Posts Tagged With: nicaragua

In Defense of the Voluntourist and the real “Problem with Little White Girls”

Two weeks ago, I helped build a home in Nicaragua for Dora.

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Dora is a 73-year-old mother of 13 children, none of whom support her financially. One of her children, Blanca, still lives with her and is mentally disabled.

I was on a Global Village trip with Habitat for Humanity. In truth, we built a “home addition” and not a full-sized home, but now she and her daughter have a solid living space. It will be the first time Dora has lived in a house with more than a dirt floor.

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I and eight other volunteers arrived at the work site to find the foundation just completed. Over the course of five days we assisted the Nicaraguan construction team with the build.  On my first day, I helped cut, bend,and tie rebar.  On my second day I got down and dirty with the mortar – laying it for the next layer and putting it between the blocks.

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Day three was concrete for extra cinder block stability.  Day four was shoveling.  I shoveled gravel and fine sand.  I went to a quarry where we used pick axes and shovels to gather more dirt to level out the flooring.  It was hour after hour of moving dirt and rock by hand, shovel, and wheelbarrow.  Day five, the last day, we mixed batch after batch of concrete (again, with only shovels for tools) and poured Dora her new floor.

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I was hot, dirty, and downright proud of working hard enough to get crusts of dirt in my elbows.

A week or two before my trip to Nicaragua a blog article was getting buzz on the Internets.  A young woman wrote a hot article called The Problem with Little White Girls. In it, she questioned the idea of being a “voluntourist.”  I’m paraphrasing, but in a sense she was arguing that unskilled volunteers were, more or less, useless.  That, instead, the money used for a plane ticket, food, etc, would be put to much better use simply being donated to a cause. I even got some flack from people I knew when I asked for donations for my trip, all stemming from this article.

At the time, I disagreed.  After doing this trip, I disagree even more.  While I do think she makes some good points and I understand her intention in writing the article wasn’t to cause harm, I do think that she missed a lot of the point of being a voluntourist. In her blog, she assumed that the sole motivation people have when they volunteer is to help others. It may sound strange, but that wasn’t my goal at all. I will be honest with you. I had the following three reasons and none of them had much to do with helping other people.

1) I wanted to go on a short vacation.
2) I wanted to vacation to a country that I felt was unsafe for me, as a 25-year old white girl, to go to alone.
3) I wanted to think that the money I was spending on my vacation would go to more than just the tourism industry (although I knew that would happen, too).

This is what I got:

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SUCCESS. All of my goals for this trip were met. I saw an incredible country, I met some wonderful people – both local and foreign.  I relaxed in hammocks and ate good food and did super touristy things like go to a volcano crater for 5 minutes worth of picture snapping.

There is the true Problem with Little White Girls and my main issue with the blog post against being a voluntourist. We too often stop ourselves from doing something because we’re not an expert.  I may have been a little white girl but my best turned out to be better than I expected. With only minimal instruction from the Project Manager I learned tasks quickly. I kept myself busy. I surprised myself with my own physical ability to do real work all day.

They didn’t need a project manager or a mason for this project – they had already hired all the qualified, skilled Nicaraguan workers they needed.  What they needed were the people willing to do the physical labor, and I was there to do my best. I couldn’t shovel as long as the other workers, but I did shovel.  I couldn’t take a full wheelbarrow up the hill, so I just went twice.  Yes, I was smaller, weaker, and slower than the professionals – but that doesn’t mean that my work wasn’t valid.

If you’re thinking about doing it, then do it.  There are so many volunteer opportunities out there – if you want to do one then figure out which one suits you best and make it happen. Your skills, your money, your kind smile will help someone out there, I promise.

P.S. I’m probably going ahead this time next year to Bolivia – if anyone wants to join, let me know!

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Time to Roam! This gal is going to Nicaragua!

Oh man – it feels so GOOD to say that.  When I don’t have a trip on my schedule I get all antsy.  Now I’m just nervous/excited.  Years ago I put “do a volunteer travel program” on my bucket list and now I’m going to check it off.  I’ve signed up to travel for Habitat for Humanity and help do a build for about 10 days in, of all places, Nicaragua.

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This is why I love doing this kind of stuff.  When I did classes in Spain last year, I found myself in Salamanca, a little town I probably never would have visited, but that’s where the classes were, so I went.  It was incredible and now it’s one of my favorite cities. Now I’m going on a new adventure. I would never have thought to go to Nicaragua.  Latin America, while interesting, hasn’t been on my radar when it comes to “where should I go next”?  Now it is, and I can’t wait to discover it.

Of course, the main reason people don’t travel often is because of the (lack of) dolla dolla bills.  This, then, is my nudge, nudge, wink, wink to ask you to think about donating to my trip.  The cost for my 10 day stint, sans airfare, is just under $2000.  This covers the transportation to the build site, funded by Habitat, my lodging while there, all building materials, paying the construction manager (a local Nicaraguan), food, and then additional funds to make sure this, and other Habitat builds, can keep on going.  Obviously, I believe in the cause and it would be wonderful if you could donate just for that.

However, I’m going to give you a bit more incentive.  In an effort to sweeten the pot, I’m putting in my own milestones. If you donate, you get more than just a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.  I offer the following prizes:

DONATE and you will receive:

$15 – A picture of your name written in the sand (we’re building on the beach) with a thank you – likely a thumbs up with be included.

$30 – Your name written in the sand and a handwritten Nicaraguan postcard.

$50 – Your name written in the sand or a handwritten Nicaraguan postcard (you pick!) and a Nicaraguan souvenir (no idea what, yet, but I’ll find something cute!).

$100+ – A video of me dancing and singing obnoxiously to any song you’d like. This will likely be done on the beach but, as I’m going to need the assistance from people I have yet to meet, I’m not going to promise a location just yet. If I get a lot of these I may limit the length of the song since this will be highly embarrassing.  You’re welcome.  You can also get the name in the sand, postcard, and souvenir too 🙂

I know!  WHO can resist?!  Did I mention that your donation is tax-deductible?  BECAUSE IT IS.  So much good!

Link link link – tell your friends!

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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