The thing I like the most about the Pathfinders Project is the approach taken by the young people involved, led by Conor Robinson. They didn’t go into their year of volunteerism in other countries thinking they were the white saviors coming to help but as people coming to learn from local residents and to find ways to help them help themselves. Conor writes about the importance of the “volunteering to learn” approach:
“Is ‘voluntourism’ the new colonialism?” is an article that made its way around the internet recently. Although absurdly titled and poorly written, the article does make one important point about international volunteering: participants are people of privilege. Despite entering into situations they cannot possibly understand fully, volunteers often perceive themselves as the primary problem solvers. These volunteers fail to comprehend that sustainable change does not mean taking the lead, but empowering locals to do so. It means asking residents what problems they have identified and helping them acquire the resources to implement solutions.
A few months ago, we worked with Children of the Border to build 20 latrines in La Fond-Jeannette, Haiti. The Haitians don’t lack latrines because they don’t know how to build them. They lack latrines because the international aid money for post-earthquake rebuilding has disappeared into politicians’ pockets, leaving communities outside Port au Prince without paved roads. It takes several hours and hundreds of dollars to transport construction materials a few kilometers in the mountains just over the border from The Dominican Republic. We helped the residents of La Fond-Jeannette get the materials and then they taught us how to build the latrines.