Humanitarian missions, or humanitarian holidays?

Going abroad in order to help those in need is a wonderful thing. Humanitarian missions really help you to realize how lucky you are and how random it is when you complain about your starbucks not being warm enough, or, how annoying your neighbors are.

Some people’s worries, in some parts of the world or even in your own town,  are “How am I am going to feed my children today? Will I have a roof tomorrow? Are my children will ever have the chance to go to school so they do not end up like me?

It is extremely important to choose the right organisation, NGO or else before you leave. Nowadays, you can easily find organisations which will offer you countless humanitarian missions abroad “all inclusive”. All inclusive meaning:

  • food
  • transfer from the airport
  • accommodation
  • travel insurence
  • A personal advisor before you leave who will answer to all your question and who will arrange everything before your arrival.
  • Help you with the visa issues if needed

In 2015 I was going through some hard time and chose to focus  on others rather than myself. Therefore, I decided to go to Cambodia as a volunteer for a three months mission. I was born there and adopted at age one, so it was even more important for me to plan everything in the most perfect way.

While searching on the internet I found one of these organisations. I will not say any names in this article except those I truly recommend. If you wish the name of the organisation I went with, you can contact me by mail if you have any questions. 

Thus, I contacted the organisation and we talked about my projects. My personal advisor answered to all of my questions. Everything was going very well until he told me the cost for a three months mission. SIX THOUSAND EUROS!!! I almost choked… I told him that it was a huge amount of money and that it could be a barrier to so many people. He assured that all the money was going to the local association. The organisation I was leaving with is present in twenty countries all over the world. However, they do not have association of their own, they fund and bring volunteers to the locals NGOs. 

I had to think about it because we were talking about six thousand euros… A few days later my decision was made and I decided to leave. Thinking that it was worth it, and that money could make the difference to so many people. So I left on the 9th of September with so many dreams in my head. 

A driver picked me up at the airport (Phnom penh) and drove me to the place I would stay for the next three months. I got really surprised when we arrived. There was a gard in front of the entrance. The apartment was huge. A three flours flat, with a cook, and a cleaner and 4 or five tuk tuk waiting. I got introduced to my flat mates and in the afternoon, I had a meeting at the organisation’s local head office in order to get some instructions. 

I had chosen “the care mission”. This mission consisted in working in schools with young children, teaching them basic english and helping the teachers. We were working by pairs. Thus, the first day of “work” I was so excited, I brought with me all the books, pens, and games I had bought for the children. To get to the school, we had tuk tuk drivers. And at the end of the day they were bringing us home. When I arrived all the kids and the two teachers welcomed us. They were aged between three to six years old. The first day we just observed to get an idea. A day starts at 9AM and ends around 4pm with a two hours  break at 12h30pm for lunch. 

The kids were wonderful. They were so full of happiness and life. But as I was hugging them, I realized How bad they needed help… Their teeth were all rotten or simply missing as they had fallen out due to malnutrition. Their heads were full of lices and their clothes were filthy… But they were all so happy… I almost cried. I could of had been one of these children. I wanted to give them the best of me. I was so grateful for the incredible chance my parents gave me by adopting me. 

The school was running by the association KHEMARA. A local NGO which has built ten schools all over Cambodia. Most of their “funds” were from the organisation I left with. Khemera is doing an amazing job to help those children. To give them the chance to get an education. However the more the days were passing the more I felt useless and  there was something off. Let me explain. 

The first week at school, I was sitting in a bench doing nothing. Was giving a 10 minutes english class and that was it, except taking pictures with the children. We were asking to the teacher if we could be helpful in any ways, but their replies were always “no”. After two weeks we had the task to repaint the walls which was fun to do a we were actually doing something. After three weeks, I realized that all the school furnitures that we had brought for the kids were left aside in a room and there were boxes and boxes of them untouched. What chocked me the most was probably to witness that the kids were playing with broken toys, and writing with pens with almost no ink left inside. We asked to the teachers the meaning of this but they pretended not to understand. At some point we brought the new toys and the kids were all so excited and happy… The only moment where the teachers took out the brand new toys, pens and notebooks was when the official photographer of the organisation I left with, came in order to take some shots to post on their website. WHAT?? I was furious, but what could I do…. After a month nothing had changed… Every day we were explaining and complaining to our local advisor about the situation…. Asking if there was anything we could do, we had so many ideas such as, creating a  vegetable garden in the backyard of the school in order to have a playful way to teach them the veggies, or to play with them all together so they can learn the fun way. Unfortunately, the answer was always NO.

One day, I learned that the president of Khemara has been sacrificing her salary for the past three monts in order to pay her employees. How is it possible? Khemara does not get any help from the government, therefore, the only funds that they have are from private donations, and the organization I left with. I could not understand Khemara’s financial issues. I paid six thousand euros, and most of the volunteers were staying the same amount of time, so where was our money going? Surely in the huge apartment, the two guards and the cook. and the CEO’s pocket.   After a month and a half, I went to the head office of the organisation (which was running by some europeans) and I exploded. I told them that all of this was outrageous. I was coming from far away in order to help those children, that I had paid a huge amount of money, and that sadly I was not seeing were the money was going. And despite all our ideas to help, none of them were accepted. I Told them they had two options. Weather  they were finding a solution or they were paying me back and I would take the first flight back home. Of course they did not pay me back. They sent me in an other school and it was so much better. I was giving 40 minutes of english class, participating in all the activities.

IMG_3084

Khemara was the only reason I stayed. They are all doing their best, but they would be so much more successful if they were managing their association on they own! Not by this organisation which, ok, sends them volunteers. but they are not doing much more. The money the volunteers are paying, no one knows where it goes. If you want to help Khemara please do!!! Engaged yourself as a volunteer directly with them. You will pay much less money, and the money will go directly to them. 

Organisations, like the one I contacted are only there to make money… They pretend to help associations around the world but I can promisse you… They are not helping.  I would of preferred not having drivers, a “luxurious” flat, a cook and sleeping in hamacs with no running water, and being truly useful rather than  this.

So once again, if you want to help go for it but be careful… Contact directly the association, do not use a third party asking for thousands of euros. I talked to several volunteers there who were on medical missions. There were nurses, medical students… and 80% of them were thinking of leaving. Not because of the locals… but because they were gutted of all the thing they have been sold by the organisation and once they arrived, they realized that they were completely useless, or the locals did not know how to deal with them, and that they have given their money to the wrong persons.

link to Khemara’s website

 

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