Impact of “Volunteer Groups”

Many volunteers who come to the aid of impoverished people have no knowledge of the culture and have no incentives to see the society succeed.  Volunteers need to be educated (or at least the people who lead these volunteers) about the society they are entering and the possible effects of their actions.  If someone has an incentive to see a society succeed they will adapt and create a way to help the society so that both themselves and the society prosper.  If someone is only there to “help,” they will still feel that they have done something beneficial even if their actions have little or no impact.  In order for a long lasting change to occur, people must be willing to change the institutions of a society and continue to work toward progression and efficiency for years to come.  Causing economic growth is sometimes simple, but to keep a growth going and to keep it positive is a much harder goal.  Constant vigilance and adaption is required and is a lifetime (no more than a lifetime) goal.  Therefore, if you have a beneficial incentive in seeing an economy succeed, you will try harder and longer to see a positive outcome (even if you are not there to necessarily help the poor).

From the Illich reading, one question really jumps to my mind: “Is La Ceiba an organization that is actually making a positive change in Honduras, or is it just one of the organizations that Illich so despises?”  I would hope that it is causing a great change in the society and truly helping the impoverished people in Honduras.  However, there is no evidence to support either claim.  Therefore, we need to take a step back and access the situation.  First, the organization has not just dumped aid on every needed person that it meets.  It provides a service and a way to expand the market by providing loans.  So we are a group that is not only there to help the people (main incentive), but we are doing so through a business.  Since we are a business, we want to be successful (other incentive) and to see our clients prosper so they can repay us.  Our success is determined by the success of the people and thus I feel that we are not one of the organizations that Illich talked against.  Also, we are rooted into this community and there are no plans to leave anytime soon.  I believe that it is not wishful thinking to say that La Ceiba is not the type of organization that Illich refers to.  That being said, we must be careful in our actions and the way we approach people.  We need to be a part of the community and to learn from them just as they should try to learn from us.  Both sides should work together so that we can both prosper and improve society as a whole.

2 Responses to “Impact of “Volunteer Groups”

  • russellscott
    14 years ago

    I think thats an issue inherent in volunteering. Consider a smaller scale, where, say, volunteers travel around a city and paint over graffiti. What is their incentive? Should they, instead, try to touch the lives of those who are predisposed to create graffiti? Get them to clean things up themselves? Or is painting it over sufficient?

    In my opinion, both are helpful to some extent. For a brief period of time, peoples lives are made a little bit better because they don’t have to read profanity on the Overpass while they drive to work–but do not have any lasting effect. On the other hand, getting people to clean things up themselves means that graffiti will still be on the overpass, but eventually it will go away.

    So thats why i disagree when you say “volunteers need an incentive.” The Volunteers purpose is to provide some kind of assistance, which (whether its long term or short term) they provide. The issue lies with consistency, which i definitely agree with you on (“Constant vigilance and adaptation is required”). People who volunteer for short term benefit need to do so frequently and under the same circumstances, because they WANT to help, not because they have an incentive to help. Same goes for long-term projects like La Ceiba–we need to stick this through the long haul until our mission is realized. In my opinion though, volunteering only when you stand to gain something is contrary to the charitable spirit as a whole.

  • I see what you are saying, however, your incentive could be to help. It does not have to be just a monetary incentive, but it could be emotional or a longing to help. In fact, that is how I characterize La Ceiba. We are a group of students that want to see an end of poverty and in order to do this we have set up La Ceiba. It so happens do this through a business and therefore we have an additional incentive. This incentive (getting our loans back without default) is the tool in which we use to achieve our main goal (economic growth). With this incentive we are truly committed to helping the poor and we are intertwined with the success of the community.

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