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.
That’s good news….It was worth the fight. Your actions will benefit many people. Well done..
Hi. I’m the reviewer who linked to your original blog on TripAdvisor, and, though I don’t really remember the details, I remember being disturbed enough by your blog to pass it on. Kudos to you for getting GVN to right their wrongs (though I note that the issues are only “more or less” resolved.) I admire your persistence and willingness to fight for the children, and am glad it paid off.
Thanks missmyvw. Your action in linking my blog in your TripAdvisor response was instrumental in what followed! Much of the traffic to my blog came via TripAdvisor. So thank you! And the children thank you too. I’m hoping the updated blog gets traffic and even more hoping people will be moved enough by the children’s predicament to make a donation. Nothing much up to now. But I live in hope. I’m also hoping that a reputable Nepal-based charity might wish to take this on — apprenticeships, mentoring, support for these children as they return to the impoverished and isolated spot on earth that they call home. Thanks again for taking an interest. It is appreciated.
I was directed to your blog from trip advisor, as well. It is very unfortunate of the situation you were put in and that no one was willing at first to hear what you had to say. I do have another question for you. If you may not necessarily recommend that company for volunteering, are there any that you do?
Hello Lauren. Please forgive the delay in responding to your question and thank you for posting a comment. I can’t recommend any company. I have personal experience of only GVN. In retrospect I can tell you that the experience for me was interesting and rewarding. I don’t do well on tourist buses taking snapshots, or shopping for souvenirs, I like to roll my sleeves up. I had the opportunity to do that at the children’s home in the Kathmandu Valley. (One of my blog entries describes how I spent my time there — and it was interesting and fun). But I know, in retrospect, that the little good I did would pale in comparison to what could have been achieved if my volunteer fees, travel costs, etc., had been put towards the children’s education and their general care and feeding instead of my ‘voluntourism’. I wouldn’t try and dissuade anyone from embarking on a similar venture, but go in clear-sighted — you are doing this for YOU rather than for the children or other recipients of your well-intentioned help. I would also advise a dialogue with any agency you are considering giving your money to — beginning with the question: ‘Where exactly does my volunteer fee go’. If they give you an explanation that is hard to follow be suspicious. Anything can be said clearly if the goal of the communication is clarity and if the agency values transparency. One expects a percentage of one’s volunteer fee to go to the agency overheads — but how much? If I had been wiser and less enamoured of the BIll Gates recommendation I would have asked the questions I now advise you to ask.
Hi Anne, I am currently considering doing two weeks in Thailand and Cambodia with Bamboo GVN. I am a retired teacher and thought working with the rescued elephants and teaching the children would be a way I could give back. As usual though, I am a sceptic when handing over money to someone or some organization I don’t know. I was sorry to not be able to read your original post, but am happy that things worked out in the end. Kudos to you, you and I are very much alike in that regard….. I have been trying to find reviews of Bamboo GVN but not with much luck. I realize now that your position with GVN has changed but just wondered if you have any insights for me before I go ahead and book my volunteer spot. Thanks
I am considering also volunteering but in Costa Rica with GVN. Just saw this and was wondering if you did in fact go and if so, how was it? Thanks in advance for any advice you may have!