Over the past year, we have been approached numerous times by people wishing to volunteer at Human and Hope Association. Whilst we do appreciate the generous offers, as a team, we have decided to no longer accept volunteers at Human and Hope Association. This procedure is in place for a number of reasons.
Empowerment of staff – Our mission is to empower Cambodians to create sustainable futures. We believe in applying this not just to our beneficiaries, but to our staff as well. Therefore, it is important to give our staff the opportunity to thrive in their roles and gain confidence. We have seen firsthand that when volunteers come into organisations, this can often be disempowering, as the local staff believes that they cannot fulfill their jobs without the support of foreigners. We believe that local people are the subject matter experts, as they are the ones who know the country and traditions best. By promoting team work amongst the locals, they can learn from each other and not become reliant on foreigners.
Consistency – When volunteers come and go, it creates an inconsistency with our education system which follows lesson plans and a curriculum planned well in advance. In the past, students complained of the volunteers who didn’t teach them effectively. Furthermore, we educate many students who come from disadvantaged and vulnerable backgrounds, and having strangers come and go in their lives creates an unstable situation on top of what they already experience at their homes. By having full time staff to teach our students and visit the community, we can create a trust with our beneficiaries as we are seen as being reliable.
Child protection – Child abuse is prevalent in Cambodia, and our staff and visitors must adhere to a strict child protection policy. By inviting large numbers of temporary volunteers, the risk of abuse is heightened. Our local staff have been trained in child protection and are equipped to deal with this issue in a local context.
Culture – The Khmer culture is unique, and there are often complex factors contributing to situations. Often volunteers who come for a short period of time inadvertently offend the local staff and students by not adhering to the culture. Even our one foreign staff member, who has lived in Cambodia for two and a half years, still makes cultural mistakes. Our local staff are able to effectively work with the community in a culturally sensitive way and therefore gain the best outcomes.
Detachment issues – In the past, the staff have formed good relationships with some volunteers. When the volunteers left, the staff ended up feeling quite down, and this has affected their work. This has also been the case for some of our students, who already have challenging lives.
Language barriers – The official language of Cambodia is Khmer, which all of our staff speak. However, as our projects aren’t just focused on English class, we have a number of staff who speak minimal or no English, and communication can be very difficult. This often proves to be frustrating for both our staff and volunteers, and can result in strained relationships for all parties involved.
Sustainability – Having volunteers come and go isn’t sustainable. What IS sustainable is training local staff, who can in turn, train more local staff as part of a succession plan.
Time – To run an effective volunteer program takes a lot of time, with the pre-arrival, volunteer duration and post-departure. In the past we have found it very time consuming to look after volunteers, with staff members commenting they have spent more time concentrating on the volunteers than on our beneficiaries. This takes time away from our crucial work with the local community and capacity building local staff.
Though we understand this may be disappointing, and do not wish to discourage anybody from supporting development overseas, we hope that you will appreciate the reasons behind this decision. If you are in the position to donate time, but not money, you could consider helping with our fundraising efforts in Australia. Please contact us if you wish to know more.
From the HHA Management Team,
Chhalin, Sally, Samen and Thai