I always wonder how much volunteer/voluntour organizations listen to their volunteers. It seems like a no-brainer—the volunteers are on the ground doing the job, they’re a voluntour organization’s bread and butter—and yet, in many cases considering the opinions of the volunteers is an afterthought. Voluntour organizations have a lot to think about. They’re managing projects in communities where local people may or may not agree with their methods. They’re fundraising, politicking, and promoting their companies. Still, at the heart of every good volunteer organization are the volunteers themselves.
Globe Aware, a 15-year-old volunteer organization, seem to have their values firmly planted in the right places. Their name epitomizes their mission: to actively and compassionately empower communities by helping to create “renewable, sustainable programs.” They aim to “promote cultural awareness and/or promote sustainability” with every project. Their focus is on self-reliance, not charity. And, they recognize the critical importance of volunteer feedback in designing their initiatives and their policy. They review volunteer feedback weekly to incorporate suggested changes. They also maintain constant communication with communities to monitor progress and to address any potential problems as they arise. Globe aware is a non-profit.
I am a big fan of Globe Aware because they have a functional model based on responsibility. They choose safe communities with genuine needs and “significant cultural differences from the typical North American lifestyle.” This may sound strange, but it’s honest and makes perfect sense: if the goal of an organization is both to help the needy and to provide unique cultural experiences for its volunteers, its projects must of necessity be located in foreign places with distinctly different cultures from our own. Lastly, the communities must welcome Globe Aware’s involvement.
One of the most important lessons international volunteers learn is to respect a variety of lifestyles and cultures. Global citizens must learn from experience how to break down language barriers and how to embrace differences. I don’t believe these are lessons that can be learned in any other way and Globe Aware doesn’t either. They work to build the global citizen but they don’t do it in a vacuum: their outreach, marketing, and branding have made them a giant in the voluntour industry. They’ve partnered with other organizations like Travelocity’s Travel for Good, ServiceWorld, Building Bridges Coalition and even the United Nations Economic and Social Council. They’re also active on social networks and host journals from past volunteers on their website.