I first wrote about my volunteer experience in March 2014, three months after returning from a two-month long placement at the Shining Stars Children’s Home. The home, located in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal, is operated administratively by Volunteer Services Nepal (VSN). My placement there was brokered by Global Volunteer Network (GVN), a New Zealand based charitable organization,
To place this post in context, I have to tell you that when I wrote the initial post, I was feeling rather like a casualty of a war.
On returning home, I was invited, as are all volunteers, to provide feedback to GVN. I did so, honestly and in good faith. The ensuing correspondence stretched out over three frustrating months. My feedback was not welcomed — I received the whistle blower’s reward. My concerns, about deficits in the children’s nutrition, health care and discharge planning, were met with stony silence, counter-arguments or disingenuous assurances that the ‘serious allegations’ I had made would be dealt with at some time in an indeterminate future. Questions and criticisms regarding lack of transparency around financial arrangements were met with defensiveness, denial and obfuscation. I picked up my pen.
This month (February 2015), after a total of 15 months of frustration and anger, I was contacted by Colin Salisbury of Global Volunteer Network with an offer to start a new dialogue. He wanted me to modify my March 2014 blog. The content — and this I will tell those of you who missed reading it (it’s now gone) — was excoriating. If I had been Colin or any of the staff mentioned I would have wanted the blog to disappear. Colin explained to me that the blog had, in fact, impacted on the reputation of GVN and affected volunteer recruitment and donations.
I and another volunteer, who had also been treated high-handedly when she voiced concerns and criticisms similar to mine, were offered an apology by Colin and an acknowledgement that our concerns and criticisms had been valid. By way of expiation he agreed to donate a substantial sum of money directly to the children at the home. This money, identified principally for their further education, will go directly to the educational institutions. In addition, Colin has also agreed to make funding arrangements – particularly the use to which the Volunteer Program Fee is put – transparent and easy for GVN site visitors to understand.
War is always bad but it is sometimes necessary. The experience of having my words fall on stony ground was frustrating. But worse was being a witness to a social wrong and feeling powerless to do anything about it. I used my pen like a weapon. It’s all I could do. I feel sad that I needed to be heavy handed. War is not fun. I feel bad for the hurt feelings of GVN staff, and the hurt feelings of staff at their partner organization in Nepal. I wish it could have been different but war is sometimes necessary. Colin Salisbury has said that he wants to move forward. I also want to move forward. The war between us is ended and the issues, more or less, resolved.