It's fine to have people working in development sector with degrees from the elite colleges. But even if they are good at statistics and analysis, they cannot be decision-makers without a grassroots experience. Problem with today’s education is that it doesn't have any relationship to the real world.Images get reinforced over time with newspaper, media and cinema. Innocent Villagers, Shrewd Businessmen, Corrupt bureaucracy and Selfish Political leaders become stereotype. Such perception breaks with each intersection and performance in the field.
Living in the village with no other business but to follow native life in the present day of social media buzz and 24*7 connectivity seems bizarre. But one sees the traditions, ceremonies and transactions over and over again. What it leaves one with temporary chaos in the beginning. In addition to fostering mutual understanding, perpetually curiosity and occasionally confused volunteer start to see the way of living of a community. A long stint of month or more can create less-domineering, nonjudgmental volunteers who are not obsessed with the pursuit of the emotional highs (and photo ops) of the altruism they put effort for. It makes volunteer adapt to the culture, to be flexible, relevant and realistic. Even the long times doesn't alter you so much as the people you meet along the way shape you.
True development cannot be heralded without market, intellectual, cultural and scholarly liberalization. The very best mainstream economists/scientists were the radical youths who questioned authority when they were students. An exposure visit can give limited understanding but volunteerism/internship grooms a different aspect of personality. Our rural side has survived without services of elite rich throughout ages. They will survive but a youth needs mixed dose of idealism, activism and academic expertise. The volunteer takes more than what it gives. Giving back can be very good for career. Most of the volunteer/interns end up as consultants in international aid and lending agencies. The opportunity cost seems high in short run but benefits individual and people around.
Some people volunteer because they want mentoring while other for the sake of different experience. Even volunteer experiences work for different people from frustrating to fascinating, depending on their goals and organization policy. Too often, volunteers are thought of as a “nice to have” rather than a “necessary” resource, and facilitating agency / NGO's apply little or no rigor to evaluate their impact. They are not paid due to budget constraint and then termed as priceless instead of unpaid . Communities can mold the young as future change agents and social entrepreneurs.
There are bigger question involved in the business of volunteerism. Is voluntarism ultimately about the fulfillment of the volunteers themselves, not necessarily what they bring to the local communities they visit ? Does an intervention of a volunteer make the cure worse than disease ? Are volunteers/interns unpaid contract labors of NGOs? An article in Onion ( 6-Day Visit To Rural African Village Completely Changes Woman’s Facebook Profile Picture) mocks volunteers with a hard hitting sense of humor. There is also a good article showing the narcissistic side of global volunteerism. The articles are full of sarcasm but looking on the positive side, it reminded me of a line by Professor Peter Hayes: "Live somewhere else, on the terms of the people who live there, for six months. It will change your life."