“Indigenous peoples are culturally distinct societies and communities. The land on which they live and the natural resources on which they depend are inextricably linked to their identities, cultures, livelihoods, as well as their physical and spiritual well-being.”
There are an estimated 370 million indigenous people. They live across 90 countries, represent 5,000 unique cultures, and speak the majority of the world’s 7,000 languages.
To ensure indigenous peoples can not only preserve their traditions and lifestyle, but also create sustainable futures, the world must pay greater attention to them. You can play a positive role as a volunteer.
As the United Nations notes, indigenous communities throughout the world share common problems “related to the protection of their rights as distinct peoples.” They suffer from human rights abuses, unjust land laws, and are forced to deal with inadequate and unequal access to healthcare, education, and employment. These problems can be seen in some alarming statistics:
- Poverty rates among indigenous peoples in Paraguay are 7.9 times higher than the rest of the population.
- Aboriginal Australians have a life expectancy of around 10 years less than non-native Australians.
- The Batwa ‘Pygmy’ people of the Great Lakes region of Africa co-exist with the forest. Today, of the estimated 70,000-87,000 Batwa living there, only 7,000 have regular access to the forest due to commercial deforestation and insecure land tenure.
Though the situation for indigenous communities may seem bad, many organizations and people are doing a lot to turn the tides. As a volunteer, you can join the cause and do good.
What You Can Do
Indigenous peoples have disproportionately high levels of poverty. They account for 5% of the global population, but make up 15% of the poorest. Better access to education is a solution. Teach English, host skills training workshops (like sewing), promote digital literacy, teach music, and more.
For instance, Globalteer has a project in Cambodia that aims at tackling issues the Bunong people face, such as the need for an education system that values their ancient culture and teaches suitable, relevant skills.
Land and environmental preservation
Indigenous peoples have a deep and ancient connection to their land and environment. Maintaining ecological integrity, biodiversity, and environmental health is vital to their cultural survival and preserving all the knowledge they possess.
For example, commercial operations such as logging and mining destroy the environments of indigenous societies. Programs like Fronteering’s initiative in Panama work to preserve these natural areas through cleanups, awareness campaigns, and promotion and protection of indigenous rights.
What many indigenous communities need is a more sustainable development strategy. This way, they can protect their lifestyle and make a living—without having to sacrifice their culture or environment.
Community development programs within indigenous societies typically focus on education, healthcare, construction, and establishing eco-friendly businesses across many areas, from tourism to farming to the arts.
Awareness and understanding of indigenous cultures are absolutely essential if their futures are to be secured. Cultural immersion experiences will have you returning home with more motivation to help indigenous communities.
Frontier is an organization that offers numerous cultural immersion trips, including the Vietnam Hill Tribe Experience. Head to the rural hills of northern Vietnam, and see their ancient culture and way of life.
Keep In Mind!
Doing your research, including reading this article, gives you an idea of what volunteering with indigenous groups is like. However, still come with a completely open mind.
After all, volunteering with indigenous communities may take you outside your comfort zone. That’s a good thing. This is how you grow as a person.
You may encounter lifestyles and beliefs that are very different from your own. Respect their way of life and be ready to learn and listen. This will increase your understanding of the people and help you figure out how you can best benefit the community.
Now, let’s take a look at some recommended organizations and the volunteer programs they offer with indigenous communities.