Volunteer Vacations: Next Time, Ask them What they Really Want

I read a thoughtful piece  by Jeffrey Zaslow in yesterday’s WSJ headlined “When Good Deeds Turn Bad,” which chronicled some examples of people who tried to do good but didn’t actually help anyone.

In a Peruvian village, an aid group brought in Americans and Europeans who wanted to spend time volunteering and doing good work. Their mission? Build public toilets for the poor unwashed villagers.

But after a week of jolly hard work, the group ran out of money and time. It was time to go home, and feel good about how much work they had done instead of lazing on the beach.   But the toilets were never completed, despite the fact that the aid group thought they were such a good idea.

“When they asked people in the community what they wanted, they said that they really needed irrigation, and to have their bridge fixed, so they could take their vegetables to market.”

Eventually the gaping holes where the toilets were going to be built were filled in, since villagers were afraid their children would fall in them.