November 15, 2016 | By Noelle Sullivan, PhD
In the same week the US presidential election dominated headlines, at the International Association for Volunteer Effort conference in Mexico City, Shalil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, addressed the crowd, saying, “in the ecosystem of social good, there is room for every type of approach. As long as we share some common values and are working towards positive social good.” Volunteerism is important and, properly channeled, can be beneficial.
Frequently, we consider poor and vulnerable populations so needy they’re thankful for any help they can get. However, in the realm of international medical volunteering, there are nuances and complexities overlooked when we make room for “every type of approach” without taking seriously the tremendous responsibility that should accompany the desire to help. Unskilled volunteers should do unskilled labor, not professional work that, done wrong, could cause harm.