On Monday, in my PSCI 252 Global South class, we had a student guest speaker. He is a PhD candidate here at the University of Waterloo in the Global Governance program. He discussed international development and the different ways for people to get involved, the pros and cons of each type of work and some of his own experiences in the different fields. The different ways that one can get involved in international development are as follows: grassroots organizations, international organizations, relief work, teaching, and politics. The first three are pretty obvious, the fourth slightly, but I had never thought of getting involved in politics (this is a bit ironic since I am a political science major). Before he mentioned it, I just viewed the government as something that was broken and couldn’t be fixed, especially through my own influence. I would like to be involved in the Canadian diplomatic field at one point, but I had viewed it as a learning experience rather than making a difference. Getting involved in Canada’s political system would give one influence on the foreign policy decisions that our government makes towards other countries. This could be related to the support of the first four options, such as, creating awareness of effective grassroots organizations in countries that we are closely tied to and in our own; changing our attitude towards international organizations, for example, not having another embarrassing incident like our lack of commitment in Copenhagen; influencing the courses of action taken when natural disasters like the earthquake in Haiti and tsunami in Thailand hit; and becoming a professor of international relations and development to promote the topic and do research. He talked about his experiences in grassroots organizations and highlighted some key things to be aware of especially when travelling on an international-learning experience (like we are in Beyond Borders). Some of the main points that stuck out for me were about research, what to expect and language skills. It is always good to be aware of the history and characteristics of the country in which you are volunteering; it is easier to connect with people on a personal level. He is from Brazil and said that if someone were to engage in conversation with him and knew a few different areas of Brazil and the main features of them and that in Brazil the main language is Portuguese and not Spanish that he would be much more appreciative of that individual. In our current Beyond Borders class, RS 383, we need to complete a 10-15 minute presentation about the country and foundation of our placement, so hopefully we will all go into our placements with even the slightest bit of background knowledge. The second point that he discussed is about the general setup of grassroots organizations in developing countries. They are run much differently than a job one would hold here in Canada. It can be much more disorganized than what we are used to, for example handling multiple different projects at once rather than finishing one at a time. He also talked about how sometimes people go into placements such as this with the idea that they are going to change the world and make an enormous difference in the lives of the people you are going to “help”, however, you may not even be needed there and it is possible to feel like you are more of a burden then help. So a word of advice that he gave is that you just need to understand that you are likely getting more out of the experience than the people you are going to “help”, you are going to go and put your few months work in, but the organization was there before you came and will carry on afterwards too. Although this may sound depressing to those of us going, it is important to remember going into so that we aren’t disappointed we get there and then miserable for the three months we will be living there. The final thing that he stressed (because it is one of his pet peeves) is having zero language ability in the community you are trying to “help”. He said (multiple times), “do not go to a volunteer placement to learn a language, go on a language exchange program – that’s what they’re there for”. As I mentioned just above, we aren’t going to make a huge difference and be as much help as we would like, so how do we expect to be of the slightest assistance if we can’t even talk to our coordinators/supervisors/people in general? He told us that having higher-end basic to intermediate skills then it is acceptable to go and prepare to expand on them (with made me wipe my brow with relief), but going completely illiterate is – for lack of a better word – dumb.
I was extremely freaked out about the appropriate timing for a presentation like this when in just three speedy months I will be jetting off to Argentina on my own development adventure! I was almost flabbergasted. It made me realize just how perfect the program(s) I picked for what I want to do. It was a most inspiring day. Now I wasn’t planning on taking up my entire blog with just this presentation so hopefully next week I can touch on my new world map and Lara’s decision. Lara – I didn’t forget about you! I’m upset that I’m losing a travel buddy! Also, I have yet to hear back from the Multicultural Centre about a volunteer placement so I may have to move onto a plan B for that and get my hours done!
That’s all for this week!
Hasta la proxima semana amigos!