If you go
What: Overseas Volunteering: What Hurts, What Helps
When: 1:05 to 2:25 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Boulder High School, 1604 Arapahoe Ave.
Info: To see the full Conference on World Affairs schedule, go to colorado.edu/cwa.
Before signing up for a short trip to work in an orphanage or build latrines in a far-away country, check your motivations.
That's the advice of Tori Hogan, author of "Beyond Good Intentions: A Journey into the Reality of International Aid."
"Why are you doing this?" she said. "Is it about your ego? Is it about making yourself feel good? When people are honest with themselves, they make different choices."
Hogan, along with Sarah Holewinski, executive director of the Center for Civilians in Conflict, Stuart Schoffman, a writer on politics, religion and culture based in Israel, and Maggie Duncan Simbeye, founder of the Dare Women's Foundation in Tanzania, will talk about "what hurts" and "what helps" when it comes to overseas volunteering in a Conference on World Affairs session Wednesday afternoon.
Simbeye regularly hosts foreign volunteers through her foundation.
She grew up in a middle-class family and went to work as a cook at a lodge to put her younger siblings through college. She later went to work at Dorobo Safaris and learned to be a guide, one of just five female guides in the country.
Simbeye founded the Dare Women's Foundation in 2013 to help empower women and promote environmental conservation. The foundation's projects include helping women obtain feminine hygiene products so they can work and go to school throughout the month, providing nutrition education and bringing children from orphanages to the country's national parks.
She said volunteers from outside the country can serve as catalysts for important conversations. The foundation places volunteers with families for homestay, and the questions that outsiders ask about problematic practices, such as poaching or burning wood for charcoal production, are part of ongoing community education about the value of natural resources.
"People in our communities value their culture," she said, "The questions volunteers ask, the conversations you have, it makes people think."
Simbeye said many people in Tanzania will pay more for canned goods when fresh fruits and vegetables are available in the market because they believe they are more modern and hence more desirable. Cooking with foreign volunteers can help them realize people in the United States don't all cook with canned goods and many prefer fresh produce.
There are also challenges, though. Some volunteers need to be educated about local standards and culture. Simbeye said her programs are "very strict" and discourage volunteers from going to nightclubs and drinking because it creates a bad impression.
Hogan said many volunteers want to help, but they would be better off going as learners.
Hogan is skeptical of short-term volunteer opportunities where unskilled young people do a project they don't have the training to do well, and she's especially concerned about short visits to work in orphanages, where children who have already experienced abandonment repeatedly in their young lives might become attached to visitors who will soon leave.
At the same time, overseas volunteer opportunities can help people learn the listening and empathy skills that will serve them well if they want to work in international development.
"If it hadn't been for my own volunteer experiences, I wouldn't have gotten into international development work," she said. "Having those experiences when you're young can really light a spark."
Hogan said volunteers should look for opportunities where they can have a longer stay in one community, where they have skills that can actually make a difference, where local communities have asked for help and been involved in identifying the solutions and where they will stay in the community and not go back to a hotel at the end of the day.
And don't overlook volunteer opportunities to help closer to home.
"You don't have to go halfway around the world to make a difference," she said.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Erica Meltzer at 303-473-1355 or firstname.lastname@example.org.