Today, I want to leave you with a topic that it is very close to my heart..
In today's world, where experience on your CV seems to be an essential requisite to get a job, it is common to see volunteering as the 'thing that one has to do' - but is all volunteering the same? Is it any useful? and should you do it?
I asked my friend, a great researcher from the University of Glasgow, to help me out - so i will leave you with her post below:
By Lydia Bach @LyLuBach
Google ‘conservation volunteering’ and you will be inundated with a large number of organisations offering the experience of a lifetime. Not only will you have the opportunity to work in some of the most biodiverse areas of the planet, but you will contribute to conservation goals and collect valuable data for monitoring and research. Think Madagascar, Costa Rica, Tenerife, Greece, South Africa… Travel volunteering programmes, in particular, conservation programmes, are more plentiful than ever. People choose them, being motivated by the drive to make a difference, aid conservation and seeking adventure. No doubt, people do have the experience of a lifetime, learn and make friends for life, but there is a dark side to conservation volunteering has percussions to the whole sector.
In the case of many organisations, the personal cost to volunteer, in terms of time and money, can be quite significant. For example, a two-week Madagascar wildlife conservation adventure advertised by one of the leading volunteering organisations starts from £800 (not including flights, personal equipment, visa or insurance). That is a significant personal investment, that not everybody can afford. This comes not only as a significant financial commitment to the individual participating but also at the cost of the conservation sector as a whole. The current market selects for those that can afford opportunities, results in the loss of talent simply because many people cannot work for free or pay to volunteer. This talent will find it harder to subsequently compete for position with people who were able to afford opportunities. Their loss is the loss of the whole conservation industry and science. A similar concern applies for the graduate talent (often at Masters or PhD level) running these research facilities in the field. These (if paid) are not well-paid jobs; running a research camp and supervising volunteers with a pay deal of £50 a month (lodging and food included, flights not included). This results in a devaluation expertise and skill set, which comes at the cost of anyone applying for similar ‘jobs’ and those who cannot afford minimal or no pay.
Many of organisations organising volunteering are responsible for setting the conditions, which, unfortunately, volunteers and ground staff perpetuate. Yet, many of the well-known, large commercial organisations work for profit out offices in London, Sydney and New York. As a result, very little funding ends up in projects or communities, with volunteers being pretty much treated (and pay) like tourists. These organisations are glorified travel agencies, operating under the guise of conservation volunteering.
Finally, the impact on the ground in terms of conservation and community engagement can often be questionable. Many projects lack long term objectives, rigorous study designs or even the means to evaluate impact. Often, local community engagement comes as a secondary objective, with members of the community being used merely as labourers, while their expertise is not considered and local talent isn’t fostered or collaboration facilitated.
Finally, jetting out to exotic locations can the focus away from domestic conservation issues. Unfortunately, people tend to be more interested in attractive ecosystems; those that are remote, exotic and unique. Unfortunately, this means that projects right at their own doorstep can get neglected.
Of course, these concerns aren’t applicable to all conservation volunteering organisations, but there is a need to have conversations discussing the implications volunteering programmes have. Ultimately, when choosing them, we need to make more conscious and informed decisions that have a positive impact on the environments we strive to protect, their communities, and the conservation sector as a whole.
Disclaimer: some posts may contain affiliate links. At no extra costs to you, buying through the link will help me in this blogging journey!