With Module 2, Torque takes on the emotionally-charged, tricky issue of voluntourism. It was a fascinating expose of the "noble" idea of travelling abroad to do good.
The line-up of speakers had strong opinions on the subject, from different angles. Leigh Matthews, co-ordinator of Rethink Orphanages shone light on the harms (yes, harms!) of orphanages. It’s surprising to consider that most children in orphanages actually have a living parent. Their parents send them into institutionalised care with the mistaken idea of a better future. But the inconsistency of care-givers and loss of stable family unit can lead to dysfunctional social relationships for these orphanage-raised children. A sobering point of consideration for those travelling to or donating to orphanages in places such as Cambodia.
Dr Kate Drummond, director of Specialists without Borders(SWB), shared more about their mission: to provide medical educational seminars in developing countries. Instead of tackling the downstream, tertiary clinical care, SWB goes upstream by equipping local health professionals with essential knowledge and skills. Dr Drummond strongly believes in skilled volunteering--you only go overseas to do something, if you are very proficient at that something. Unskilled volunteers (such as medical students) would be more helpful doing simple tasks such as food serving.
Dr. Bridget Williams, Acting manager of Effective Altruism Australia, further elaborated on how we can use our resources to produce the greatest impact. With the finite amount of time, money, energy and skill sets, how can we best make a difference in someone else’s life? That’s where Effective Altruism comes in, filling the gap between the altruism drive to give back and the practicalities of how to go about doing so. It is not just how much we give, but to whom we give to.
Medical student Elizabeth Chacko rounded off by tapping into her experience volunteering in Nepal, as part of Monash University Medical Students’ Society (MUMUS)’s TeamMed.
After the lectures and a homely dinner, we started on the workshop: creating our own voluntourism programme for students. As you can imagine, creating an ethically sound, sustainable and interesting placement for students was quite challenging and sparked some rather lively discussion. In such a densely populated space, it was difficult to find something interesting that students could do without causing harm or disadvantage to a community, and most groups opted to investigate sex education as a student-friendly way to promote health. Integrating criteria like sustainability, data collection before and after to measure impact within the community and volunteer groups also helped us think more professionally about the implementation and ongoing assessment of these programs. Ultimately, the team "NCD Pacific" won the contest with their proposal to train elders and respected locals in the Pacific Islands to teach youth about NCD prevention strategies.
Overall, it was an amazing night with plenty of food for thought. It's good to be aware of the complexities in our overseas placements.
Written by Dolly Png.