Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Voluntourist

If you are considering volunteering overseas, you owe it to yourself to read the book of this title by Ken Budd, a 40-something editor who lives in the DC area. Impelled by grief over the sudden death of his father, and by the realization that he himself is not likely to be a father, he embarked on a journey to make his life more meaningful by volunteering in five different foreign countries for relatively extended periods.
He worked with children, both disabled and normal, he taught English, he worked to help preserve the rainforest in Costa Rica, he laboured in a Palestinian refugee camp on the West Bank, and near the Kenyan town of Mombasa. Budd explored many different types of volunteer assignments in various cultures, and recounts his experiences in an entertaining way. He sometimes learned as much from fellow volunteers as from the people he was trying to help.
Not all of his stories are likely to make you want to sign up for an assignment right away. He writes about the exhaustion associated with many of the ventures, and the culture shock. Volunteers usually live in rough conditions, and always encounter unexpected problems
. Budd's first big volunteer experience was in the rebuilding efforts in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and there he was fortunate enough to have a shared room at a Marriott Hotel, courtesy of the Knights of Malta. Most of the time, though, the facilities were far more modest and sometimes hard to tolerate (or at least they would have been for me.)
Budd doesn't seem to have experienced any great revelation about the meaning of life on account of his many volunteer efforts, but clearly they touched him deeply.
I applaud people like Budd who are willing to pay to put themselves in often difficult situations in order to help those in lesser developed countries. But based on my own considerable experience with volunteer work here in North America (everything from teaching English to serving on nonprofit boards, walking dogs to delivering meals on wheels,) I suspect the challenges of doing this type of thing overseas would not be for me. But it is very interesting to read about, and I recommend the book. My only minor criticism is that there was perhaps a little too much about the author, and no assessment that I could find on the impact of these types of programs on their target countries.

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Blogger Bruce Louis Dodson said...

Good information!

12:45 pm


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