“That volunteer trip you might be going on this year isn’t helping anyone…”
Unfortunately, that’s almost always a fact. You could, for example, pay a Raja Ampat voluntourism business a premium price for homestay-style accommodation so you could join their English teaching program at a local school. It’s a sad fact, however, that in six years of operation, not one child attending that school has learned to speak English as a result of the program…
Dr Samantha Nutt, founder of Warchild USA says:
“…communities around the world won’t be ‘saved’ by our volunteer labour and good intentions. Quite the opposite. What they want, need and deserve, more than anything else, are the tools, resources and opportunities to learn and to do that work themselves. They need your financial support to do what they know needs doing, not our unskilled volunteer labour.”
This is true in Raja Ampat. Local communities do not need or want to be the recipients of unskilled volunteer labour sent to them by volunteer tourism businesses owned by outsiders.
Nor do their children need handouts of colouring books, pens and pencils, or items like balloons and plastic toys. Yes, that kind of gifting kindles a temporary warm glow for donor and recipient alike, but it also creates lasting expectations, risks entrenching a culture of dependency, and fosters ongoing disappointment and jealousy on the part of the many who inevitably miss out on such largesse. (Not to mention the fact that all those plastic pens, toys and packaging eventually wind up contributing to the burden local communities face in dealing with inorganic waste disposal.)
So – what can you do to truly make a difference?
“If you really want to make a difference, think about donating some of what you might have spent on a ‘give back’ vacation and put that money into the hands of those who could really use it… or simply drop the volunteer part and… support local tourism, and spend money on things like (locally made handcrafts) that can cover a family’s school fees for a year.”
True again: You don’t need to pay a foreign-owned business a premium rate to contribute to conservation or social development in Raja Ampat. You don’t need to gift.
Papuan communities in Raja Ampat know what they want and need. They are building self-reliant, ecotourism-based village economies intended to provide the means by which their aspirations can be met.
The best support you can possibly provide during a short stay in Raja Ampat is to go as a tourist, stay at locally owned accommodation, make use of locally owned services and leave with a few locally produced items purchased from your hosts or village businesses.
If you’d really like to go step further than that, then you could also consider donating to one of these worthy community conservation and education programs.
As Dr Nutt says in the video above – “…what they ask, what they deserve more than anything else, is that we believe in them, that we invest in them – in their capacity, in their competency.”