23 Jul 2009

Volunteers from the heart and the brain.

Some people's intentions may not be as good as they seem.

Recently, we, the coordinators of the Mediterranea charity, have been both pleasantly and in some cases not so pleasantly surprised.

The plan drawn up by the organizers who have been accompanying and helping Mykias, Martha and the two adults with them is functioning like clockwork and everyone is doing their best to make their "visit" as happy and comfortable as possible. They are perfectly coordinated and most importantly working as a team, which is the way it should be.

I should add that the group of volunteers who have set up the puppet theatre in both of our schools in Ethiopia have done a great job and the children are enjoying this new venture.

On a different note,as it turns out, we have come across the other side of being a volunteer. I refer to those who misconstrue the whole meaning of what a true volunteer entails, acting as they wish when they wish, totally unaware that they should be forming part of something bigger, a cog in the wheel of an organization which can only work in optimum conditions if all its members work together.

An effective charity organization can only function in this way, if not, it is bound for failure.

A famous psychiatrist, once told us that many NGOs attract some very weird people.
We have never really taken this assumption seriously in the belief that all of us, deep-down, are a little bit weird, especially those of us who put our livelihood and our life on hold every three months in the interest of others. Nor do we forget those caring people who dedicate hours of their free time so that this charity continues to work smoothly with no other motive than to help other human beings who live very, very far away and in cultures and countries totally alien to their own.

In short, we have now coincided with the aforementioned weird type of volunteer. The kind of person who brings no positive input to NGOs.

Strange characters who do their own thing, carried away by the passion of the moment, lacking the ability to think on their feet, unable to adapt to changing situations. They wish to fill every hour of the day with activities which they eventually discover that they dislike, they are beaten by the slightest reverse, are completely unaware of the consequences of their actions, of how they, thoughtlessly,can offend or harm cultures so unlike ours. Now, we are beginning to understand why so many organizations do not rely on volunteer participation on their projects.

Here in Mediterranea we have always made it clear that involvement in our schemes does not mean "I do what I do when I want to do it". Being a volunteer consists of taking on board a moral obligation, a commitment to put great effort into projects that affect vulnerable people but who continue to have the right of decision, we are there to support, advise, guide and help them, not just economically, when the need arises.

Mediterranea has employed local workers for its plans in Ethiopia and will use the same system in all of their overseas on going projects whenever necessary. Therefore, we will no longer depend on voluntary help unless we need specialists in certain areas such as in the case of Big Barry in Ghana who initially went over as a consultant and ended up digging ditches quite simply because it had to be done or the Ho orphanage would never have been provided with running water.
Big Barry is a professional but he doesn't mind getting his hands dirty, he has initiative and he determination.

From now on, we will only send volunteers qualified to do specific jobs, people like Barry, not only with a useful skill but who can take charge and GET THE JOB DONE.

NGOS exist to help the needy not to waste time on volunteers who fail to understand what the word "volunteer" actually means. And who go join projects to have an experience to explain during a dinner party on their return.

To be a volunteer is to take on a commitment with humanity. A commitment of this sort is done for the right and altruistic reasons. It can not be a passing whim or fad if we are to make this world a better place during the course of our lives.

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