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¿WHY CAMBODIA? AND YOU, ¿DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF A TRAVELER, A TOURIST OR….A VOLUNTEER?
10 April, 2019

AM I DOING A VOLUNTEERING WITH A REAL IMPACT OR AM I BEING HARMFUL?

The definition of volunteering according to the UNHCR is: "a form of social assistance that consists of offering human and material resources for a specific purpose. Unlike other forms of contributions, such as financial donations, volunteering consists of performing altruistically a job that is necessary for a specific cause". According to this definition I began to ask myself: What could it be “a necessary work” for a “correct cause”? In my exploration process I found many opportunities to volunteer in my own City Medellín, Colombia. One of them, was to volunteer in one of the lower income neighborhoods of the city, it is a neighborhood that we generally know as an “invasión” because it is a place that is populated by people who have been displaced by violence or by those people who have a great lack of economic resources.

Also, this is a place with innumerable social problems such as poverty, violence, drug addiction, teen pregnancy, lack of opportunities in education and employment, among others. That people really need the contribution and support of government, national entities and the community in general to get out ahead. According to that, I had already found a "correct cause" since this neighborhood was one of the places in which i wanted to volunteer in order to help those people to meet their own needs.

Our Volunteering experience consisted of taking Christmas gifts to the children of this community and sharing a lunch with them and their families. We got a big surprise when we were arriving to the neighborhood accompanied by a social leader (in some neighborhoods of very low incomes in the city, it is necessary to be accompanied by the social leader because they generally do not like people who are strangers to them) and some guys between the ages of 18 and 20, began to say angrily to us: you took a long time to come back, do you think we should not eat often?, We can not wait for you our whole lives, nobody remembers to bring us things and we had faith in you. Then, the children starting to imitate those adults and began to tell us similar things, they sought at all costs to be against us.

After living that experience I began to ask myself the following questions:

- To what extent are we reaching doing this kind of volunteering"?

- Are we really helping or are we acting under the guidelines of assistentialism

- Are we really helping or being harmful to that community?

- Are are creating dependency?

Personally, I did not feel connected to this form of volunteering, I wanted to explore and find a different form of volunteering, one that really made an impact, one that would support the community in its empowerment. In short, an organization that instead of delivering the fish will teach how to fish. In this way and by synchronicities of life I found the Learning Service pedagogy. “Learning Service offers a powerful new approach that invites volunteers to learn from host communities before trying to ‘help’ them. It’s also a thoughtful critique of the sinister side of volunteer travel; a guide for turning good intentions into effective results; and essential advice on how to make the most of your experience”. Learning service not only applies for volunteering in another country or in a completely different culture from that of the volunteer, it also applies locally, sometimes we are foreigners in our own city.

Looking to apply this pedagogy In Colombia, as a way to consciously perform volunteering, I created an NGO named "DanDlion" we are aiming at the dissemination and implementation of Learning Service, so that both, social organizations and volunteers, could be are aware that volunteering can reach a point where it becomes something more damaging that in real help for the communities. We seek to support the empowerment of people from communities and social organizations´staff, heading on this way, to generate a real impact and leave a legacy on the social milestones of our population. For more information about Learning Service: learningservice.info For more information about the Social NGO that in implementing Learning Service in Colombia: www.dandlion.org

Written by: Catalina Echavarría Valencia. 2019

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