Principles of Humanist Service

Seven Foundational Principles of the Humanist Action: Ghana

#1: Rely on Local Expertise

HA: Ghana is a logical extension of FBB’s Humanist Giving program, which provides catalyst grants to small organizations with a track record of effective, data-driven innovation. HA: Ghana expands upon this idea by providing assistance in the form of volunteers to a smaller subset of grassroots groups working to promote human rights and protect the environment.

The Humanist Action: Ghana approach emphasizes close collaboration with a grassroots partner organization not just because it embodies humanist ideals but also because it is more effective and sustainable.

#2: Shun the Spotlight in the Community

In the communities where HA: Ghana works, the program is built to minimize the visibility of its volunteers and maximize the visibility of its partner organization, because the face of change should always be a local one. The narrative that sustainable change comes from within the community is itself revolutionary and empowering because it counters centuries of colonial and internalized racism.

#3: Tell the Story Responsibly

Even as HA: Ghana tries to hide behind the scenes in the local context, it must build a strong platform for international storytelling to raise awareness about the work HA: Ghana and its partners are doing. Telling this story responsibly means letting the words and ideas of the locals speak for themselves. It means never exploiting images or stories of suffering in order to raise money for the program. And it means focusing on images and stories of resilience and happiness, not just hardship.

HA: Ghana believes it has the responsibility to counteract the unrelenting hardship narrative that the media and other organizations often tell about the places where HA: Ghana works. Such monolithic storytelling is irresponsible and harmful. For more on the danger of a single story, see Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED talk.

#4: Build Local Capacity

HA: Ghana volunteers work to increase the capacity of grassroots organizations to provide direct services; they don't provide direct services themselves. You will never see an HA: Ghana volunteer doing a job a local could do (or be trained and employed to do), because our humanism demands that we not exacerbate existing skills gaps or reinforce postcolonial narratives that cast outsiders as capable and locals as needy. Technical assistance should be provided by qualified people and should work toward increasing the number of local skilled professionals.

Therefore, HA: Ghana volunteers do not compete unfairly with local professionals in an already unfavorable job environment and encourage dependence. The ultimate goal is the opposite! The Humanist Action: Ghana aims to make itself redundant in every community it enters.

#5: Learn and Listen First

Despite what countless other volunteering programs seem to think, being a willing American does not qualify anyone to provide technical expertise abroad. HA: Ghana volunteers CAN have a positive impact where they work, but only if they first learn about the cultural context of the partner organization’s work. Without this context, volunteers cannot truly understand the problem their local colleagues are attempting to address, and they are not be able to collaborate effectively with them.

#6: Promote Well-Being and Fulfilment

Although we think it’s important to put the emphasis on community impact rather than volunteer growth, we also believe that a humanist volunteering experience should be safe and fulfilling for the volunteer. The Humanist Action: Ghana provides pre-service training and orientation to prepare volunteers for their transition and work. During service, HA: Ghana staff designs further training to ensure that volunteers can get the most out of their experience and maximize their effectiveness. 

Humanist Action: Ghana places volunteers as a team. The volunteers contribute to each other’s growth and respond to each other’s needs. 

#7: Celebrate Diversity

The Humanist Action: Ghana program is guided by the principles and aspirations of humanism, but our approach is one that many non-humanists have arrived at from other philosophical starting points. We select our volunteers based on their professional skills, interpersonal skills, cultural competencies, and grit, not whether they identify as humanists. We believe that this is, in fact, the humanist thing to do. Moreover, the Humanist Action: Ghana does not discriminate on the basis of race, age, religion, national or ethnic origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity/expression. 

The Humanist Action: Ghana demonstrates its commitment to diversity and culturally responsible service by providing living stipends to volunteers and covering program-related costs. This allows people from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds to apply and places the emphasis on the skills the volunteers bring to the program rather than the experience the program provides to the volunteer.

Help HA: Ghana fight for equality and save lives

There are already plenty of religious and secular volunteer service programs that exist to please paying volunteers. Most of them focus on creating the context for volunteering instead of selecting and training volunteers for the context. Doing the right thing - the humanist thing - is undoubtedly more expensive, but we hope you will agree that the integrity is worth the price.

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