Are volunteer programs empowering — or exploitative?

Giving time to a cause you believe in can be extremely rewarding. As Demba Kandeh, a volunteer worker in the Gambia, explained, “Volunteering is a beautiful thing.”

But when do volunteer programs empower and when do they exploit? Does building this kind of workforce benefit communities? Would essential services simply not be provided if it weren’t for volunteers, as several people told Amy Costello in her investigation of volunteer health workers in Senegal. With help in part from the Global Voices community of bloggers, we found perspectives from around the globe.

Laura Morris, 28, an editor in Paris, spent five months as a volunteer for a small NGO in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and seven months as a volunteer for an organization that provides care for the elderly in London. Morris says she understood why the Cambodian organization did not pay her — she was the only foreigner there, and they could not have afforded the salary — but she thinks that the London nonprofit simply took advantage of a tough job market and gave her work that should have been performed by a paid employee.

“I volunteered for it, so it was my decision to work with them, but I was also asked to do work that I absolutely should have been paid for, that was much higher than entry-level,” Morris says.

Read and hear more of the discussion, including seven more perspectives, at PRI.org.

How has the web changed coverage of Asia?

Next week in San Diego, I’ll be on a “late breaking” news panel at the Association for Asian Studies’ annual conference. I’ve started to think about how to explain the many ways that connectivity — social media, VOIP, chat clients — have really colored how I think about news and story telling about the region. From telling stories using curation to the essential reading of bloggers on Global Voices, international news has been drawn in a lot closer to audiences in the United States. Journalists can no longer write or produce news with the expectation that the subjects of stories will not be able to see or comment on how they’ve been portrayed. Local feedback is instantaneous. But what does this mean for politics across Asia? How do things change when people in Asia can directly communicate with people anywhere else in the world, and vice versa?

These are the questions I’m looking forward to addressing. The panel has a great lineup and no doubt there will be some exceptional minds in the room, so I think it will be a lively conversation. If you have any thoughts or ideas that I might share with the group, I’m all ears. Email me or comment here.

If you’re in San Diego, you can join the event for free. Here are the details:

Digital Debates and Digital Divides: How the Web has Changed Politics in and Coverage of Asia

 

FRIDAY, March 22, 10:45 am – 12:45 pm, Manchester Grand Hyatt, Manchester Ballroom A

Discussants:

Jeff Wasserstrom, University of California Irvine (Moderator)
Nguyen Giang, Editor, East Asia Hub and Vietnamese Service, BBC World Service/London
Kaiser Kuo, Director of International Communications for Baidu, (China’s largest search engine).
Emma Larkin, Freelance Writer, Bangkok
Angilee Shah, Journalist and Blogger, Public Radio International

This panel is made possible in part by a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation

Reddit Users Debate the Pricing Game Of The Cancer Drug Industry

When the Indian pharmaceutical company Cipla announced last month that it would cut the cost of three drugs used to treat cancers – one used for lung cancer and two for breast cancer – people around the world responded. Some of the most lengthy conversations took place on the news commenting site Reddit, including a thread 420 comments long in response to a news report in The Economic Times (India).

The conversations and debates centered on why these specialized drugs are so expensive, as well as what pharmaceutical companies’ rights and responsibilities are to make sure life-saving drugs are available in the developing world.

Read on in Global Voices.

random updates: writing about Singapore, teaching in Cambodia and watching movies in Korea

I had a little bit of an epiphany about my writing life in Singapore a while ago. And I promised I would write more about the country where I live. So, a few months later, I am true to my word and am posting for Global Voices. Will work my way up to longer, reported writing.

I’m also not giving up just yet on my goal to get at least a few of my students reading more. I’m writing for them at npReads. Students, colleagues — if you’re reading this, I’d love for you to contribute and build the site after my fellowship ends.

Next next weekend, I’ll be attending a bar camp in Phnom Phen. I’d like to teach a news writing topic — perhaps about upsidedown triangles or a spiced up lead drill of some sort. Any suggestions or requests? Mostly, I am very excited to meet new people and get to know Cambodia a bit.

In the first week of October, I’ll be off to the Pusan Internation Film Festival with my friend and trusted film maniac Brian Hu. I’ll take some photos and do some writing and try to see as many beautiful people as possible. And get a taste for Korea.

Then it’s off to Los Angeles, home of tacos and burritos and In ‘n Out burgers. And my family too.