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Via Brave New Traveler: Changing The World On Vacation, Documentary Film

By Kate | Permalink | No Comments | September 7th, 2007 | Trackback

Brave New Traveler founder Ian MacKenzie has a great habit of letting the Volunteer Logue in on things when something relevant is published on his site via the Contact Us page. The latest is an interview with filmmaker Daniela Kon, who recently finished filming Changing the World On Vacation: NGO Volunteers and the Politics of Compassion.

Kon follows the story of grassroots organization PEPY (Protect the Earth, Protect Yourself), which built a school in Cambodia and finances it by offering volunteer vacations.

You can watch a 16-minute clip at the Deeda Productions website, and find out how you can help support the production and distribution of the film.

In the clip, we learn that the average rural Cambodian has 2.9 years of education, and see a young girl who just missed four months of school because her bicycle was hit by a motorbike and broken. We watch as kids practice brushing their teeth with Colgate, and listen to clips from interviews with several experienced aid workers. This group includes Scott Neeson, former head of 20th Century Fox who radically changed his life and founded an orphanage in Cambodia, a VSO recruiter, and a former Peace Corps volunteer who is currently the Bangkok director of Cross Cultural Solutions.

Inspired by her own love of film and volunteer experiences in Thailand, India and Cambodia, Daniela Kos hopes that her film will be a catalyst for discussion, and that it will “allow citizens and policymakers to rethink their social responsibility, their realistic potential to ‘make a difference’ and help re-formulate more effective strategies for sustainable development in humanitarian aid and Volun-tourism projects.”

The site also goes into greater detail about the content of the film – the part that caught my eye was:

We are familiar with campaigns by established organizations like the UN, the World Bank, US Aid or celebrity-endorsed projects…These familiar promotional efforts tell us nothing about the different agendas of the individuals involved…nothing about their everyday struggles over time, nothing about the divergent effects of their work on the local communities and themselves, and nothing about the personal, political and social potholes that stand in the way of doing aid work responsibly.

This documentary will.

My personal observation about media attention in the field of aid is that it tends to focus disproportionately on what I believe is a relatively small number of for-profit or intermediary organizations organizing voluntourism trips. While this theme is mentioned in the site, it seems to me that the scope of the documentary is much wider, and I am especially interested in seeing how large-scale aid projects are covered. It strikes me that while it is relatively easy to call out an organization out for charging money for projects that don’t produce the measurable results we’d like to see in two weeks or a month – it is much harder to critically evaluate those multi-million “non-profit” aid projects which we accept as good without question – and hardest of all to question whether our own assumptions and attitudes about aid may be part of the problem.

If this documentary appeals to you, also be on the lookout for Beyond Good Intentions.

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