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For Whose Benefit? Host Community Perceptions of the Role of Short-term International Volunteers in Development. A Case Study of BREADS (Bangalore Rural Education and Development Society) Karnataka, India.

Short-term international volunteering is a phenomenon that has grown rapidly in the last ten years with hundreds of organisations now offering opportunities for people to ‘make a difference’ in countries of the Global South. Motivations vary from the self-centric to altruistic and organisations are attracting large numbers who travel overseas to engage in volunteer work. Criticisms of the experience are well documented and accuse volunteers of contributing to a type of ‘poverty tourism’ that reinforces colonial relationships of superiority. They argue that the only people who benefit from such programmes are the volunteers who think they can, and have the right to, meet the ‘needs’ of communities in the Global South. Others see volunteering as an experience capable of causing positive changes in an individual’s values and lifestyle, which will promote international solidarity and raise awareness of global ‘development’ issues. Most, if not all, of the literature is coming from western countries which highlights a gap in existing research into short-term international volunteering: the voice of the host community.

This research aims to hear that voice. What do host communities think about short-term volunteers working in their projects? Who benefits from such an experience? This research was carried out in the projects of BREADS in Karnataka, India who have had an international volunteer programme in operation for the past ten years. I wanted to know if host communities perceive this programme to be a responsible volunteer experience by exploring the perceived motivations of volunteers, their effects on the host community and the relationships which exist between volunteers, sending organisations and host communities. It is the contention of this research that the volunteer programme, as run by BREADS, does offer an example of responsible volunteering, where there is an opportunity for all involved to benefit. In the majority of cases the programme creates relationships, not of superiority, but of solidarity. It contributes to a learning process for all involved and especially to a ‘pedagogy of the non-oppressed’. However, it is not without issues and certain challenges which highlight concerns around the pre-departure training of volunteers and their awareness of the historical and cultural context within which they operate.


Jane Mellett 2010


Permanent link to this article: http://kimmagedsc.ie/dissertation/host-community-perceptions-of-short-term-international-volunteers/