Spring Break in Haiti???

A recent CNN article came out about teens going to Haiti for spring break to volunteer. Anyone else think this is a bit premature? Will it only serve the volunteers that want to feel better about themselves or can real sustainable work be done so close to a disaster by untrained volunteers? Would love to hear both sides of the debate!

The article: http://edition.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/02/16/haiti.spring.break/index.html

19 thoughts on “Spring Break in Haiti???

  1. How about this for an idea? With all of the great thoughts and experiences of the people that read this blog…lets take the challenge and see if we can work together to create a situation where this could be genuinely helpful???

  2. Alright, as I read the article again I am concerned by some of the quotes and wording in the article. This may get in the way as we do this…but I think its worth a shot anyway.

    I think there are 2 ways to go about this: 1) work with what we know about the 2 groups in the article to try and make their trip genuinely helpful or 2) create our own trip with no preconceived plans and build it from the ground up. Whats your pleasure VG?

  3. I think there’s a need to look deeper into what the article is saying. I agree that the worst thing that can happen is volunteer running in after a disaster but it doesn’t seem like this is the case here. The two groups are going in to volunteer outside of PAP with established programs that have needs. I’m sure these orphanages have even bigger needs than they did before and would welcome any help they can get. Not to mention that Haiti really needs the economic impact of the travelers spending money down there (which of course, we should encourage).

  4. Just a point of interest…this article obviously wasn’t written for the voluntourism industry. It was written for the average person to read, understand, and feel good about.

    If we are planning a hypothetical spring trip to Haiti and ensuring we do it right…what do we need to include/exclude?

    Kristin, we can guess that they may need more help…but that may or may not be right. The article does not cover whether the places the students in question are going to visit were impacted by the earthquake. My guess would be they were not; if they were I am sure that would’ve been part of the article???

    The other thing that is a concern here from this blog post is the definition of help…thus the comment about “genuine help”.

    So, how do we plan a trip to Haiti in spring after the earthquake where relatively untrained people can be of a genuine help to the people of Haiti?

  5. Their MONEY can be. Money going to support long-term redevelopment efforts or social support for people effected by the quake. And not just “spending a few hundred dollars” there as they travel, as most of that money is not likely to get to the people who need it.

    If there was an organization doing rebuilding, thoroughly and well, not just temporary shelters, and each traveler had to bring $10,000 of fundraising with them to support the groups ongoing work, in addition to covering all of their own trip costs, well then maybe they could be useful moving debris.

    I’d say stay home and send the money, but if they feel that they want to see where their really large chunk of money is going, then maybe a humanitarian visit would be tolerable. Maybe… no large chunk of money? Stay home.

    And don’t even get me started about orphanage tourism.

  6. Great points Phill and Kristin. I am very interested to know if this can be done, as my gut feeling is that Spring is too soon for unskilled volunteers.
    We intend to help Haiti as much as we can, and currently our timing for bringing volunteers to Haiti is at least 6 months away, but it is possible that that is being too conservative.
    We have a scouting trip happening later this month, so we should know more soon.
    Keep the conversation flowing – great stuff!

  7. Their MONEY can be. Money going to support long-term redevelopment efforts or social support for people effected by the quake. And not just “spending a few hundred dollars” there as they travel, as most of that money is not likely to get to the people who need it.

    If there was an organization doing rebuilding, thoroughly and well, not just temporary shelters, and each traveler had to bring $10,000 of fundraising with them to support the groups ongoing work, in addition to covering all of their own trip costs, well then maybe they could add a bit of additional value moving debris.

    I’d say stay home and send the money, but if they feel that they want to see where their really large chunk of money is going, then maybe a humanitarian visit would be justifiable. Maybe… no large chunk of money? Stay home.

    And don’t even get me started about orphanage tourism.

  8. Their MONEY can be. Money going to support long-term redevelopment efforts or social support for people effected by the quake. And not just “spending a few hundred dollars” there as they travel, as most of that money is not likely to get to the people who need it. If there was an organization doing rebuilding, thoroughly and well, not just temporary shelters, and each traveler had to bring $10,000 of fundraising with them to support the groups ongoing work, in addition to covering all of their own trip costs, perhaps they could add value by moving debris. I’d say stay home and send the money, but if they feel that they want to see where their really large chunk of money is going, then maybe a humanitarian visit might be justifiable. Maybe… no large chunk of money? Stay home. And don’t even get me started about orphanage tourism.
    —————

  9. Hi Daniela
    I was hoping you would chime in!
    So, the only way you see a trip to Haiti would be beneficial is if each traveler gave $10,000 to an organization rebuilding permanent buildings thoroughly and paid all of their own costs as they moved debris?
    You are one of the superstars in this field, there has to be some other way to beneficially help in person for less than $10k.
    Lets take the orphanages out of the picture…so lets start completely from scratch and “create our own trip” to Haiti. No orphanages…now can we all create something that would be beneficial?
    Lets say first of all…flying in, hiring local transportation paying a fair rate, staying in a locally owned and operated guest house…what else?

  10. Like I said, I am not a supporter of creating the trip, as I think at this point sending the money is better.

    But if people are going ahead with it anyway, then here are my suggestions:

    – It’s not about the money first. First it’s about HOW the project is planned, monitored, and implemented. This can not, in my opinion, be done easily or usually well from afar, nor from someone who comes into a new place for a few weeks. It should be done in partnership with people who were there before you got there and will be there long after you leave. I have spoken with some families in Louisiana who, after the hurricanes, found that some older couples who did not have younger family members were not able to clear their land. They had gotten funding to rebuild but didn’t have additional money to clear their land, so people in the community came together and cleared each others land in teams. I don’t know the situation in Haiti and if having enough people to clear land is even an issue, but if there were communities already organizing themselves in this way, and THEY were choosing people based on needs and prioritizing in a way that didn’t add to community disruptions, then plugging extra hands in to help as necessary might add value.

    – Who pays. I 100000% am opposed to anyone raising funds to “send themselves” to Haiti. Even medical professionals – there are waiting lists of medical professionals looking to volunteer their time in Haiti. If we are raising funds, it should not be to pay US to go down there to have a great “we helped save the world” experience. Funding could indeed pay local people to clear common land, providing income and saving us from flying down, so if people are not paying for this themselves, I would say we are giving ourselves way too much credit as “helpers” than we deserve. In the past, I went on quite a few trips which allowed me to fundraise for my travel expenses, and I know from those experiences that impact they had on me would have been worth paying for.

    – Additional funding. So, in addition to people completely paying their own way, I think indeed their must be significant funding going to keep the projects going, for the same reasons as listed above. Why pay for your flight to Haiti when you could fund others to clear the land? If you are bringing funding which far outweighs the costs of your flight, than adding your moral support and kindness to the mix is an added bonus. If you are bringing $200 and your travel costs were $800, then we have to be honest with ourselves… we are doing this for OUR pleasure, for OUR conscious, for OUR experience, not for anyone else. If we were considering how we could help others, we would have sent the full $1000.

    Travel is often for our own need to feel part of the world – here’s a great article about that: http://bit.ly/1Pmoaz There is a time for educational travel, but when Haiti needs now are people with the skills to add value in the chaos. This is a time to find ways to add real value to an immediate problem, and tourism is not the first key to the solution in my opinion. Well planned out, community driven and community focused support which takes long-term solutions into account is, and to do that successfully, we’d need to really understand the people and problems well, which we clearly don’t. We need to support those people who do.

  11. Not sure what happened to a post I submitted yesterday, but in essence I agree with Daniela, although we are having a scouting trip to Haiti later this month to ascertain at what point unskilled volunteers can/should go to help in Haiti.
    Daniela is right – this needs to be incredibly well thought out, with consultation with the appropriate people crucial.

  12. Now thats what Im talking about! Awesome. I am gone all day today and much of the day tomorrow, I will post as soon as I can.
    Thank you so much for taking the time and thought to do that…your passion, knowledge, & experience are really admired.

  13. I’m wit Daniela on this one. Going to Haiti right now would be far more about the students meeting their own needs than meeting the needs of Haitians.

    Voluntourism projects need to be part of a larger, long term program and not developed to meet the needs of the volunteers. Whatever a group of voluntourists could do right now, Haitians can do as well. And with an 80% unemployment rate before the earthquake, creating livelihoods will need to be a large part of the reconstruction process if things are to improve. Research from past disasters shows that the cleanup and rebuilding is a huge boost to the local economy giving many people several years of employment. By sending down volunteers to do the work for free, there is a risk that they will take away jobs that local people could be paid to do.

    The fact that one of the groups has an ongoing relationship with an orphanage shows that they do not understand good aid practices nor do they know how to evaluate partnering organizations. Thus it would be fair to predict that they would make very poor choices now as well. And after a disaster, when people are the most vulnerable, you do not want any organization on the ground that does not have the capacity to make wise choices.

    Whenever making decisions about aid I always try to keep this saying in mind,”Regardless of whether what we do is right or wrong, we are doing it to people that can least afford for us to fail.”

  14. Ed Brophy made this quote on my previous post about ‘Should volunteers go to Haiti?’ this week. I thought his perspective might be interesting to have in this debate.

    —-

    A self-reliant person who has the conviction to volunteer—and has enough reasons why—will appear in Haiti like a homing pigeon—with little or no regard as to how they got there.

    They will arrive ready to do what they are confidently skilled to do.

    Your I will is more important than your IQ.~ Marva Collins

    The Apostles were 12 ordinary “men”.

  15. I agree with Ed Brophy’s post. My point as I read and learn in this new area of my life is this: if people are going to continue wanting to travel like this and barriers tend to be shrinking, than rather than keep saying “dont go” why cant we figure out a way where people could go and genuinely help.
    In the history of humankind there have been problems much larger than voluntourists coming to disaster areas and less developed countries…those problems have been and continue to be solved…and I think with people like you working together – this problem can be solved in a positive way as well.
    People dont listen when others tell them to not to do something…so, lets take some time, energy, and combine experiences to figure this thing out…imagine what that could be like?

  16. You know D in a recent guest post on Travelanthropist made this quote:

    “Was the voluntourism project decided because of actual needs or because of the ease of integrating unskilled foreigners into the tasks?”

    I love it! Can we please paste this all over the internet??? I would love it if every volunteer company out there asked themselves this exact question for each of the trips they offer – I think then we would rapidly start becoming a more responsible industry.

    Any company thinking of spring breaks to Haiti really needs to ask themselves this question first.

    Article from Travelanthropist: http://travelanthropist.com/2010/02/traveling-responsibly-learning-trips-over-giving-trips.html/comment-page-1#comment-738

  17. That is a good quote by Daniela, thanks for reposting that VG.
    Handsup: Can you explain a little about what your scouting trip would look like? Are you already established in Haiti, etc?
    To the entire group…it is very easy to say that volunteers shouldn’t go…it is also very easy for the group of you to defend that point…I think the counter point is however that people want to go, there is a market there, the boundaries to entry are very small, and most likely people are going to continue doing this and most likely the numbers are going to continue to grow…sooooooooooooooooooooo:
    How can we plan a trip for relatively unskilled workers to be genuinely helpful in a situation like Haiti a few months after a disaster?
    To go off of Daniela’s quote reposted by VG-what are the actual needs that unskilled workers can assist with? I will start (mentally preparing for flying tomatoes):
    -clean up: I believe clean up is something that can be done by unskilled workers and be genuinely helpful to the situation. I have personally cleaned up after an American tornado in Pierce City, MO and the SE Asian Tsunami

    I could go on…but would like this to be a group conversation. Lets first start by brainstorming rather than tearing holes in other people’s ideas. After we get a list of possibilities than we can discuss each for validity.

  18. I think there is a main question we are overlooking here…. WE should not be talking about the possibilities. People IN Haiti should.

    If you want to think about creating a trip now or in the future, you can get ideas for “best practices” in the industry here, but you are looking in the wrong place when it comes to deciding what you are going to do (clean up, etc). The point of what I wrote is that the people IN the places, who know the issues, need to decide if they want this type of support and how it can best fit with their needs, not a bunch of us on our laptops. If Chris and the Hands Up Holidays team already have connections and people on the ground and are going there, then they can advise on this better than any of us can.

    One thing to keep in mind is that when presenting this, we shouldn’t be saying “We are coming and we want to help. What can we do?”, we should be saying “We’d love to learn about your situation. Would you WANT us to come and help, and if so, how? If we didn’t come here, what are the alternatives? Are those alternatives better than us sending volunteers? Let’s look at all of the possibilities. If people came, what restrictions would you want imposed on what they can and can not do, where they can and can not go, how they should be supervised, etc.”

    We can debate whether sending unskilled volunteers to Haiti is “right” based on our own moral judgement, but the people living and working in the places we are talking about, who stand to benefit or be harmed by these decisions, should be the ones calling the shots.

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