I apologize for my lack of posts, I’ve been off in Kenya checking out some new eco lodges (it’s a tough life I know) and am just getting back fully to my desk. When I was in Kenya visiting a village I ran across a tale of three schools that seemed to me representative of how voluntourism/traveler’s philanthropy can go wrong and I’d love to start a debate on how we can fix this.
It started with one school – the village banded together and back in the day built their own school house, complete with a roof and classrooms and blackboards. This school was running well when an NGO funded by donors and with time donated by foreign volunteers decided that the school needed to be bigger.
So next to School One let’s call it now stands School Two, a very pretty building made of expensive materials and smattered with a ton of Anglo Saxon sounding names thanking them for their donations. Now School One just sits vacant next to School Two and is used for storage by locals.
Then another group came in and said this community of maybe 500 villagers needed another school – so School Three construction began with donor funded materials and volunteers. However, the funding ran out for School Three (because the volunteer company couldn’t sell the trip well to volunteers) so School Three sits half finished, with no roof or windows or walls.
So this small community now has three schools – one that was functioning but now sits vacant, one that is smattered with foreign names that is used, one that is half built and probably will never be finished. Here’s the kicker: it’s all on less than a half acre. So a crowd of three schools, two out of the three brought about by foreigners.
You know I went straight to the locals to get the dish on this and here is what they said:
- “We never needed a second school, I went to school in the first one and it was fine.”
- “They built a bigger school but no place to house new teachers or a way to fund them.”
- “When building the second school one donor thought that we absolutely needed a fancy kitchen for the kids so he spent a ridiculous amount of money building this building over there, the money could have gone to teachers’ salaries but he wanted it to go instead to a fancy kitchen.” (The kitchen is full of cobwebs, not really used at all and is almost bigger than the school)
- “What should we do with all this rubble left from the partial construction?’
So… my question for everyone is how can we be sure when we take volunteers into a community that 1. they really want our help and 2. that we can commit to finishing what we started no matter how our sales turn out?