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“Beware of fradulent volunteerism organizations”
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“Beware of fradulent volunteerism organizations”

Ariela St Pierre-Collins 2Many people volunteer internationally for a good cause. However, it is important to do research beforehand to avoid the swindlers’ trap, writes Ariela St. Pierre-Collins, 16, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Barbados.

‘Volunteerism’ is a new fad among gap year do-gooders and middle age crisis-sufferers.

This new fad is not a meme, or a catch phrase, but an insatiable craving to volunteer in charitable organizations in the Third World. But is that necessarily a bad thing – to volunteer time and donate money to a good cause? What if the money goes to furthering a large fraud gimmick widespread among faux orphanages, or to disreputable animal shelters in Asia?

Caroline Green, 45, from London, England, was sucked into the trap. She volunteered through a Thai charity to work for just over two weeks at an orphange she had selected and was appalled at what she saw.

Despite the amazing projects offered and heartwarming videos on the website, upon arriving she realized something was terribly wrong. The living conditions at the orphanage were substandard; hardly fit for children. The children slept on the barely-carpetted floor, without any pillows or blankets at all. Mealtimes consisted of one chicken and a couple vegetables to be shared among 29 people. Yet each volunteer contributed £200 per week to the cause. Where was the money going?

As the week went on, the situation went from bad to worse. The staff revealed to her that the ‘orphans’ living at this particular orphanage were not in fact orphans at all, but children of parents who were persuaded to hand over their child under the pretense that the child would be cared for and given a better life. After witnessing a child being dragged by the hand, beaten and threatened, Green called the Thai social services.

“I couldn’t bear what was happening here – and the worst thing of all was that I and the other volunteers were funding it with our time and money, ” said Green after the incident.

A similar situation occurred with another Brit, Matthew Butler, who traveled with his cousin to Costa Rica to volunteer as part of a wildlife conservation scheme at an animal rehabilitation center in 2009. They quickly realized that they had fallen into a cleverly devised trap.

“Soon after arriving we discovered this wasn’t really an animal rehabilitation center, but a poorly run zoo,” said Matthew, 25. He went on to describe how they were quickly put to work feeding the animals and cleaning their cages, but there was no indication by any of the permanent staff that the animals were being released to their natural habitat.

“The cages were quite small and we saw some shocking behavior. I remember seeing the keepers trying to antagonize the lions to make them roar so the tourists could get a good photo,” he said.

With that in mind, the two young lads were further horrified to find out that the money “clearly wasn’t going to the center” but to the bank accounts of the owners, who lived exceedingly comfortably and drove large, expensive vehicles.

“I was naive. I thought because I’d spent such a large amount of money, and has used a gap year company, it was going to be up to standard,” Matthew  said. He and his cousin made a complaint to the gap year company and they were eventually moved to a different project.

Experiencing something as awful as an abusive orphanage or a treacherous zoo can leave a bad taste in your mouth where volunteering is concerned. Although some companies and charities may not be completely honest, or are cons through and through, it is important to remember that volunteering for the good guys is still important and must be done. The key is to do the research.

As Caroline Green said, “At first, I wished I had never gone to Thailand, but now I feel glad that I was able to protect the children I met. I’m not going to stop looking to make a difference. But this time I want to do it with a proper organization and I’m going to do lots of homework.”

photo credit: thinkbeforegiving.com

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About me:
I am a Barbadian-Canadian and the founder of ‘Youth for Epic Change’, a charity aimed at raising funds for causes both locally and globally and inspiring teens in Barbados to be the catalyst for positive change. View my personal blog at www.unleashthepowerofone.tumblr.com.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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