America Uncharted: Volunteering Abroad in the United States

In August of 2015, the Philadelphia Tribune published an article highlighting a German woman’s experience as a volunteer in the United States in Detroit, Michigan. Fiona Spindeldreider, a recent college graduate, spent a few weeks working in a community garden planted by the NGO, Action Reconciliation Service for Peace, as a part of a larger revitalization project founded in the wake of Detroit’s economic collapse and political turmoil. While noble, such endeavors are not unique. A Google search of ‘international volunteering’ provides countless pages of links to organizations that either send volunteers abroad or connect would-be volunteers to organizations that do, but what makes Spindeldreider’s story newsworthy—at least by U.S. standards—is that she chose to spend her time, skills, and resources in the United States.

This year, GoOverseas.com released a report listing the 15 most searched international volunteering destinations, and not only was the U.S. not among them, it did not even make honorable mention (2014 Official, 2015). North America was also one of the least searched regions (2014 Official, 2015).  In 2014 the same site published a survey showing that more than half of the people who decided to volunteer abroad were motivated by the idea of “making a difference,” and 62% chose their program based on the host country’s lack of “volunteers and development” and “school resources” (Salvesence, 2014). These statistics could suggest that overlooked countries are developed and do not lack internal resources for fields such as education or that they are perceived in this way.

For its part, the United States is a world superpower with a wealth of resources, but even so, regions of the nation like the Detroit, Michigan area and the Mississippi Delta region are arguably in dire straits. Since the collapse of its major industries and exposition of corrupt politicians, Detroit has been struggling to stay afloat financially while the poverty rate in the Mississippi Delta region is 40% (economist).  Mississippi has also had a history of racial and social tumult with blacks disproportionately representing whites in poverty stricken populations. Both education and employment rates in these regions have taken huge hits and domestic nonprofits have taken notice. Teach for America, an organization that sends volunteer teachers to areas of high need offers additional incentives to those willing to serve in Mississippi and Detroit long term and The Action Reconciliation Service for Peace, Fiona Spindeldreider’s organization of choice, engages in many projects in Detroit focused on topics including social services, civic education, human rights protection, and economic equality.

While the goals and methods of individual organizations should be investigated by anyone interested in aligning with them, the existence of organizations such as Teach for America and The Action Reconciliation Service suggest that there is an opportunity for fellow citizens of the global community to effect meaningful change in America. Google searches do return substantial information for those who wish to travel to the United States in order to volunteer, but it is worth noting that organizations should be evaluated with quite a great deal of scrutiny—though perhaps no more than should be employed when making any major decision. A person should identify the measurable goals of an organization, evaluate the alignment of these goals with the organization’s activity, and pinpoint the purpose of any money requested by the organization. Informed by those guidelines and armed with passion, there is no reason that the United States can’t be a legitimate overseas volunteer destination. In the move toward global sustainability and international cooperation, no useful venture should go unpursued.

 

Written By: Iselee Hill

 

2014 Official Volunteer Abroad Trends Report. (2015, April 21). GoOverseas.com [Web post]. Retrieved from http://www.gooverseas.com/volunteer-abroad/industry-trends/annual-report

Hicks, Mark. (2015, August 19). Overseas Volunteers Help Tend Detroit Community Garden [Web post]. Philadelphia Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.phillytrib.com/overseas-volunteers-help-tend-detroit-community-garden/article_4d809d50-8df3-5482-8fc6-a0facbe25c4b.html

Salvesen, Anis. (2014, March 20). Why and How People Choose Meaningful Travel Abroad [Web post]. Retrieved from http://www.gooverseas.com/company-news/why-how-people-choose-meaningful-travel-abroad

Scratching a Living. (2013, June 8). The Economist [Web post]. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21579025-shocking-rate-depopulation-rural-south-scratching-living