly using homeopathy, and the ‘North West Friends of Homeopathy‘. This latter group are most interesting, and I’ll come back to them a little later in more detail, but first it’s worth pointing out that I appeared on local radio with a member of the group on Monday morning, in an exchange that might amuse, and will certainly give a far better impression of who John Cook is than I could ever do justice with words. UK-based readers can listen here, it starts around the 2hour 13minute mark and lasts about 10 minutes. I’ll wait.

For those not able, willing or interested in listening, what we have from John is a charming ability to hog a conversation, and the maniacal insistence that the date of the meeting was aired. Clearly, John wanted his supporters to arrive mob-handed. Fair enough, he probably feels he has a strong case. As it was, when I arrived with a couple of other MSS members there were maybe 40 or so people present, a number which I presume to be in excess of the general norm for these meetings.

John, having lobbied for inclusion, was amongst the speakers, joined by Dr. Hugh Neilsen BA MA BM BCh MRCP FFHom (it’s worth pointing out that his name is actually Hugh Nielsen, and the NWFoH’s own website, while painstaking in it’s detail of Hugh’s many qualifications, mispells the name of their own president), and the panel was completed by two local GPs who were involved in making the recommendation, and who spent the evening ranging between bemused, compassionate and at times startled. Startled, not least, by the quite spectacular opening by John, the homeopath’s friend (which I imagine is rather like a Fisherman’s Friend, but lacking in clout), in which he directed a quite flattering string of insults at me directly, and at the Merseyside Skeptics Society. Read the rest of this entry »

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Power Balance Admits No Reasonable Basis For Wristband Claims, Consumers Offered Refunds

Placebo bands - the skeptical alternative to Power Balance

Placebo bands - the skeptical alternative to Power Balance

Not for the first time, we at the MSS would like to offer our congratulations and our genuine awe at the work done by the Australian Skeptics. Not for their tireless work in fighting anti-vaccination in Australia, although this is indeed laudable. Not even for hosting TAM Australia, though the event sounded an overwhelming success, with precisely the kind of ethos and feel we’re trying to achieve with QED (tickets are still available, of course). No, this time our hearty congratulations are for their fight against the ludicrous nonsense that is Power Balance – the little bands of rubber, embedded with a neat little hologram and vibrating with a supposedly-ever-present-yet-oddly-undetectable energy which claims to help this, boost that and increase the other.

Or at least, they used to claim that. As of today the manufacturers will no longer be making those claims, after a ruling proved them to be unsubstantiated. What follows is a press release from the ACCC explaining further, but it’s worth pointing out that without the work of the Australian Skeptics in demonstrating the falsehood of Power Balance’s claims this ruling would never have happened. So, once again – excellent work, guys!

Power Balance Admits No Reasonable Basis For Wristband Claims, Consumers Offered Refunds

Misleading advertising claims about the alleged benefits of Power Balance wristbands and pendants have been withdrawn by the manufacturer after Australian Competition and Consumer Commission intervention.

As a result consumers will be offered a refund if they feel they have been misled and Power Balance has agreed not to supply any more products that are misleadingly labelled.

Power Balance Australia Pty Ltd claimed the wristbands improve balance, strength and flexibility and worked positively with the body’s natural energy field. It also marketed its products with the slogan “Performance Technology”. The ACCC raised concerns that these claims were likely to mislead consumers into believing that Power Balance products have benefits that they do not have. Read the rest of this entry »

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QED Vodka: Why Do Things By Halves…?

I’m sure you all saw our QED Vodka footage by now – where we made a batch of homeopathic vodka for the BBC, and then trialled it around the streets of Liverpool. What fun.

What you might not have seen is the full sales pitch, as (for reasons of time) we had to trim a lot of it down. Still, I had a lot of fun coming up with it, crafting a fine line of bullshit-benefits while never straying from what could be tenuoulsy claimed about a) water and b) the placebo effect. Because if you’re going to do something, why do it by halves?

So, to preserve the sheer bullshit I forced myself to come up with, I thought I’d post it all here (as well as giving you it as a PDF so you can see what was on the other side of that clipboard I’m clutching in the footage).

Enjoy! And get your QED ticket now to sample some QED vodka with us in person in February! Read the rest of this entry »

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Homeopathic ‘Overdosers’ Announce Global Challenge

10:23 Campaign

The 10:23 Campaign

Consumer rights activists worldwide are being challenged to participate in a global ‘overdose’ on homeopathic pills, in order to raise public awareness that the remedies are in fact worthless.

The ’10:23 Challenge’, scheduled to culminate worldwide in February 2011, is a follow-up to the protest staged by the 10:23 Campaign in the UK, which saw almost 400 demonstrators take to the streets across UK to voice their concern at the sales of the pills in leading pharmacy ‘Boots’, and the support for such ‘remedies’ on the NHS.

Michael Marshall of the 10:23 Campaign explained the plans for 2011: “This year has been a great year in the UK for raising awareness of homeopathy – with doctors, pharmacists, politicians and – above all – members of the public speaking out against this discredit ‘treatment’.

“However, the case against homeopathy extends far beyond the UK – all around the world, people are being told that homeopathy is a valid form of treatment, and often with tragic consequences. It’s a global problem, and it requires global action.

“This is why we’re announcing the 10:23 Challenge for 2011 – we want to show global unity by gathering protesters from more than 10 countries, and more than 23 cities. Our aim is to have more than 1023 people publicly gathering over the weekend of 5th-6th February, to make a statement: Homeopathy – There’s Nothing In It.

“Of course, safety is our number one concern – not all homeopathy is prepared as honestly and cleanly as the manufacturers state, and can include real ingredients which could be potentially dangerous. With this in mind we urge anyone wishing to get involved to prepare their own homeopathic remedies, or contact the 10:23 Campaign for more information”.

QED: Question. Explore. Discover.

Get your QED ticket now!

While International participation is yet to be announced, the challenge will culminate in a demonstration in Manchester on February 6th, at the ‘QED: Question. Explore. Discover.’ event, with over 300 protesters participating the largest ever single demonstration against homeopathy.

The 10:23 Campaign is an international movement headed by the Merseyside Skeptics Society, which aims to raise awareness of homeopathy, a multi-million pound industry based on a long-discredited 18th century ritual, selling remedies to the public which have no scientific basis and no credible evidence for their efficacy beyond the placebo effect.

While dispensing sugar pills may seem harmless, in reality the endorsement of homeopathic potions by leading health providers can have grave consequences. In September 2010, a BBC investigation discovered registered homeopaths administering ineffective ‘alternatives’ to the MMR vaccine, and in 2002 9-month old infant Gloria Sam died from serious infections after her eczema – a condition commonly treated by homeopaths – was treated with homeopathic remedies.

Mr Marshall concluded: “Homeopathy has had more than two centuries to prove itself a useful remedy, but the results consistently come back negative. In the meantime, people are being fooled into believing these pills work, often causing genuine harm. This is unacceptable, and on February 5th, we’re going to demonstrate how strongly people feel about this issue.”

For more information about the 10:23 Challenge, visit www.1023.org.uk or contact contact@1023.org.uk.

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