You might actually have seen it while browsing around the web, those advertisements about volunteering abroad. Especially if you live in Western Europe and Northern America, these advertisements are very common. And you might say, “why not?” Many of the advertisements are from reputable companies after all.
Especially the NGO “AIESEC” is well-known for this. Which many people trust, even though I prefer to say there are a lot of problematic things going on with the organization. And, no, I am not referring to them being proud of being partners with the internationally distrusted Chinese company Huawei, even though it would be a good reason already. It’s more related to statements like “youth-led”, the extremely short durations of many international opportunities on their website, how language teacher positions often require only the language they want to be taught but not the local language, and how texts like “Have the ability to deal with Autism” are hidden in descriptions and are not stated among the responsibilities or requirements.
Now, “youth-led” has primarily to do with semantics and not really a true problem. The thing about the term “youth” being that it officially means “the period between childhood and adult age”, which is the official meaning according to all dictionaries I checked. The end of childhood is the part which is hard to define, while the adult age is not, seeing as people state anywhere from 10 to 15 as the end of childhood. The adult age is an officially recognized age, also known as the age of majority, which depends on the state you live at, but is always 21 years old or below everywhere around the world. The term “youth” will actually not even apply in some countries, as in countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Indonesia, Myanmar and Yemen, the age of majority is set right after childhood.
The misusage of the term “youth” by AIESEC has probably to do with the United Nations, who are well-known for using terms in different ways than their official meaning. I shouldn’t have to say this, but the misusage of the term “orphan” is the most obvious other example of it.
Anyhow, the other parts are true problems. And most parts of it I am not going to explain in-depth, simply because you could look up the term “voluntourism” for thousands of articles explaining it all. Searching “AIESEC voluntourism” would even give you many articles about these exact problems related to AIESEC, including their promotion of what is known as “orphanage voluntourism”.
What I do want to look at more closely is the part I said about them not even clearly noting when volunteers need to work with special need children. As I shouldn’t need to explain, I know all about it myself, being autistic myself and raising 2 amazing autistic boys. I love them and know how to handle a lot of their problems due to my own autism experiences and the studies I did. However, that being said, I do still struggle with them myself quite some times. And the people AIESEC is officially sending are around my own age with most often no experiences at all. As while checking the required backgrounds and skills of one opportunity stating in the description to “have the ability to deal with autism”, nothing related to it is said at all. It requires a background in languages, communication skills, creativity and presentation skills. That is simply not enough when you work with autistic children and also exactly the reason why many autistic children end up dropping out of school.
And it’s not like they simply can be taught quickly to handle autistic children either, as it is far more complicated than you might think by looking up some definition of autism on the web. It’s the whole reason that autism is known as a “spectrum disorder”, as literally every person with autism is different. It’s like both of my sons are diagnosed under the previous definition of “Heller’s syndrome”, but they are nothing alike in the way they need to be treated. My son Vladislav can basically take care of himself most of the time, he primarily needs emotional support and lots of love. However, my son Anton needs a lot of hand-holding, he needs you to be there all the time, he needs a lot of hugs as otherwise he feels unloved, he needs someone who he trusts as otherwise he can’t handle things and has meltdowns, he needs help sorting his thoughts as he has problems doing it himself, he needs it to be explained how you are feeling emotionally as he is unable to see or understand it without it, and I can go on for a bit more. Their difficulties are the reason why Anton is homeschooled by my fiancée and myself, while Vladislav follows distance education. The name of the condition is the same, but their actual conditions are very different. And we are lucky, as here in Poland homeschooling is actually allowed, in quite some other countries it’s forbidden. A notable example is the Netherlands, a country which is often among the best countries when it comes to education, that while they are actually far behind because their only education system is through schools, while distance learning and homeschooling are forbidden. Maybe COVID will change this, but I can’t deny that I sincerely doubt this based on their country having become far too conservative in recent years.
When it comes to autism, a child can be hurt long-lasting by improper treatment. I have many adult autistic friends who are still scarred by their experiences of schooling and incapable teachers. And that’s exactly what AIESEC is promoting. As a good student-teacher relation is important for a child to receive proper education. It needs to be based on trust, which is not possible in a short window of time. Mentors and teachers shouldn’t just shift every few months. It’s why I still have contact with my mentees in Ukraine today, and have become a digital mentor to them instead, with their approval. But more than anything, it requires for a teacher to understand a student. It’s why big classrooms are so often noted as a huge no-no when it comes to schooling, as a teacher isn’t able to give every child the attention and care they deserve. The problem related to this in most countries being that there are not enough teachers, which includes the countries where AIESEC is taking away teachers to send them a few months to another countries. They contribute to the problems many countries experience when it comes to education.
As you probably have noticed by now, I have not used the term “Philanthropy” in what I just wrote. There’s a simple reason for this, which is the meaning of the word “Philanthropy”. Philanthropy means etymologically “love for humanity” and that’s not something I see when it comes to organizations like AIESEC, As what I see when it comes to AIESEC is the love of money. As that’s the other thing I haven’t named yet, the fact that you have to pay AIESEC a huge amount of money to volunteer. Most of their opportunities will cost you around 400 Euros if you’re selected. As some of the opportunities have salaries, it is quite clear the fees are for AIESEC and not their partners. After all, otherwise the fees could be substracted from first month of salary, or from the overall salary over the whole period of time. Beyond that, it causes a lot of questions related to their premium partners. As when their partners include the Dutch banking group ING and the German logistics group Deutsche Post DHL, why are there fees regardless? What part have these partners in relation to their actions to begin with? The answer is not able to be found on their website at the time I am writing this. Maybe it’s just the ability for these partners to say they support charitable causes. Well, personally I wouldn’t want my company to be related to an organization with so many bad practices and reasons to be disliked.
All in all, I have to ask myself who is benefiting from AIESEC, and the only answer I can give is AIESEC. Beyond the massive fee, the unclear conditions and requirements is why volunteers, teachers and others don’t benefit from them. After all, there are many reputable organizations which don’t require any fee and have clearly stated what is required of the people. It’s not the children who should be supported by them because of the voluntourism part. And it’s not even their partners, because of what AIESEC shows to the world.
The only honest and fair judgement I would make is, if AIESEC really cared about all parties, they would stop hiring people abroad and look instead locally. They start paying these local teachers and volunteers fair wages for the work they do. They help pay with the educations they might need to fulfil the needs of the children. And they stop taking any fee or anything alike. That’s what the world needs, not the cash-grabbing voluntourism organization they are right now.