There seems to be big differences between volunteer sending organisations and their purpose or goal of sending volunteers abroad. As examined in section 5.2.1, the narrative in MS' promotional material focuses on the intercultural meeting while also emphasising that that the volunteers can make a difference - a difference that remains vague and unexplored. To make the goal of MS' volunteer programme clearer, this section explores this difference.
In the explanation about the type of changes the volunteers can make at their placements, Mira Rønje explicates:
The volunteers rarely have the opportunity to make fundamental changes, but at their placement they can inspire people to view the opportunities of different players differently.
When we send out young women, it can help in the questioning of women's role and what women are capable off and what their opportunities should be. This brings in a perspective of equal rights by their mere presence [...]
Both Lasse Jensen and Mira Rønje dissociated strongly from the idea of volunteer work being development aid in the traditional sense (cf. section 2.6.2).
Mira Rønje The volunteers do not possess the expertise or have the time necessary for participating in bigger development projects [...]
Lasse Jensen [...] it is really the cultural meeting, which is interesting. Where people exchange positions and ideas and in this way try to develop the personal and working relationship.
The fact that volunteers cannot contribute to the bigger development projects does not mean that they cannot contribute with something meaningful at their volunteer placement. But these small contributions have to be properly contextualised for the volunteers, and hosts alike, so neither approach the project with wrong expectations. Mira Rønje explains that the projects the volunteers participate in, or initiate themselves, are commonly activities like a football tournament that
[...] makes the children feel a sense of community by working together and possibly gaining some success experiences and opportunities to unfold in different ways[...] It can
be tiny things that only move people's mind a centimetre - that is, the people’s perception of being seen and appreciated and heard and being able to change their own situation on a micro-level.
Many of the volunteers started small projects while at their placements. They were mainly small activities that could either inspire or give the kind of experiences Mira Rønje talks about above. Christian and Nanna, for example, started football training for the youth.
Nanna School ended last week and in the provinces of El Salvador there are absolutely no activities arranged for the children - so this had to be changed.
Christian When I saw them leave the [football] field the last time, [the girls] were talking about how they could continue with their team. It made me extremely proud [...]
Coming from different backgrounds with diverse traditions, both Nanna and Christian included the girls at football training and were able to inspire, and perhaps challenge, some of the local values on a small scale. Amanda, who worked at an orphanage, started an exercise activity for the children.
[...] they rarely leave the orphanage's surrounding walls unless they go to school. A trip somewhere else is therefore much desired.
Coming with a different perspective, the volunteers are able to see some of the small changes that can make a difference or inspire the communities they live in. These need not be physical activities but can also be through the exchange of perspectives.
Søren When a 20-year-old student in my class eagerly after class asks whether "I love/hate/whatever Jews", he is asking the question based on incorrect basic principles.
That is a) that you can hate an entire people and lump them together without treating any one unjustly and b) that all Jews are Zionist.
In this case, Søren, as an outsider, might be able to challenge or at least discuss some of these basic principles that underlie opinions and inspire in that way. Likewise, the volunteers expressed that they had changed and developed - inspired by the people they had met while volunteering.
5.6.1 Social change
Apart from gaining an increased understanding and awareness about the world, MS hopes the volunteers will bring their experiences home and continue as active citizens:
Mira Rønje [...] They can also make a difference by changing their own ideas about the power relations between the Global North and the Global South in that they are people of power themselves and have to accept a redistribution of goods [...] They can enter a struggle where they, when they return, to a large extent can participate in influencing these power structures, and hopefully make a change on a more structural level that redistributes goods and ensure people equal rights.
It is through the training that volunteers go in depth with these concepts of change. They are introduced to MS' values, the history of development work and social change theory. The objective is that
[t]he participants will gain an understanding of social change as creating lasting structural changes, be it social, cultural, political, economical, that benefit the poor and marginalised by giving them added influence on own life and future.
(MS, 2010, p. 17)
They furthermore strive to distinguish between social change at an individual and structural level, and the different levels of impact they entail (ibid).
As mentioned earlier, this concept of social change, although vividly present during the training, is strikingly absent from the promotional material. The potential gap it could provide between MS' goal and the volunteers' expectations appear to be closed after the training.
The findings from the volunteers suggest that they were engaged in their volunteer trip beyond mere enjoyment and self-realisation and that they thought about the broader context of how volunteering could change things.
Mette [...] being a volunteer is not always about the work you can do, but about watching and listening and understanding [...] Maybe it is something as simple as listening to someone’s story and letting the people at home know about it.
Volunteer 2 To a large degree, this [volunteer tourism] is development work for the Western world [...] If we get more and more of this kind [of people] it must, at some point, influence the decisions taken in relation to development aid [...]
Many of the volunteers expressed great interest in contributing to the writing of this study - this was perhaps also in their own quest for adding meaning and value to their stay.
Nonetheless, they were very enthusiastic about spreading the stories and experiences they had gained. After requesting permission to use her blog, Nanna answered:
[...] It would only make me happy - as us volunteers (or at least me) wish to spread our experiences as wide as possible to get people thinking and perhaps spread ever-widening circles.
According to Sherraden et al. (2008) global awareness could "enhance capacity to solve local, domestic, and international conflicts, and encourage support for development aid" (p. 411).
This study suggests that through training prior to their volunteer stay, volunteers can gain increased global awareness, and that this can inspire the volunteers for further action.
In the interviews, the volunteers all expressed their wish for engagement and their desire to become active citizens in one way or the other, and all three of them noted that their volunteer experience had influenced or confirmed their choice of further education. Actual long-term impacts on the volunteers would have to be explored in future research.
The above shows, that MS' training course attempts to meet the request by Simpson (2004) who believes the gap-year industry is lacking pedagogy for social justice, which she defines in its simplest form as "recognizing the existence of inequality, and then seeking social change" (p. 690).