Volunteering with SOIL

When I start to get discouraged about the state of the world – wars, racism, the widening gap between the rich and the poor – I check my inbox.

Here’s why: there’s a good chance that someone has written in to say how much they love the work that SOIL is doing; how they, too, are passionate about making the world a better place; how they would love to come volunteer or intern for awhile to lend a hand and support our work in Haiti, and all they want in return is the opportunity to learn and be a part of things. Being reminded that there are people in the world who care about justice and are willing to sacrifice to work for it in a tangible way never fails to make me feel a bit better about the human race.

And yet, unfortunately, we frequently have to turn down these generous offers. One of SOIL’s operating principles is that we try not to give foreign volunteers any work that we would otherwise pay a Haitian to do. That may sound crazy coming from a small, budget-conscious non-profit, but there are two very good reasons for this. First, we believe that increasing job opportunities for Haitians and supporting the growth of the Haitian economy is essential to improving conditions in Haiti, and is ultimately more important than SOIL’s bottom line. There is no shortage of people here looking for work; in that sense, every foreign volunteer who comes to Haiti to build a hospital or paint a school – however well-intentioned the volunteer and however deserving the project – is in some ways actually hindering development here.

Secondly, SOIL is hard at work developing a social business model for access to safe sanitation, one that we hope one day will be replicated not only across Haiti, but around the globe. In order to do so, we’ve got to have a good grip on what our model actually costs, and free labor distorts those calculations. That is to say, if we expect a local entrepreneur to pay someone to complete the task, so should we.

So while we may not have volunteers lending a hand in the garden or on the Poopmobile collection runs, that doesn’t mean we never use them – in fact, we LOVE  volunteers plugged into the right situations! Volunteers with specific areas of expertise have been immensely helpful in a variety of ways, from helping to set up our lab in Haiti to designing infographics from the comfort of their own homes.

Check out SOIL’s Join the SOIL Team page to add your name to our email notification list!

[Pictured above: Volunteer researcher Becca Ryals watches as SOIL’s Sanitation Coordinator, Jimmy Louis, takes a greenhouse gas sample from a compost pile.]

3 Replies to "Volunteering with SOIL"

  • Rex Cowan
    December 13, 2014 (3:13 pm)

    You have put on your “Wish List” someone to help with “franchising” SOIL. I am a Florida Attorney primarily involved in commercial transactions (with some experience dealing in franchises) and consider myself to be a longtime friend of Haiti. I would be more than happy to donate my time in attempting to guide you with respect to this effort. First question: Are you talking about franchising the concept in Haiti, or internationally?

  • Anonymous
    October 12, 2016 (3:32 am)

    Dear Erica,

    Is there anything foreign volunteers can do to help alleviate cholera outbreaks following Hurricane Matthew in Haiti? Like you said, it seems like it is difficult to build the local economy and infrastructure using foreign aid channels and volunteers. Toilets seem like a better long-term option – what do you need?

    • Erica Lloyd
      October 14, 2016 (4:48 pm)

      Hi there,

      Great question. We have heard that hospitals are short-staffed and under-resourced, so doctors and nurses (especially French or Creole-speaking ones) can probably be of use. Otherwise, it would be challenging for a foreign volunteer to really be helpful.
      But there are things you can do:
      -Start a letter-writing campaign to the UN to inquire why they aren’t funding a huge cholera vaccination campaign as a first response
      -Visit Haiti as a tourist in non-hurricane-affected areas and contribute to the economy
      I’m sorry that this list isn’t more exciting…. but I do hope you decide to get involved in some way!

Got something to say?

Some html is OK