Thursday, January 25, 2018

On voluntourism

Once again, those indefatigable Aleh PR partisans have disseminated over-the-top praise for their enterprise in the name of a foreign volunteer. And once again, that praise exhibits their gross ignorance of disabilities rights. 

This time, the team channeled its message via an American social worker and mother of a 29-year-old girl with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She is currently spending a year at Aleh Negev having left her daughter in the U.S. in an "appropriate arrangement." 

The effusive PR team dubbed her Volunteer of the Year. She allegedly said: 
“Despite being familiar with my daughter’s world, I have never encountered anything like ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran. I wish that something similar could be built in the United States.” [Aleh website]
There is no need to wish or wonder about the lack of such an enterprise in the United States. There are perfectly sound reasons for it. But like so many other volunteers at orphanages and institutions, she seems unaware of the progress that has been made on behalf of people with disabilities in just about every other developed country, excluding Israel. I have personally spoken to such well-intentioned, idealistic individuals and am always struck anew by their obliviousness of deinstitutionalization.

Here is a brief survey of that process in the United States:
For the past 50 years, the main goal of disability rights activists has been to help people with disabilities transition out of institutional settings and into their own homes and communities. To accomplish this, advocates and policymakers have worked to establish an extensive system of support services for seniors, non-elderly adults, and children with disabilities; rather than pushing people into segregated settings, the support now comes to them, in their homes.
Between 1960 and 2013, as a result of this effort, states closed 219 state institutions for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Whereas in 1977 the average person with a developmental disability lived in a place that housed 22.5 people, by 2011 that number had dropped to 2.3, reflecting a vast shift toward integration and personalization of services... [From "The GOP health care plan could force Americans with disabilities back into institutions", Ari Ne'eman via, March 23, 2017]
Once again, to all volunteers and donors to institutions that warehouse babies, children and adults in large, closed and isolated facilities, a reminder of Lumos founder, J.K. Rowling's admonition:
"Voluntourism is one of drivers of family break-up in very poor countries. It incentivizes ‘orphanages’ that are run as businesses."
Sadly, Israel, a developed and enlightened state in other respects, conducts itself in this realm like those poor countries. It ignores legislation and scientific studies. 

And for those questioning whether Aleh is in fact a business, please note the statement [here] by Israel's State Attorney regarding the financial boon that it has been to Israel's largest periphery, the Negev. 

And this:
It is not only rights that suffer in institutions — life skills deteriorate, too. Evidence suggests that exit into the community can actually improve the functional skills of many people with disabilities. The research shows that in domains like self-care, “community living skills,” communications, and social interaction, people have better outcomes after leaving institutions. In part due to these findings, the Supreme Court ruled in its 1999 Olmstead v. L.C. decision that the Americans With Disabilities Act required state Medicaid programs to offer community-based options as an alternative to anyone who wished to take advantage of them... [VOX again]

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