There is a cautionary tale that frequently surfaces in discussions about international aid. Women from a particular village walk miles to the river to do laundry despite the donation of a laundry trough circling the village’s water tank. The organization that donated the washing station failed to realize that laundry time serves another function: women-only social time. The laundry trough in the village didn’t offer the women the same respite from men, and the women couldn’t chat with each other around the tank as easily as they could at the river.
I believe that a Humanist Service Corps volunteer could have helped the international aid organization tell a success story instead of a cautionary tale. By observing the women, doing laundry with them, learning from them about their needs, and including them as essential, leading members of the problem-solving team, the HSC volunteer could have helped the locals and the international aid organization co-design a sustainable solution. In a nutshell, this is the kind of work that the HSC does, and this is the kind of engagement HSC asks of its volunteers.
What makes this kind of volunteering rare, and why is it so important?
Sustainable, effective, culturally-responsible volunteering is rare because it’s difficult and time-consuming to build the necessary relationships. Many international volunteering programs don’t see the cross-cultural relationships as an essential part of the mission. The relationships may benefit the volunteers, sure, but the volunteers are already guaranteed to benefit from the experience and cross-cultural relationships aren’t part of the benefit promised to the locals.
It is understandable that volunteers would be concerned about maximizing their impact and might even feel a little guilty hanging out with the locals. After all, international volunteering opportunities often exist only because of global inequalities created by the very countries volunteers are from. When volunteers spend time building relationships, aren’t they selfishly wasting time that they should be spending on improving lives?
No. Emphatically no. Volunteers only perpetuate oppression when they focus on their personal impact to the exclusion of all else. One of the tragically ironic consequences of imperialism is that the exploited are seen as having nothing to offer, even as they are still being plundered. It is a revolutionary act for a volunteer to acknowledge and embrace the benefits they receive when they adapt to another culture. Moreover, when volunteers are focused primarily on changing the environment, they often miss the opportunity to be changed by it. That missed growth is a profound loss, because learning and adapting to the local environment by building real, reciprocal relationships is the key to implementing sustainable solutions as well as the most rewarding aspect of the volunteering experience.
There is a strong positive correlation, not a zero-sum relationship, between the benefits that a volunteer receives and gives. The kind of volunteer work that is most rewarding for volunteers - cross-cultural learning and relationship-building - is also the kind of volunteer work that leads to sustainable solutions. Thus, the only way to serve responsibly and effectively is to embrace the selfishness inherent in service. When we see every interaction not as an opportunity to teach or to give but rather as a chance to learn and receive, only then do we come to understand what strategies are appropriate for the cultural context. If you can see the beauty in that paradox, then I invite you to apply for the 2019 Humanist Service Corps.
To apply fill out the application form and attach a cover letter and your resume. Your cover letter should include why you are interested in volunteering with HSC, a summary of your service, and a summary of your international experience. Your cover letter should be no more than one (1) page, single-space, 11 point font.
Applications must be submitted by January 15th, 2019. All applicants must be 18 or older and available from July 2019 to July 2020.
Learn more here.
By Conor Robinson
Are you ready to deepen your humanism through international service? The Humanist Service Corps (HSC) is now accepting applications for the 2019-2020 volunteering commitment. 2019-2020 volunteers will be the first HSC group to support grassroots human rights organizations working in the Central Region as well as keep supporting our partner organizations in the Northern Region of Ghana to increase access to education, healthcare, and jobs.By FBB
07 Aug 2018
To read part one click here.
Last December the 2017-2018 HSC team (volunteers and FBB leadership) mutually decided to leave Yendi. The HSC program faced some unexpected challenges in 2017 that forced several big location changes for our volunteers. While these challenges were entirely outside our control, we want to remain transparent about the status of the program and how we have adapted our 2018 schedule. Even though we were all disappointed to leave Yendi, we are proud of our accomplishments in the north, and are optimistic about the program’s future.
We decided to start the next phase of the HSC program in January instead of July. This phase will use an evaluation and improvement process to determine how best to use knowledge gained from the Northern Region as we transition to other parts of Ghana. Although we planned to expand to other parts of Ghana, we never expected it to happen so quickly. We are continuing our partnerships in the Northern Region to build on our accomplishments remotely, but do not plan to have anyone there at this time. We expect one or more volunteers will return at some point in the future.
Establishing HSC in Cape Coast
After extensive research we chose Cape Coast, the capital of the Central Region of Ghana, as the location for our team to begin the next phase of the HSC program. Yvonne moved to Cape Coast in January and has spent the intervening months re-registering the HSC program with the Ghanaian government, getting to know the region better, and building relationships throughout the community.
In Ghanaian culture, relationships are the cornerstone of society. Building a strong relationship with every person with whom you interact on a daily basis is of the utmost importance. We cannot succeed in Ghana without having these relationships solidly in place. In many ways, this is part of why we struggled when the HSC team was forced to relocate so quickly in 2017; we did not have adequate time to establish strong relationships in Yendi.
Now that the HSC program has officially been re-registered with the government and the bulk of her relationship-building efforts are completed, Yvonne will begin to meet with NGOs operating in the Cape Coast area. She will be using the knowledge gained from our past experiences with partner organizations as she evaluates potential partner organizations.
Yvonne is also looking for a second person to help vet the Cape Coast NGO's - two people will have a much easier time evaluating an organization than one person alone could have, and offer multiple perspectives during the evaluations. They plan to spend approximately 4-8 weeks shadowing 2-4 organizations that seem like a truly promising fit. She explained that in Ghana, it can be challenging to get someone to answer a question if the answer may be perceived negatively or to admit to not knowing an answer, which added to the difficulties we faced in earlier partnerships. By spending two weeks onsite with potential partners, we will have firsthand knowledge about how an organization operates.
The HSC Advisory Board & Website Updates
The Foundation Beyond Belief HSC Advisory Board is not only committed to the HSC program, but we are also committed to ensuring that the program moves forward in the most sustainable way possible. This program requires a serious commitment of time, energy, and financial resources, and we have no intention of spending any of these frivolously. The HSC Advisory Board last met in March. The date for the next meeting is still being finalized, but is tentatively planned for September.
We have also been working to update the HSC portion of the FBB website. With the many changes to the program, it has been challenging to reflect these changes on the website. Yvonne has put in a number of hours updating the information, and the changes are 80-90% complete.
Program Continuity in the Northern Region
Although we left the northern region of Ghana, the programs and projects that were established have continued to improve women’s rights. This is exactly what we hoped to achieve: partner with the local community to establish sustainable solutions which will lead to real improvements.
As you may recall, Lukeman Domba is a Ghanaian who worked with our Non-Ghanaian volunteers in the Northern Region during the 2016-2017 service year. He continues to work with the women in the Kukuo camp for alleged witches, and communicates regularly with us about his progress. Lukeman is facilitating best practices training in henna farming for women at Kukuo. Henna is a staple crop in the northern region of Ghana, as it is used heavily in traditional and religious practices. He is also working on a savings program: the women contribute money into a joint account each month and are able to take turns borrowing funds in an emergency.
The tailoring apprenticeship program has been more challenging to track, partly due to cultural barriers. Yvonne Nyahe, (HSC Ghana: Program Coordinator), noted that the perception is that NGOs come to the northern region, set up a program and distribute funding, and leave with no expectation of follow-up or reporting. Despite these challenges, Yvonne has been able to collect some information regarding the program’s progress.
Among the women who were initially selected for the program, one chose not to participate in the program at all, and the trainer was asked to select a new participant. Another woman chose to train with a family friend rather than the assigned trainer; this is a perfectly acceptable compromise as far as we are concerned. Yvonne has asked the trainers to send photos and other information about the training itself, but this is as much information as she has received despite repeated efforts. She notes that this is simply to be expected to some degree when we’re attempting to get information regarding projects in the north. She will continue to push for more details so we can evaluate the ongoing results of our work in the north.
We’d love to hear your questions and comments. Thanks for your ongoing support!
To be a donor, click here. Thank you for being #HumanismAtWork.By FBB