The primary aim of a trip like this is how participants and host communities learn and collaborate, not purely about how the visitors can change their host communities. Some overseas and volunteering trips are oversold which leads to unmet expectations. For example 'You cannot not change the world' sounds great but it is clearly a clever marketing line. We have to be realistic and honest, especially when talking about people's aspirations and the lives of developing communities. We want to be clear about volunteer benefits from the outset.
Our overseas trips are not about us going out to change the world into a better place through our western economic advantage. The benefits of this type of tourism are much more sophisticated, and these issues are not easily quantifiable. Fundamentally the trip has to exist as part of a long term commitment by the company and charity to achieve a development goal which is shared and driven by the communities you are visiting.
Volunteer benefits are passionately debated, partly because a group of unskilled young people going abroad for a limited time, often sent to over-saturated areas with low quality control, is bound to attract a negative view of international development, which employs highly skilled people and requires great experience and knowledge and cultural sensitivity. Particularly to generic phrases and stereotyping.
For example, what is poverty? Poverty is many things, certainly not just a lack of money. The structural determinants of poverty encompass inequality, social justice, global health and human rights, to name but a few. It is important that you recognise what it is that your trip is aiming to achieve so that you can help maximise its potential to you and the people you will be visiting. The programme has been designed so that a broad range of benefits may be offered to all those involved. Some of these benefits are very obvious and tangible but some are more subtle and harder to define and quantify.
For example, we promote a belief in 'reciprocity relationships' whereby the connectivity of returning clients is vital to the success of the programme, keeping them engaged with each other and with their in-country counterparts long after their trip. You will only be involved with meaningful targets that are determined by the development body (Moving Mountains), which are aspirational but do not ignore particular groups. The sustainability of the project is paramount, which we achieve through continued communications and an accountable process of monitoring and feedback, which you will become a part of. The projects will have consistency and a clear structure of staffing and responsibility, which again you will see, as well as a good relationship between client, beneficiary and facilitator.
We aim to educate, act and advocate, which is a common phrase but has been achieved in the case of Movng Mountains and Adventure Alternative by giving power and voice and influence to the companies, co-operatives and communities we work with. This has been an underpinning principle of the business model that Gavin Bate started in the beginning.
An overarching theme will be that what you are doing and experiencing is part of an ongoing process rather than an isolated "flash in the pan" event. For example we do not want a rural African village to be awash with smiling faces, helping hands and revenue for a week and then to be deserted again for the rest of the year. Equally, we do not want you to have an experience of a lifetime and then to return to your previous life unchanged and without building upon those experiences. You will see that your visit is a cog which is keeping a bigger machine running.
A much over-used word these days is "sustainability". We are not referring to attaching a wind turbine to your house or buying an electric car. In this context we are talking about the ability of our programmes to sustain themselves in the long term, without us being around to continually supply funds and resources. For example, delivering a lorry load of maize flour to a school may help them to feed the pupils for a year or so but the short term benefits are not able to sustain themselves. In contrast, helping to educate students, train adults and provide loans for enterprise can help to create a community that has the ability to sustain its self through its own work, skills and income generation. The key is to empower the communities themselves and provide a kick-start to the potential within it.
In consideration of the principles above we would summarise the benefits of the programme as follows:-
Benefits to the communities and individuals
Exposure to overseas cultures, inclusion in the wider world, improvement of spoken English, improvement of literacy, direct community revenue, direct improvement of infrastructure, sense of 'belonging' to a community and as a global citizen, promotion of equality and social justice, learning about communication through social media and the net, creating ethical supply chains, providing a 'route to market' where it might not have existed previously, upholding people's human rights and developing democratic structures, giving young people self-esteem and a positive fun environment in which to feel inspired and encouraged to achieve.
The communities with which Moving Mountains works benefits greatly and often in ways that we don't always appreciate. For example, Maurice Odindo, a head teacher in Western Kenya thanked a group from the UK for the water pump that they'd paid for and installed with MM in his school. When he thanked them he explained that this water pump not only gave them water to drink but it also saved lives and allowed them to grow and study better as this water pump;
- Gave water to the students to drink
- Gave water to the school kitchen to prepare food
- Gave water to the plants that they grew around the school which fed them
- Gave water to the plants that when in excess could be sold which gives the school money to buy books
- Gave water to the students that needed it to feed the animals that the school raised (cow, pig and chicken projects) to create revenue streams that allowed better equipment or more teachers
- It meant that, unlike the previous year, 2 students won't die as a result of having to cross a busy road to fetch water from another source
- It meant that the girls when on their periods had access to water and didn't need to miss vital lessons staying at home
Further more a project that we run, be it a classroom development, building a clinic or repair works also has knock on affects in the community beyond the actual physical building or the long term development of a facility or community project:
- We buy & source food locally from local traders directly investing in local people and families
- We buy and source our building supplies and employ builders locally
- We take the groups to local places of interest and again invest directly in the community
- We bring local children to the camps which is based on their school performance encouraging their development
- We work closely with local officials, schools, community leaders to ensure we develop and improve the areas where we work
Benefits to you, the visitor
'Personal Development through International Development' is how we like to summarise the benefits for a young person on one of our trips. The experience, although managed with great care and with wonderful staff also allows the visitor to expand on skills they have and explore, use and develop new ones. Below are some areas which this trip gives a greater understanding or experience of to the visitor;
- Global citizenship
- Cultural Awareness and interaction
- Understanding & experiencing (charity) development at a grass roots level
- Learning and using teaching, building and sports skills
- Language skills
- Time management
- Financial planning, awareness and management
- Fundraising initiatives, planning and management
- Self belief and confidence
- Drive, ambition and maturity
- Fitness & physical challenge
- Personal challenge
- Team work
- Catering and nutrition
- Practical skills
- Camping & trekking skills
- Wildlife knowledge and experience
- Problem solving
- Health and hygiene
- Safety and how to look after yourself whilst travelling
- Responsible Travel
Teachers / Support staff
Whether you're physically with the group in East Africa, or have been the support behind them for fundraising at home, then there's also benefits to you;
- All of the above benefits that you get to give to the students!
- Your own personal challenge
- Increased recognition in your school
- Professional development portfolio advancement
- Achievement of seeing the group reach & realise their goals
- Watching and helping the young people develop personally and socially
- Raise your school profile in terms of local media and within your education board
Despite being naturally concerned that your children will be away from home you can be assured that they are in good hands with a team of staff who will look after them really well. We often get calls from parents after the trip to tell us how their children have had such a positive experience. Below are a few of the remarks which are often made;
- Eyes opened to the real world
- Focused and more motivated at school
- Greater drive and aspirations for the future
- A desire to teach / work in the charity sector / help people
- Gained such good travel experience for when they travel again
- More confident
- Listens better
- Is nicer to their siblings & parents!