Monday, April 16, 2018

Celebrating Our International Volunteers!

Below is a post by Vicky Medley, our International Volunteer Program Coordinator at NPH USA!

In 2017 we had another great group of US volunteers join the NPH family by serving for a year or more! Overall, we had 37 volunteers serving at least 6 months during 2017. That number includes volunteers who began in July 2016 (20), January 2017 (5) and July 2017 (12). It’s always hard to capture the number, it’s more like a snapshot at times! We had about 25 International Volunteers from the U.S. serving at any time during 2017.

Two of my favorite parts of my job are getting to visit our volunteers at NPH, and hosting our post service reflection weekends. In 2017, I was lucky to visit our volunteer communities in Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. We also hosted a volunteer reflection weekend in the Seattle area, where recent former volunteers gathered to process and reflect upon their time at NPH. 
While our program continues to be solid, international volunteerism has been criticized over the last few years, often with good reason. Google “voluntourism” and you will find a laundry list of critical articles and opinions. You may have seen the “How to Get More Likes on Social Media” video created by Radi-Aid, and Barbie Savior, an Instagram parody account about volunteering in Africa. The majority of the criticism in most of the articles is based on foreigners disregarding local talent, local customs, and adopting a “savior” mentality towards those they serve. 

As an international Volunteer program, we are always looking to improve, and to check our work against ethical international development practices. We have more to learn, but I want to share some of our guidelines and thinking about the role of international volunteers at NPH, and why I believe NPH is a solid organization in terms of international service:

We require volunteers to serve for a year. That allows time for volunteers to form healthy relationships with the kids and the staff, and gives volunteers the opportunity really experience and understand the NPH mission. Most NPH volunteers stay involved far beyond their year. They return to NPH
for the celebration of sacraments, for graduations, and weddings; they keep in touch with the children they served. In addition, many of them remain involved with NPH USA on an Associate Board, as sponsors, with volunteer recruitment, or at special events.  

Volunteers do not replace local staff. Volunteers enhance the lives of the children at NPH by providing services and support that are hard to find in Latin America. Volunteers do not replace staff, but instead work alongside local staff.  

Volunteers work in areas in which they have received training and education. We do not believe that just because you speak English you can teach English, nor should you be medicating children unless you are an MD, or providing therapies unless you are a certified therapist. For the most part, trained volunteer teachers
are in our classrooms (and not teaching core subjects; mostly ESL, working as classroom assistants and sometimes PE); licensed volunteer nurses are in our clinics; licensed volunteer Speech Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, and Art Therapists provide services. Many recent college graduates who have valuable previous experience working with kids serve in tutoring, in administrative roles, or offering programming like youth empowerment or youth ministry. We try to match a volunteer’s strengths and skills with NPH’s needs.

We do not require that volunteers pay to serve. NPH does not view volunteers as a source of revenue. Instead, NPH provides volunteers a stipend, room and board, and access to basic medical care. NPH USA covers the cost of medical insurance in case of hospitalization or evacuation. Volunteers do have some costs: they must cover their airfare, and any language classes
they may need.

We prepare our volunteers in the areas of intercultural communication and an immersion in partnership based service. Our volunteers all complete the Impact Abroad Toolkit, created by Serve Smart
It’s an online interactive course that dives deeply into exploring and coaching on partnership based (rather than charity based) service. Most of our volunteers also take the Intercultural Effectiveness Survey, “an instrument used by profit and non-profit organizations, including companies, government agencies and educational institutions. It was developed specifically to evaluate the competencies critical to interacting effectively with people who are from different cultures.”

NPH provides volunteers with guidelines about using photos, and sharing their experience online. NPH holds the dignity of the children central in their Child Media Policy. During orientation, volunteers are trained on the country specific policies about posting photos of children living at NPH. Volunteers are asked to share their blogs, and when necessary (rarely!) we do ask volunteers to edit content
to adjust or remove a photo or change some wording.  

We welcome any discussion about our International Volunteer Program, and invite you to celebrate the accomplishments of our talented International Volunteers. Their passion, dedication, and love for NPH is inspiring to us all!

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