Earlier this summer I met a twenty-six year old volunteer from Italy who had come to work for an NGO in Kabul. She left me with a parting gift today, a Penguin edition of Swift’s satire, Gulliver’s Travels. Simultaneously I happened to read a senior thesis written by a student from a prestigious New England college who had interviewed me last winter when I was touring America giving talks and raising money for AFCECO. As far as I can tell both women had had bad experiences volunteering abroad, involving a falling out with the host organization, cultural clashes, confused feelings of shame while being indignant over what they saw as unjustifiable misrepresentation and mishandling by the NGO, as well as a lack of guidance. I may be jumping to conclusions, but the book seems to me a thinly veiled comment by the Italian on the act of volunteering in a foreign culture. As for the thesis paper, it can best be described as Gulliver’s Travels without the analogous myth. Subjectively, I initially took both as a personal affront. There is little wiggle room to interpret the novel; I jumped to the conclusion that I was being compared to Gulliver. As for the thesis, my interview, which contradicts everything in the writer’s text, was completely excluded even though the author utilized the event to beef up her data, not the least of which was to include the word “Afghanistan”. After I calmed down I realized of course they both have a valid point. It is true that the volunteer experience is widely exaggerated. It has been institutionalized by outfits such as the Peace Corps and United Nations and has been commercialized by multiple “service vacation” companies. In these instances a volunteer more often than not reports being a part of the problem rather than any solution. With the small NGOs the problems come with a lack of clarity and organizational support for volunteers, often thrusting them into situations they are unqualified to handle, setting them up for failure, or worse leaving them dangling without any clear job to do. In both situations the volunteer is filled with feelings of inadequacy or anger, sometimes both because of being pushed as well as useless. Like Gulliver, the volunteer who once was idealistic, adventurous, the pride of family and community ends up a bit pompous and smug and certainly sarcastic concerning the ability of one person to change what is bad into good.