Opportunism versus altruism

10 May to Yuendumu

Sometimes I think my decisions to volunteer are opportunistic and almost without any altruistic motives.  I go because the opportunity comes up, because I have time, because I want to travel.

I went to Yuendumu because for years I had been saying “I would love to work in an Indigenous community!”  And then I got back from overseas and had 5 months till uni started again, and I saw the Youth Challenge Australia link on a website.

I went to Christmas Island because I was returning to uni after working for a few years and had excess time over January and February and a lack of money.  A few people in my immediate circle had applied with ALIV to volunteer on Christmas and in other detention centres, and it was one of the few completely supported volunteer positions available.

Only later, after the decision has been made, and people start responding do the altruistic motives seem to come in.  They say, “wow, what made you do that?  What a great thing to do!”  And even though I try and make my opportunistic and selfish motives plain they only seem to hear and recognise altruistic motives.

This is a wallwisher.

By clicking on it you can go to a collaborative sticky-note wall and answer the  question

Why did you decide to go?

Double click on the wall to add your own sticky note.

Book project looking for volunteer stories

26 Dec
I thought this might be of great interest to the readers and contributors of ethnosense – especially if you have a really good story to tell from your volunteer trip.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Transformative Tourism: Stories from Volunteers
seeks story contributions for book project
Project Description
The book project Transformative Tourism: Stories from Volunteers seeks story contributions based upon your experience as a volunteer tourist. We ask that you contribute stories that will allow readers to share in your volunteer experience and the insight(s) you gained. The book project is premised upon the belief that volunteer tourism is a transformative experience for the community and the individual. While the concept of “voluntourism” has been theorized in an academic context, it has garnered little public attention. Transformative Tourism attempts to fill this gap and creating a resource for multiple audience.
Project Guidelines
·      Visit www.transformativetourism.org for detailed story guidelines
·      500-1500 word insightful, thoughtful, engaging and/or life changing stories
·      Project abstracts (250 words) due by February 1, 2012
·      Final essays due by April 1, 2012
·      Submit stories to Sara Church and Mary Gould: story@transformativetourism.org
Transformative Tourism: Stories from Volunteers is a collection of short stories written by people who participated in volunteer tourism trips. This edited volume will contain the transformative, enlightening, uplifting, and challenging stories told by the men and women who serve as volunteers around the world.
 
Contact Information
 
About the Editors
Sara Church traveled to Romania in 2008 on a volunteer trip with Globe Aware and the experience made a profound impact on her. Sara has over a decade of experience with Fortune 500 companies in commercial strategy, marketing, management and sales.
Mary Gould, PhD., is an Assistant Professor of Communication and Culture at Saint Louis University. She researches and publishes in the areas of tourism and travel, cultural studies and globalization.

Check out our publication!

31 Oct

The Young Ethnographers Project has come to an end. Our bloggers finished their journey by creating a short publication with their Final Reflections as cultural travelers and international volunteers.

Last month they got together one last time to celebrate the success of this project and receive a certificate of participation for their creative and bold contributions. This closure event was also the perfect opportunity to launch their edited compilation. To give you a better idea of how that publication complements this blog, check one of the things it says:

To conclude the project, the young ethnographers wrote a small reflection or ethnographic
piece that synthesized their insights and thought process in a concise format – resembling
the way anthropologists would put together an ethnography for publication. After facing
several weeks or months of being immersed in an ocean of cultural difference, and after then
blogging and thinking back on many of their unique experiences, the journey finally comes
to a resolution in the following ethnographic pieces of writing. Just like an anthropologist,
these returned volunteers have engaged deeply with another culture and then have
systematically reflected on that experience, allowing them to write, at the end, a public
reflection that brings together the entire process.

And to complete the event, we announced the happy winners of the 2 iPads that were meant to encourage everyone to keep their energy up throughout this lengthy project. Congratulations to the two participants! And congratulations to all of the participants, who made this an amazing blog to read.

Where’s everyone gone?

13 Aug

You are probably wondering what happened to these group of young bloggers that used to post stuff so frequently. Well, they’ve been very busy in the last month writing one final reflection for the first version of The Young Ethnographers Project. This project consisted in two parts: first, three months of intense blogging in Ethnosense, making sense of their cultural immersions as international volunteers and, second, one last month of writing, putting together a final reflection for a compilation to be published in a booklet format. A new group of young ethnographers will start blogging again in the next few months, but in the meantime, I’d like to give you a snippet of what you’ll find in the concluding thoughts of this exciting and creative group:

***

The transition from my world to theirs and vice versa was undoubtedly the most challenging thing that I faced. It was culture shock but not in the sense that the Peruvian culture is vastly different to mine, more so a sense of lifestyle shock, if there is such a thing. It was impossible to ignore. Inescapable, surrounding me like a misty haze on a dark night..

Angelenepenguin

I feel for India, I opened to the country and as a result have reassessed a lot of what I do in daily life. I smiled, and India smiled back. India head-wobbled, and I head-wobbled back. I sledge-hammered through how ‘normal’ is such a painfully relative term; how through repetition we can be used to anything, through getting used to anything we foster a familiarity which then becomes immunity – oh look, there’s another cow taking a dump in front of me outside the bakery about to cross an 8 lane road..

prupodum

Perhaps it was because of how welcome and included I felt that I did not experience any “culture shock”. I think this is true to an extent but, most of all, I think it was because I was so immersed in the culture that I failed to recognise its major particularities.

scronk

I blindly picked Vietnam off a list of countries I could visit using my chosen volunteer agency. There was no reason behind my choice. I wish there was, just so I could explain the reason why I spent three months in a country I only associated with war and Forrest Gump. In hindsight, I think this blind decision benefited me..

ladybec

Even your own efforts as a volunteer seem senseless, futile and even egocentric in the grand scheme of a system that created poverty and inequality in the first place. That’s the volunteer hangover..

chrissvo

When I found myself in Vietnam, amongst systems and structures that also don’t treat people as people, I was overwhelmed. And that overwhelming sensation returned multiple times during my 12 months there. However, I found that one must choose one’s battles. By seeking to understand the context, the players and the dynamics between them, you can choose the battles you fight..

Huongness

While I have volunteered in Vietnam and India, my time spent at an Australia Immigration Detention Centre was by far the most ethically challenging and changing. I think in Vietnam and India it was easy to dismiss poverty and inequality as essentially ‘developing world’ issues; the inevitable outcomes of poor governance and inadequate education. Yet the egregious Australian asylum seeker process cannot be blamed on either of these things..

panapestimio

My journey of sacrifice and approaching everyday activities with a posture of learning benefitted me incredibly. Even more so, was my retelling of such experiences through blogging. The sacrifices that my friends make every day in Swaziland, of which I also partook, e.g. walking for hours in the heat of the African sun for the purpose of establishing a more united and prosperous community, serves as a reminder of the goals we strive to achieve..

Jyd89

I remember feeling very foreign when I first arrived at my placement. I had a reoccurring thought of the meaning of the word foreign. To me I had mostly heard the word used by mum, who works in medicine, referring to a ‘foreign body’, something that should not be where it is..

stellainindia

The wonderful humour and lightheartedness sometimes brings with it frustration when things need to get done.  Not just for me but for the locals sometimes too. Perhaps what is different for me is that I can seemingly drift in and out as I please, picking and choosing the bits of cultural fruit that tantalize my taste buds. For the Fijians however, such freedom is not as easy..

pasifikadignity

At University, School and Church I always hear statements such as “We are so blessed to live in Australia” but maybe we are just so well off because we keep everything to ourselves and we don’t help the less fortunate countries as much as we could..

blokkie

I have found all too often, following a stint of volunteering, I’ve been asked to relate my feelings and experiences in power points and easily understandable photo gallery narrations that last no longer than the welcome home dinner party… it is very rare that one is driven to the simple act of self-reflection for reflections sake..

whitepageblank

Though I think many of the issues raised can never be resolved by blogging, the value is in our shared experiences and reflections, which are often not understood by those close to us..

lizrose

I think pushing your comfort zone is a great experience and should be encouraged.  Language is a big part of your comfort zone.  Not being able to converse with someone is not something we’ve had to deal with since early childhood…

mjfuss

***

I will upload the digital version of the booklet as soon as we have it ready, and I’ll keep you updated with everything, but if you think you can be one the next young ethnographers or if you want to make a guest appearance in this blog, don’t hesitate and let me know.

Reflections and frowns

21 Jul

I realise my volunteering experience has three stages to it.

1. I am doing a wonderful thing (self aggrandisement?), how important this is and my ability to ‘give back’. Good stuff. Taking advantage of my ability to partake in such a program. Bonus life points.

2. This is a joke! Anyone with a hand to hold a pen could be doing this job – I am useless, is it just about the program fee for the organisation? Surely not, I’m more valuable that that?! Withdrawal. Denial. Let down.

3. This experience is mine, my work partner is like a private travel guide/translator, it is not about the work, but the culture, the people, the experience. I suddenly feel bad for having such a good set up over there, but that’s the only way I can come to terms with it.
Break away from the tight framework that we started with, enjoy hours on buses often for 20 minutes of work, watch India roll by, know that I have discovered and redefined a precious part of the world and of myself.

The Power of Reflection

9 Jul

When reflecting on our volunteer experiences, there is always something that stands out amongst our memories. They may be an encounter, an event that taught us a lesson in life, or even a chance experience. For me, however, it was something as simple as hearing the melodies of people’s voices. Singing in a pastime activity for Swazis and Africans in general.

By sharing stories, experiences, triumphs, learnings, and personal journeys, whilst being an overseas volunteer has allowed me to revisit my most cherished memories that would otherwise be locked away. It has allowed me to relive my successes, challenges and reflect and learn more from my retelling. Such a power that lies in reflecting, and indeed can be adapted to learn from all life’s experiences.

Generation (Hard) Y(akka)

7 Jul

When I applied for the overseas volunteering opportunity, I was struggling to find employment as a recent double-degree graduate. I completed my studies at the end of 2008. Just after the GFC unleashed itself on the world.

It’s tough being a Gen Y graduate. There are more university graduates in the jobmarket than ever before. Competition is fierce. It was particularly so after the GFC. No one was hiring.

An article written by a member of Gen Y, or, as I would call it, Gen Hard Yakka, struck me. I’ve reproduced some of it below:

Young people have simply never known what proper job security is. We are so acutely aware of how difficult it is to find a job that when we eventually get one, we work incredibly hard to protect it and remain wary of how fleeting it may be.

We entered the workforce when a job was a rare privilege.

Some of us work with the fear of being fired and accept that as legitimate because, well, that’s just the way things are these days. If you’re not the best at your job then employers are entitled to get someone who is.

This attitude shocks baby boomers who entered the workforce before unionism went out of fashion along with bell-bottomed jeans. To baby boomers, the casualisation of the workforce is a one-fingered salute to workers’ rights. To generation Y, it is an entirely acceptable and pragmatic reality of our uncertain financial times.

Influenced by an endless conveyor belt of strikes and memories of glorious unionists during the 1960s and ’70s, boomers have always believed their job is their right and no one would dare sack them for having a few off days and a sickie or two. They never experienced the distress of being a qualified, ambitious, industrious graduate desperately looking for a job in a threadbare market.

Generation Y aren’t just harder-working and more enjoyable to work with because they’re young and fresh. We have an appreciation for a job that our parents [baby boomers] simply don’t.”

I agree in large part with the above views. I hope this post didn’t come across as a huge whinge, especially as I feel very privileged to have steady and interesting employment right now.

I’m merely pointing out, as this young lady has, that a young university-educated person in Australia has a precarious short-term future.

University graduates in Vietnam have better prospects of gaining employment (corresponding to their profession) than in Australia. The competition is far too high in Australia.

However, new occupations are emerging, such as social media analysts and consultants, which did not exist 30 or even 10 years ago.

Hopefully, positions in the developing labour market will be filled with bright young minds which will bring about transformations of existing structures, systems and the status quo.

a sanitised depiction

7 Jul

Merely watching the first 2 minutes of Luke Nguyen’s show persuades the viewer of the beauty of Vietnam.

I wish I could be as laid back and relaxed as Luke Nguyen is in Vietnam.

His exuberance, enthusiasm and the way he fully embraces and expresses his love for Vietnam seems genuine and is very believable. It’s probably because he is genuine. However, despite him jumping right into local food culture, the show depicts quite a sanitised version of Vietnam. Even the introductory montage (around 2 minutes into the above youtube video) has a pearly white glow.

Whereas, when one is aware and confronted by the social and political climate in Vietnam, it’s difficult to let go, relax and be enchanted by ‘charming’ Vietnam. It is difficult to be creative in your work and be proactive and positive in your outlook every day.

A friend recommended a recently published book to me. Vietnam, Rising Dragon, explores the complex and fascinating period in which Vietnam is developing in, and goes beyond the deceptive tourism campaign. I read the excerpt and was sold.

It is exactly the book I need to read upon returning to Australia after being living and volunteering in Vietnam for a year. It will undoubtedly help me make sense of what I experienced.

In Vietnam, whenever I found the answer to one question, ten more would pop up in my head. This book will help me find the answers that have been floating in my head ever since.

Maybe then, I could return to Vietnam and be as laid back as Luke Nguyen.

When Words Fail

5 Jul

Sometimes words aren’t enough. Sometimes, they are too much. Lately I’ve been finding it hard to get the balance right. So. I’ll just let the pictures do the talking.

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Need and Greed

5 Jul

The line between need and greed is often very thin and difficult to distinguish.  It may be somewhat obvious for the average Australian when considering a sizeable purchase.  Do I need a new phone or new car?  Or can I survive with my current one?  Taking this many steps further, you could ask the “Do I need?” question on every single one of your daily decisions, big or small.  If you took this to the extreme, you may end up living in a cave eating berries.

Let me attack this from another angle.  I discussed in the previous article about the theft of the video camera, and whether this was driven by need or greed.  I have also wondered about this from other observations.  Metal security grills on houses in remote villages in the middle of the Pacific or in Africa seem a little unnecessary.  Surely crime doesn’t exist in such remote locations.  But I can guarantee these people wouldn’t have spent the money on security grills if it wasn’t necessary.

Another example shocked me when I was travelling through Kenya.  Travel in Kenya on buses means lots of stops, and whenever you stop, there is no shortage of people trying to sell you something through the window.  This is great, as it ensures you are never hungry on a bus, as it is mostly food being sold.  However, I was in a minibus one time and the driver slowed down enough to buy some oranges.  By slow down, I mean he didn’t stop, he kept driving at a slow pace so the women selling the oranges had to run along beside the car to make the sale through the window.  Just as the money was changing hands another woman barges in trying to out-sell the other lady, nearly resulting in both ladies tripping themselves up and tumbling along the edge of the road.  With a bit of jostling the first women kept her feet and completed the sale.  This was some intense competition between the two women (who probably live in the same village) and I wonder whether it was need or greed.  The need maybe between dinner and no dinner for her family or it may have been some meat for dinner versus another night of beans and rice.  The difference between need and greed is far too hard for me to tell and not for me to judge, regardless.

My current conclusion is the difference between need and greed is a personal decision and can be only judged by the individual.  This type of moral decision is ingrained in you from your upbringing. You alone are responsible for deciding what you need and what is greed.

Puma fact:

5) Pumas are just like all other cats, they like nothing better than having a snooze in a sunny spot.  It may last 15 minutes or it may take an hour.  Either way you need to be ready to go when he is.

Wildlife

5 Jul

A memorable  part of being an overseas volunteer is enjoying the nature and gifts of the country where serving. In my case, this meant the renowned African wildlife.  Witnessing the magic of animals being in their own natural environment, rather than being confined in a torturous zoo for the public’s amusement gave a feeling of freedom and an acknowledgement that I was entering ‘their territory’ and playing by ‘their rules’. I was shown this by being charged by a fully grown African elephant! Probably one of the most scariest moments of my life!

Moments before being charged...I was driving!!

Still leaves me speechless

Something that also got my heart pumping was my personal encounter with lion cubs. The feeling of being up close and personal with my favourite animal was breathtaking! Feelings of nerves and excitement were expressed by shivering from head to toe. I could have spent all day here being at one with one of the most feared animals.

Just as personal was the crocodile that migrated to the dam in the back yard of my uncle’s farm. My cousin and I named him Steve. He was shy and would need encouraging to come out and play.

These experiences and encounters till this day remain a highlight in my overseas experiences. A must for all. The majestic views that a painter will envy, and a photographer sigh for in vain, the freedom of the wildlife and abundance of flora, untouched natural beauty stretching up to 350 km North to South (at Kruger National Park, South Africa), are but a few reasons what makes Africa unique.

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