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 Volunteerism abroad: good use of resources?
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Zebra
Skeptic Friend

USA
354 Posts

Posted - 07/24/2009 :  23:27:45  Show Profile Send Zebra a Private Message  Reply with Quote
My son and I leave in 5 days for a 10-day trip to Guatemala with a group which'll be working there under the auspices of Habitat for Humanity (HFH), building 4 houses in a rural area up in the highlands.

I have several skeptical-bordering-on-cynical thoughts about a trip like this (but I'm going anyway).

Least important (for me): HFH is a Christian group, & doesn't hide that (at least in the U.S.). Despite that, I've donated $$ to them for years, because I've seen no indication that they select the recipients of houses based on religion at all. (And no secular group, at least no secular group so large & accomplished, is doing this kind of work, that I know of.) It seems like the religious aspect comes out in prayers at the start of work groups (each day), and in little ways as they communicate w/ their donors. Certainly, in preparation for this trip we've watched videos from HFH which included warnings not to proselytize the locals. (OK. I think I can remember that.) Our group is being led by a woman who's led more than 20 HFH international trips, whom I know through the UU church I joined a couple of years ago when I found out how many UUs are atheists. (Lots.) We won't be having prayer time, on this trip, though we are invited to bring a "reading" to share if we want.

More important (for me): It seems like a poor use of resources, to haul a bunch of well-fed gringos from the north of the U.S. down to Central America, with all of our gear (work gloves, work boots, sunblock, quick-dry nylon clothing because it's the rainy season down there, etc etc) and our travel vaccinations and our passports and our internet-booked airplane flights and our 2 weeks off of work, to do work for which most of us have no special skills, for which we'll be staying in hotels safe for foreigners and drinking bottled water, when the amount of money which it took to get us all there could pay living-wage salaries to local people to get the same job done, & then they might also be more likely to be able to feed their families. (But not as well as we're likely to eat, down there.)

Of course, most people would never donate that same amount of money in a lump sum to go to a good cause that they don't somehow feel directly affected by. (And the total cost did catch me off guard as it added up - it ended up being more than I had understood at the beginning, when the "fees" and ticket prices were discussed. And we also raised donations to bring with us.)

The potential positives: people from a developed country get the experience/thrill of travel to a developing country; they get to feel like they've donated sweat & effort and not just money to a good cause; and (not inconsequential) they take away heightened cultural awareness, & may participate again in something like this, or convince others to participate. Oh, and they pony up more in donations, for their first trip or thereafter.

But, really: wouldn't it make more sense from an economic point of view just to wire the damn money down to HFH's infrastructure in Guatemala & have them hire a bunch of local people?

end of rant, for now at least...



I think, you know, freedom means freedom for everyone* -Dick Cheney

*some restrictions may apply

Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26004 Posts

Posted - 07/25/2009 :  08:45:17   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Is there a reason they can't hire locals?

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
Evidently, I rock!
Why not question something for a change?
Visit Dave's Psoriasis Info, too.
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Zebra
Skeptic Friend

USA
354 Posts

Posted - 07/25/2009 :  09:01:00   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Zebra a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Dave W.

Is there a reason they can't hire locals?
I don't know of any reason, except this one just came to mind: that wouldn't be what they think Jesus told them to do (c.f. Mark 16:15 & Matthew 28:19, about going out/away/other places, and Matthew 25:35-36, about directly helping people - though building them houses isn't among the types of assistance listed).

Now that I think about it, maybe that's a big part of it - being missionaries, but by doing deeds rather than talking the gospel.

Don't know why this explanation didn't occur to me earlier.


I think, you know, freedom means freedom for everyone* -Dick Cheney

*some restrictions may apply
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26004 Posts

Posted - 07/25/2009 :  09:55:40   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
And HFH was in the news recently, I think. Something about HFH buying foreclosed properties and fixing them up for $25K per home, compared with building new homes from scratch for $40K each. It was a few weeks ago, and I came in in the middle of the piece (on TV), so I can't say for sure.

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
Evidently, I rock!
Why not question something for a change?
Visit Dave's Psoriasis Info, too.
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HalfMooner
Dingaling

Philippines
15831 Posts

Posted - 07/25/2009 :  13:30:52   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send HalfMooner a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I suspect that in many Third World countries, a decent home could be build using skilled local labor, using just the money that it costs one American to pay for round-trip tickets, food and lodging.

This is a case where well-meaning Christians are doing good and avoiding proselytizing, but the ideological monkeys on their backs are making them inefficient in helping the locals. The way they're doing it, less homes get built, and local labor doesn't benefit. To coin a phrase, religion poisons everything.


Biology is just physics that has begun to smell bad.” —HalfMooner
Here's a link to Moonscape News, and one to its Archive.
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Simon
SFN Regular

USA
1992 Posts

Posted - 07/25/2009 :  15:43:10   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Simon a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Another good thing is that it limits corruption, which is always a risk in developing countries.

But, yes, probably quite inefficient.

Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
Carl Sagan - 1996
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