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IICD WATCH - FAQ
Who should read this?
This is primarily aimed at people considering one of the Teachers Group (TG) schools in the United States.† These include:
A lot of the discussion here is probably also relevant to TG schools elsewhere.
Iím in a hurry.† Whatís the bottom line?
The bottom line is that for a number of reasons, financial, emotional, organizational, joining a TG school does not make a whole lot of sense.† Despite the low cost and requirements for a TG program you donít get much for your time and money from the organization and risk encountering needlessly frustrating situations.† The positive parts of a TG program most often come from your fellow volunteers and the people you meet while youíre abroad rather the Teachers Group school
You can have a similar travel adventure, meet lots of cool and interesting folks and help people in a developing country without subjecting yourself to the TG experience.† See How.
Are you claiming that this site is objective?
No.† I doubt whether its possible to have an objective opinion about these schools so Iíll state up front my opinion that you would be better off doing something else with your time and energy than join a TG school.†
That said, you should also recognize that the material and information you get from one of these TG schools is not objective either.† They are advertisements geared towards getting you to join one of the schools and like any advertisement/opinion should be treated with skepticism.
I invite people to approach this website with skepticism as well.† I think it can stand up to it.†
Why should I believe your argument?
I rely upon the stories people have posted at Tvindalert and in some other guestbooks (such as the one that used to be connected to CCTG) to build an composite image of what takes place.† I concentrate on factual statements rather than opinions and rely on several sources before making a statement.† There is an element of personal judgment in this process but it is an unavoidable part of the methodology.† These statements are not limited to people who are upset with the schools but also includes the publicly available comments made by current members of the TG.
All quotations are presented in italic and bolded text.
In addition, I use publicly available materials such as tax returns, property records and court proceedings.† In large part I do not rely heavily on news stories per se except to extract direct statements of TG members or volunteers.† This is not because I believe that these reports are erroneous but because TG members often argue that these reports are tabloid journalism.† By drawing from direct reports from volunteer experiences I hope to prevent this webpage from being discounted in this manner.
I also use experiences from various times and places in order to demonstrate that the same issues keep on coming up over time indicating a systemic organizational problem rather than a one-time aberration.
Why arenít you drawing from Teachers Group sites for stories?
Actually I am using TG sites but not for the stories posted there because of my concern that they are more advertising than reflective of the average volunteerís experience.† Often the stories posted at the TG websites focus on the people whom volunteers encounter in other countries and the desperate conditions in which they live.† My goal is to move past this obvious fact and examine what the TG schools are doing to prepare people to meet the challenge of helping these people.
Ah ha! So, you admit that you are censoring positive material.
Good, youíre being skeptical, but I am not ignoring the positive stories.† I readily accept the fact that there are people who enjoy their time as a TG volunteer and go on to join the Teachers Group.† After all there are hundreds of members of the TG and they all were volunteers at one point.† However, I am uncertain of how representative the stories posted on the sites are (itís advertising after all) and think that the free exchange on guestbooks are a better data source.
Can you list specific instances to back your argument?
Yes.† Thatís sorta the whole point of this.† Take a look anywhere in this webpage.
But you are only using the stories of relatively few volunteers.† Doesnít mean that everyone else has been happy with the programs?
This is an important point but it is wrong to assume that everyone else is satisfied because in truth we really donít know.† We donít have the data.† Judging simply from the feelings of the posters at the Tvindalert website there is about a 50/50 split between those who like the program and those who disliked it.† But this is a crude indicator
There are a wide array of experiences with some people very happy and going on to join the Teachers Group, some who like some aspect and dislike others, others who dislike the prep period but enjoy the travel period, some who like the travel period but give little credit to the TG for this experience and some who are highly dissatisfied.† Generally it is the people of either extreme (pro-TG or anti-TG) that are most likely to write at one of the websites making it hard to get a complete picture.
The real problem is the lack of evaluations of these programs.† To my knowledge there are no reliable figures on how many people start at the school, how long they continue in the program, at what point they leave or stay.† Information provided from direct inquiries to the schools (IICD-MA and IICD-MI) state that between 5 to 15 percent of volunteers drop out while postings at the Tvindalert website report attrition rates of 50 percent or higher.† Obviously there is considerable differences in these figures.† Also problematic is that there are no formal evaluations conducted on the quality of volunteers experiences.†
What can be pieced together from both reports posted at Tvindalert, information posted at TG school sites and personal communications is the following incidents of programs groups with attrition:
∑ IICD-MI (2002) Ė Zambia team lost at least 4 members.
∑ IICD-MI (2002) Ė Guatemala group project cancel by IICD-MI for lack of funds at the end of the preparation people Ė many participants dropped out.
∑ CCTG (2002) Ė† At least three people drop from Mozambique/Zambia program.
∑ IICD-MA (2001) Ė A number of students dropped out after a week
∑ CCTG (2001) Ė One team (unknown) dropped.
∑ IICD-MI (2001) Ė Volunteer in Chipata, Zambia left before completing entire travel period.
∑ IICD-MA (mid-1990s) Ė Unknown number of students leave in reaction to ďhidden ownershipĒ of facility by the TG
∑ IICD-MA (mid 1990s) Ė Report that about 20 percent of people leave during the fundraising period
∑ IICD-MA (mid-1990s) Ė 7 out of 12 people leave the groups scheduled to go to Angola or Zimbabwe
∑ IICD-MA (1990) Ė Large number of people quit program before completion
∑ IICD-MA (1988 and 2001) Ė reports claim that ďhalf of all the people that enter training leave before they are sent on a humanitarian tripĒ†
These reports are clearly incomplete but suggest a fairly substantial attrition rate that is generally not acknowledged by the schools.† For example, a listing of ten program participants for the Mozambique/Zambia programs at CCTG continued to feature people well after they had exited the program.†
I welcome more first hand reports from people who were in these schools.† Also I would be more than happy to conduct the evaluation of the programs for the TG schools or find a third party to do it.† It would be relatively simple.† Collect the emails of all incoming participants and ask them to fill out short questionnaires every three months or so and we could have a clear picture.
But the drop-out rate from TG schools is comparable to the Peace Corp!† Itís just a tough thing to volunteer in the developing world.
According to the press office of the Peace Corp, approximately 25 percent of volunteers do not complete the full two years at their station.† (Itís worth mentioning that it was very easy to track down this figure and many others from the Peace Corp in contrast to getting information from the TG schools.)
However, I donít think that this comparison is valid.† First a large number of TG volunteers drop the program while they are still in the US.† Itís not the difficulty of living in a developing country that makes them leave but issues with the TG schools.† Second, PC volunteers spend 24 months in country versus the 6 months commonly spent by TG volunteers.† So one would expect the TG to have a lower drop off rate simply because the volunteers are in country for less time.
Why donít you do something POSITIVE with your time rather than tearing down these schools?
I actually believe that I am doing something positive by helping people make informed selections about how they spend their time and money.† Also I have outlined alternative ways to study, travel and volunteer internationally.
Is the Teachers Group a cult? Do they engage in brainwashing? Will I be able to leave if I want?
In my opinion the whole cult/brainwashing issue is a bit of a red herring popular among journalists because it sells papers.† My main critique is that it makes it too easy for the TG to dodge the real issues and cast Tvindalert and other journalistic reports as hate-inspired disinformation and themselves as victims.† In short, if you volunteer at one of these schools you will not be prevented from leaving if you decide.
That said, once people join there are a number of factors that make people reluctant to drop out.† As a former IICD-MI volunteer notes
It is easier to ignore the facts while you are there, because you have stability and you don't have to thinkÖ.It is easier to be on the outside looking in and asking "why doesn't she just LEAVE?" but trust me as someone who just left, it is extremely hard, everything is constantly rationalized to you, and even now I have doubts that I made the right decision to leave. If it weren't for my family's amazing support and love I don't think I would have ever left.
More specifically some of the factors are as follows.† First, is the obvious fact that you will forfeit some of the thousands of dollars that you paid for the program.† The schools follow strict repayment schedules and the longer you are at a school the less tuition refund you will get.† Plus, as the following comment suggests, getting the payment can take many months.
I left IICD MI on Dec16th 2001, I was promised a refund of $2000.00 us funds, after many ,many phone calls ,emails and promises, and one bounced cheque, I finally received it on May 3rd 2002, so there is hope, anyone waiting for a refund, keep bugging and you may get lucky like I did.
Second, people who join really want to go and if you stop the program you are suddenly faced with uncertain (and perhaps uninteresting prospects).† Third, there is a atmosphere cultivated at the TG that those who stop are either lazy, unmotivated or didnít try hard enough.† People who join these programs are rarely any of these things and the feeling of being labeled this is a strong motivation to gut it out.† Finally, there is the sense of ďtemporary transitionĒ in which the problems that one faces will be resolved soon.† Itís a carrot that can keep you going and because the TG schools have packed schedules, lots of things to do and not so much time to reflect on larger issues that these might be systemic to the organization.
Arenít you picking on the Teachers Group?† The members of the TG can do whatever they want with their salaries and its none of your business.
Point taken.† I actually agree that I do not have the legal right to inspect the finances of these schools outside of the federal tax forms they are required by law to fileÖ
ÖI think it is strange that a non-profit development organization is content with simply following the letter of the law.† Shouldnít non-profits and educational institutions have higher goals than simply following legal requirements?† I think that this is particularly true when a number of reports exist on questionable practices of the schools and police charges of fraud by other parts of the TG.
After all, the TG schools are asking the public and their volunteers to trust that their donations of time and money will be used well.
But the TG is simply trying to stretch every dollar as far as it can go.† Wouldnít you?
Yes, but the TG system is structured in such a way that very few TG members are actually involved in running the common economy.† This provides little oversight beyond this core group of people and there is ample opportunity for corruption such as documented here.† Simple checks and balances seem to be lacking that could ensure that the money is well spent.
I suspect that the average TG member is not involved in deciding how their salary is used.† They simply sign it over and trust that it is well spent.† My point is that this trust has been abused by the more senior members of the Teachers Group.
The Teachers Group is just misunderstood by the bourgeois mentality that this site represents.† Arenít you just afraid of the challenge that the community orientation and selflessness that TG members have dedicated themselves to?† Donít you hate the idea that the Teachers Group represents?
Actually, just the contrary.† I think that the vision represented by these schools is fantastic!† Itís what made me volunteer with them.† But the reality of these schools does not match the vision which has been twisted into a corrupt parody of itself.†
This website exists not because I dislike communal living or because a TG member hurt my feelings.† I highly respect the sacrifice and dedication that many TG members make. At the same time I cannot ignore the mis-information, manipulation and corruption that is also tied to this group.† It is my sincerest hope that the numerous good people that are part of this organization will reform into a new organization free from the ties of the old and with stronger governance that will prevent a reoccurrence of what has take place.
Whatís this about selling used clothes and/or plantations in Brazil and Belize?
The Teachers Group is involved in a number of projects around the world that are highly controversial.† The TGís position is generally that these projects (some of which are for-profit) provide the resources for development projects.† Others have called these a misuse of public funds and non-profit status.† I am not going to address it here because my main point is discussing what your experience at one of the schools will be like.
However, these questions bring up important larger issues about the TG program and it is worth checking out the pages at Tvindalert (and elsewhere) that cover this.
I want to respond to this.† How do I do that?
Both negative and positive comments are welcome although flames will be cheerfully ignored.† I donít have the means to set up a guestbook so if you want to post your comments publicly, Iíd suggest the Tvindalert guestbook.
Iím particularly eager to hear from people who have volunteered at these schools with their comments/thoughts on this.† Feel free to contact me via email@example.com.† It may take a couple of days to get a response.† I canít guarantee however, that I will engage in a discussion if I feel that Iíve already made my point in the website.
Iím currently enrolled in one of these schools but am beginning to wonder if I should stop.† What should I do?
Although this site is geared towards people before they join one of these schools I am well aware that you donít really know what these schools are about before you get into the thick of it.† So Iím trying to give the kind of advice that I would have appreciated early on but only you can decide what makes sense for youÖ.
If you are already invested in one of these schools you have to face the fact that you will lose a large portion of your tuition if you leave.† However, I think it would be in your best interest particularly early on before youíve invested to much time and money.†
Chalk it up as a life lesson, dearly paid for and start working on achieving your goals of travel and service. (See here).† In the same six months you would have spent in a TG training school you can position yourself for a similar program on your own.
If you are just days away from leaving for the international period and already have the training/fund-raising portion completed then it may make sense to stay with the program.† I think that if you have already invested this much time and effort in the program you might as well experience the portion of it that attracted you in the first place.† HOWEVER, I would HIGHLY RECOMMEND that you take a few precautions that will allow you to leave if you have problems with the project or Humana.
1. Be 100 percent prepared mentally, emotionally, and financially to just walk away if you need to.† Many people have done just that and have gone on to have deeply rewarding experience without working with Humana or the TG.† Youíll be in whatever country you were preparing for and could either travel/explore or hook up with a non-Humana non-profit or school.† The opportunity is there and the TG is not the only way to go.
2. Keep your passport and your return plane ticket with you at all times so if you do decide youíll be able to leave with a minimum of hassle and argument.† Humana will probably argue that it is better to keep passports and tickets safe in a central location (a valid point) but personally I prefer to keep things close.† Moneybelts work well.
3. Get the phone number and address of your countryís embassy.† They can provide some assistance for you if you are really strapped.
4. Bring a couple hundred dollars in cash and a credit card that you can use to get a cash advance.† Yes credit cards charge ridiculous rates for this but if you need it, you need it.† Keep these with you.† This will provide you with the freedom to leave if you want.† You may not decide to but its good to have the option.
5. Buy your own personal copy of the Lonely Planet Guide for the country to which you are going.† These things are GREAT resources on how to live and travel cheap and you want your own copy that you can take with you if need be.
6. Establish an email account at hotmail and pass it out to all your friends and family.† It will be the easiest (and cheapest) way to stay in contact and get their help.
7. Be demanding and pushy with the Humana people.† Youíve contributed over $10,000 from fees and fundraising to come here and you deserve attention and respect.† This is particularly true when it comes to resources for your project.
8. Donít let anyone compromise your security or health.† If you think a situation is unhealthy for you then fixing the situation is your number one priority.† You donít have to live in luxury but ensuring that you have a safe place to sleep, clean water and food should be the first priority for you.† Yes, many people where you are at do not have these things but that will be the case whether you are there or not.† Itís simply counterproductive and inefficient to spend thousands of dollars to travel thousands of miles simply to get sick and be unable to work.
9. Keep your wits about you, your eyes and ears open and your opinions strong.
I think these precautions will allow you to do the international period and if need be just walk away.† ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT YOUR CAN JUST WALK AWAY.
Who are you?
Iím a former IICD-MA volunteer who wants to pass on the wisdom (what there is of it) I gained from my and otherís experience to people contemplating joining these groups.† Although I readily admit that I donít know all the ins and outs of the Teachers Groupís schools I think I can give you a good sense of likely issues you will encounter.
Iíve also worked and traveled in Central America, Africa, Western and Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Southeast Asia and so know something about international travel and development work (although I would not call myself a development expert).† Iím currently a professor at a large Midwestern university and prefer to remain anonymous at this time so my words rather than who I am are the focus of this site.† Besides maybe the mystery will make this site more alluring. :-)† It worked for Homer Simpson.
Iím motivated by a feeling that something that is lacking in all the controversy about the Teachers Group is an assessment of what it is like to be a volunteer with these groups.† Tvindalert, in my humble opinion, in addition to being a fantastic resource tends to concentrate on the more sensational aspects of the Teachers Group and sound bites that can sell papers.†
The TG schools, again in my humble opinion, do not present an honest depiction of the value of their training, brush aside substantial evidence of serious problems and outright corruption within the organization and incorrectly cast themselves as the victims of right-wing hate groups.
Iím simply trying to cut through the controversy/marketing and say, ďHey.† You really donít get much from these schools and can do exactly what they do on your own (or even better with a group of friends) and by so doing, have a better chance of having a good experience and really helping people in the developing world.
This site is entirely my personal endeavor, hosted for free at Bravenet and generates no revenues.† Itís not associated with Tvindalert, IICD, IICD-MI, or CCTG although I do rely on these sites for the materials posted here.† Feel free to contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org although it may take a few days to get a response.† Iím particularly interested in hearing reactions of former TG volunteers and people with first hand experience in these projects.
Copyright © 2002, IICD Watch, All Rights Reserved
Permission is granted to reproduce the materials posted here provided that they are credited as "Source: IICD Watch (http://iicdwatch.bravepages.com/)"