Global Volunteers facilitates human and economic development at the community level and engages volunteers to do much of the work. But as is stated in Global Volunteers “Philosophy of Service — Strategy for Development, ” only local people actually do development. An organization like Global Volunteers can help facilitate development and volunteers can help catalyze development, but only local people do it. With that said, facilitating and catalyzing are vital activities in the development process.
Development professionals have known for decades that merely providing financial resources, even in the form of education and medical supplies, is insufficient. USAID, the World Bank, and other government development agencies have spent literally billions of dollars over the past 50 years with varying degrees of success. More often than not, where only financial or other material resources have been offered, little or no development improvements can be measured. The most successful efforts have been at the local community level where local leaders are in charge and outsiders provide appropriate catalytic assistance. That is what Global Volunteers strives to do. We offer volunteers to work under the direction of local leaders on community-based projects that the community determines are important to its long-term human and economic development.
How can anyone, therefore, individually make a significant difference in three weeks? Most people can’t. However, Global Volunteers sends multiple teams of volunteers to each community every year, year after year. Every volunteer becomes a vital link in a long chain of volunteers. For the local children, each volunteer makes a world of difference because without all the volunteers who came before and after, their lives would be very different. We know this is the case because we’ve been working in some communities for more than 25 years and adults with whom we taught 10 or 15 years ago tell us that this case.
Some say “Passing along knowledge and training would make a better mission for Global Volunteers than just stepping into the places of community members.” I could not agree more, and that is always our objective. However, human development is a generational process — it takes a very long time. That is why we focus on children. It is our experience that children we teach will learn things they otherwise would not and be motivated to do constructive things with their life that they otherwise might not have even imagined. That in fact, is the principal way in which we facilitate development.
Others suggest it might be better to provide financial resources rather than volunteers so the local people could be paid to do local construction work. We would agree provided the only objectives are to construct or repair a building and increase local income. But Global Volunteers is about waging peace and promoting justice. We attempt to achieve this goal by working hand-in-hand with local people on community development projects that community leaders deem important. Our objective is to create an environment where local people and volunteers work together on a common project such that in the process of working together they become friends. Friendship is very important to what we do because friendship is foundational to peace and justice in our world. When there is a dispute among friends, friends will generally resolve their dispute nonviolently.
When people have a friend against whom an injustice is being perpetrated, they generally want to do something to right the injustice. Consequently, the more friends there are in the world, the more nonviolent dispute resolution there will be. The more friends there are the world, the more people there will be working for justice. For Global Volunteers, the work project is the vehicle to establish friendships. In addition, we do provide financial resources so that local laborers are paid.
Sean Penn recently said about his work in Haiti, “The first person served by service is the server.” We agree fully.