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The International period
In a very real sense the international period is the heart and soul of the TG programs. It is why people put up with fund-raising and is what attracts them to the program in the first place. Many people feel that this experience makes up for whatever problems or issues they had with the schools. It is not that hard to find people who are quite positive about the International period. As the following former volunteers note:
I went to IICD and did a programme to Angola,Africa. The six months were not easy, mostly because fundraising is no easy task. But I'd do everything again!…the members of the Teachers Group I met in Africa, that by far don't live a glorious life in the bushes in Africa. they work very hard, and are helping many people indeed
It opened a door for me, for my future, and has created a new me…It was an experience of a life time.
I have to say it was one of the most enjoyable time of my life…I went to Africa and did my job. I learned alot from that as well
I am a past IICD/Zimbabwe volunteer….I will say there is a lot of "un"organization within DAPP. Plenty of money floating out there but never really making into our projects. That is all I can account for. My six months abroad were scary, confusing, and also the most wonderful 6 months of my life. I was able to bring something to the people I met in Zimbabwe and they gave me so much to take home. I think that is what is important.
At the same time there have been a number of reports that programs that members of the TG go to are troubled by mis-management and disorganization. These problems include issues of volunteer safety, project organization, the ability to work in a particular country and the viability of projects.
A. Volunteer safety
This issue is of real concern for volunteers and has been featured to great extent within news reports and Tvindalert. Therefore, I will not focus on this that much other than to suggest that readers consult the comments made by former volunteers.
This decision reflects my memories of my own motivations for joining IICD-MA. I wanted adventure and knew that there were risks associated with my international travel. I think most people have a sense of this but decide that it is worth doing anyway. It’s part of the bravado associated with the desire for adventure.
Overall I suspect that the larger risk for volunteers are health related rather than physical. Volunteers don’t have to live in luxury but ensuring that they have a safe place to sleep, clean water and food should be the first priority. Yes, many people where volunteers are working do not have these things but that will be the case whether they are there or not. It’s simply counterproductive and inefficient to spend thousands of dollars to travel thousands of miles simply to get sick and be unable to work.
B. Visas and Bureaucracy
The most basic requirement of the international phase TG programs is that the volunteers successfully arrive in their target country. However, even this simply task is by no means guaranteed. As an IICD-MA volunteer notes:
My group studied Swahili and East African history for two months, in preparation to go to Tanzania. Then, after a month of waiting in Kenya, our visas to Tanzania were denied. We were sent to Zambia without knowing anything about the local history, culture, or languages.
A recent IICD-MI team to Guatemala had a related experience when nine slots in a Humana project dropped to three leaving the volunteers in limbo. Even if volunteers are able to successfully enter the target country they often face of negotiating bureaucratic hurdles that could have been avoided with some simple forethought on the part of the TG school. As an IICD-MI volunteer notes,
We marked off “other” rather than “tourist” because [the TG leader of IICD-MI] KNEW that we would get a special one-year visa allowing us to do volunteer work in India. [the TG leader of IICD-MI] returned with our passports with a 6-month tourist visa glued in. That meant that our visas expired on June 13, 2001. Unfortunately our flight back, at the end of 6 months of volunteer work, was July 25.
These kind of difficulties can result in considerable waste of time. In the above case, this mistake created weeks of needless legwork to try and get extension of visas once the group was in India. This is particularly frustrating when it represents time that could be spent on development projects. In some cases it has brought about an abrupt ending of an international stay.
After three months, the IICD volunteers were kicked out of the country, because we were working on tourist visas.
C. Project Organization
There are a number of reports which document a lack of preparation in the host country in anticipation of the volunteers arrive. This spans things as complex as having resources available for projects to even being aware that a team was arriving and arranging to meet them at the airport. As one volunteer notes.
Nobody met us when we arrived in Mozambique, we had to get over priced taxis in the dark to the project in the capital where we would await transfer to the provinces. When we arrived, the project leader had not heard we were coming and there was no accommodation for us. Locally based volunteers were kicked out of their rooms to get us in. We shared beds with eachother and some slept on the floor (with cockroaches etc)...
Another volunteer going to India notes that they faced open hostility from development workers already in place
When the 5 of us who were working in Kutina, the small village that was the headquarters for the Alwar Village Development Project, arrived, no one bothered to welcome us. I later learned that the Project Leader, A, had spoken badly about us, saying outright that we were neither needed nor wanted, and the rest of the staff followed his lead. A few weeks later, when a few of us were going off by bus to the nearest town to check our email, A said, “And I hope you never come back.”
This raises serious concerns whether volunteers coming to these locations will actually be put to good use. The TG schools emphasize self-reliance but if the contacts in the countries are unable/unwilling to provide even a little assistance one wonders about the long term viability of these project. Moreover, if self-reliance is the watchword for the international period, why does one need to go through the TG/Humana program?
D. Project Appropriateness and viability
Other reports note that the projects run by Humana face serious problems in terms of appropriateness and long-term viability. One volunteer notes:
Our first day in the field, we were approached by a group of Zambian farmers who told us that the project had stolen their land. As soon as that crisis was dealt with, other problems developed. We discovered that the Zambian workers on the project were applying pesticides on the project's garden, without training or protective gear. The project we worked on, a tree planting project, had been designed by a European gardener with little understanding of Zambian climate, culture, or agriculture.
Volunteers also have expressed disappointment in the resources for project that were made available to them during the International period.
I am a former IICD/Zimbabwe volunteer… I do not agree with the way Humana is run. I visited the Humana headquarters up in the hills of Zimbabwe and saw it many times as I walked to catch a bus. I saw with my own eyes just how much money they have. I felt the frustration of this realization and tried to come to terms with the fact that I couldn't get any money for my own project in the village where I worked.
Another volunteer simply observes,
My last comments, are that the ADPP projects in Africa, are run to less than professional standards, and I would never work with them again.
This had the effect of creating a situation where as the same volunteer notes:
When I revisited the project in 1998, I found that all of the hundreds of trees we had planted were gone--destroyed by insects, rain, and just plain neglect, since all but six of the 140 Zambian workers had been fired. Some of the former workers told me that the layoffs occurred with very little warning, leading to a great deal of resentment against the organization as people struggled to feed their families.
Still some Humana projects are probably well-run and it is important to acknowledge that there are plenty of non-Humana development projects that are spectacular failures. However, the real issue again is the extent of and success of Humana projects is simply not known. Evaluation of projects is an essential part of development and without it there is no way to gauge the effect of projects. Although Humana does issue reports on the achievements that have been met it is not clear how well these stand up to fact-checking by third parties. For example, a member of another international development group working in the same town in Nicaragua reports that local officials did not know about the projects that were reputed to have been accomplished.
Still when volunteers are highly motivated and determined to do good they can often have a good experience and help people. For example, a volunteer in Zimbabwe notes that his desire to work with people gave him the ability to continue.
I stuck it out because I was there for a reason, one that goes beyond the corruption, and I wouldn't trade my experience for anything.
This, however, reflects more on the high quality of the individual volunteers who are able to accomplish things with little support from the TG or other associated TG organizations. As one IICD-MA volunteer in Nicaragua notes
I lived there. I have video, pictures, proof that these projects actually happened. I don't consider myself a tvind volunteer becuase i had little to no contact with tvind people and for about 1/2 of the time i was there, we basically fended for ourselves without a project leaderand without any supervision. a lot of us, despite our disenchantment with the organization and our central america coordinator, worked really hard and accomplished a lot.
A member of an IICD-MA travel group echoes this:
Many members of our group had rewarding personal and educational experiences, but this occurred in spite of the Institute's mishandling of the program.
Again the experience with a TG school during the international program is widely divergent. A combination of the local project leader, the situation in which one goes, the organizational and helpfulness of TG members and the ability and attitude of the volunteer all combine to create your experience. Again…
…it is NOT simply the attitude of the volunteers and their willingness to work hard at the individual level that determines a project's success.
It certainly helps but any number of factors can conspire against this. For example, a member of the IICD-MA Nicaragua team posted this evaluation of their experience in June 2002.
I joined this program as a volunteer who wanted to participate in grassroots development work. This has not happened. So, personally, I feel like I have been misled and outright deceived by IICD and Planet Aid. All those brochures and leaflets you have promoting the organisation are filled with lies. I have not experienced any of the development work promised therein. The CATeam was forced to take positions that were not even mentioned when each of us joined. And then when we get here they turn out to be fabrications anyway because you didn't know what else to do with us.
As for the situation now, the projects here are clearly NOT sustainable. There is no consideration for any of the people who are actually employed by Planet Aid. In no more than three months time these people will lose their jobs. Then what happens? Not to mention all the people who are actually benefiting from the work initiated by the few CATeam members who work in El Viejo. And this organisation considers itself to be humanitarian….
How utterly disappointing to have worked all these months for this. I spent all my savings on this experience and I have been continually let down. You have failed in your contractual obligation to provide us with the experience promised to us. You have failed in your contractual obligation to provide a stipend for our living expenses…..
So, we are in limbo here……And in this time, we are thinking about the all the people who supported us.our families and friends, the people we fundraised. They gave us money and goodwill to make a difference. They all believed in us and now we have let them down. Because the organisation has failed to live up to its responsibilities.…As for leading the Africa team. You explain to me how you think I could lead another group of souls with good hearts and a desire to make a positive difference into this nightmare.
A related issue is that there is no objective assessment of the programs that are implemented. Historically, Humana and the TG have not connected with other NGOs and generally has an "iffy" reputation among organizations such as the UN, CARE and UNDP to name just a few. No really knows exactly what is going on with these projects because Humana doesn't pass along this information so you can't tell if these projects are working.
In short, it seems that in the end it is more a matter of succeeding despite the association with a TG school that makes the difference and one has to again ask, “What are they providing?”
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