Volunteer travel to developing countries is big business. Every year scores of high school graduates, bursting with well-intended enthusiasm to do some good while having an adventure, head off to countries, normally very distant and vastly different to their own. Whether it’s building schools in Africa or volunteering in Cambodian orphanages, while we can praise the well-meaning motivations and intentions of volunteer travel, it can be difficult to praise the long-term consequences it is having on the societies it is aiming to help. In fact, as Daniela Papi points out in this very informative and enlightening TED Talk, the results can be more damaging that good. Volunteer travel may actually be, to a large extent, perpetuating rather than tackling the social and environmental problems we want to help eradicate. But that is not, as Daniela makes clear, to say that volunteer travel should be eradicated. Rather, we as global citizens need to alter our concept of what volunteer travel is and what it means. The problem, she says, lies in a lack of understanding of the extremely complex problems in the global communities we are trying to serve.
“We have to learn before we can help.”
Development work is not easy. Far from it. Yet the volunteer travel industry implicitly tells us it is, and sends its people off with often false or distorted expectations of what they can and should do to help. Daniela encourages us to go abroad, not with the aim and false expectation of teaching and saving the societies we want to help, but rather with the intention to learn and understand better those societies and the complex issues they face. We can only tackle issues effectively when we truly understand them. And they are often far more complex than they appear.
Volunteer opportunities in Barcelona
In Barcelona, there are several possibilities for getting involved, gaining a deeper understanding of some of the local social issues, and offering some genuine help.
Age Concern España is a voluntary organisation dedicated to providing financial and social support to English speaking people over the age of 50 residing in Spain. It is largely aimed at assisting ex-members of the British Armed Forces and their families. You can get involved with ACASA as a volunteer, helping to raise awareness of their work, or through providing direct contact with service users – offering social contact and financial advice as necessary. You can get involved with fundraising events such as pub quizzes and tea parties, and seeking out locations to host them. Or you can simply make donation!
The Age Concern España Federation delivers its services through its local Age Concern Organisations and its National Casework Service – ACASA. Check the website for more information and opportunities to get involved.
WALKING ABANDONED DOGS
If you are an animal lover, you may be interested in giving some of your time to help abandoned and suffering animals. Lliga per a la Protecció d’Animals i Plantes de Barcelona is an animal refuge situated at the foot of the Tibidabo funicular. It strives to find new and loving homes for the animals, after undergoing proper medical examination. There are several volunteering options, from sponsoring animals (€15 monthly) and donations, to cat caring and dog-walking. You can find more information about volunteering opportunities, along with profiles of the animals in need on the website.
ESPERANÇA HELPING THE HOMELESS
Esperanca is a group of volunteers who go out four times a week, armed with food, clothing and love, to give to those in need out on the streets. They welcome anyone willing to give just a couple of hours of their time every now and then to go out on one of the routes, or to donate some items of clothing you would otherwise be throwing away. They go out every Saturday and Sunday, on two different routes: one is the Parc de la Ciutadella and surrounding area and the other is Raval and Poble Sec. They welcome help making and distributing food and collecting clothing and items such as blankets and sleeping bags. If you would like to help out in some way, join the facebook page, where you will find all details of meeting points and be able to speak to the organisers directly and get involved in whatever way you wish, whether it is going out on the routes or dropping off any items you want to donate.