Before coming to India we discussed at length how volunteer trips were perceived, however, I don’t think that anything could prepare you for the negative perspective that some people have about volunteering, until you experience it first-hand. I have just started working this past week with the non-government organization Dharamsala Animal Rescue (DAR). I can honestly say that I have never worked with an organization before that is not only incredibly efficient, but also completely selfless. The founder of DAR, a woman named Deb, has been living in Dharamsala for the last eight years and gives every minute of her time, and a large amount of her own personal income to DAR. The staff is also incredibly committed and passionate about improving the lives of street dogs, and often work long overtime hours for free. Not only is the organization wonderful but they have the statistics and information to prove that the work they are doing to vaccinate and provide animal birth control has really made an impact on reducing both the cases of rabies and number of street dogs in Dharamsala. I was incredibly surprised, therefore, to meet someone with such a negative opinion towards the work that DAR does.
We were working today in the main square of Mcleod Ganj handing out flyers so that people would have our number to call if they should see an injured animal, and selling merchandise to raise money to care for the dogs at the DAR shelter. It was going well when all of a sudden a woman came up to our table and began telling us that as an organization we were useless, and that she had been living in Dharamsala for twenty years and has really come to hate our work. She said, “I see you driving around in your van picking up dogs and you just act like you are saving everything and are so great, and let me tell you that you are not.” She then went on to say how organizations are always coming in and they never really make a difference or help anyone. After engaging in a lengthy debate with the DAR staff she finally excused herself and left the area. The impact of her words, however, remained.
Although this woman’s examples and facts that she stated to us when making her argument were not completely accurate, she really brought to light the negative perspectives that many people have about volunteering. It made me think twice about how others perceive the volunteer work that you do. Although you could be doing your best to make sure you are acting in the most ethical way and constantly reflecting on and improving your actions, which I have been trying to do and DAR also does, I realized today that there will always be those that are critical towards your work. While, I think it is crucial to consider criticism, as in some situations it can be helpful and used for improvement, it is also important not to let one negative opinion influence your work, or attitude. After the woman left today the staff of DAR and myself considered what the woman had said, but did not let her criticisms stop us from continuing to work towards our goal of making life better for street dogs and reducing rabies.