This summer over 100 UCD students, alumni and staff volunteered in five different parts of the world: Haiti, Nicaragua, South India, Delhi and Tanzania, with UCD Volunteers Overseas (UCDVO). This year is UCDVO’s 10 year anniversary.
Each project lasted four weeks and was centered around the main goal of community development. Within the projects the goal was pursued either through teaching English and other skills such as computer literacy and construction, or health education workshops mainly focused on HIV/AIDs. A major part of UCDVO’s ethos is a close connection with local partners and local people, therefore each project is based around the requirements and recommendations of the local non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
In each of these 5 places across the world there are undoubted structural barriers to development. But as we, who have volunteered with VO, have learned it is not a case of utter destitution with no hope or possibility for progress. We all met amazing people who are working with a concentrated vision aimed at breaking the cycle of poverty; and although our work is only a small element of this, I believe it is a contribution of value.
In Delhi, our volunteers worked alongside local Indian volunteers inside the cities slums. They concentrated on three main areas: education, construction and physiotherapy. During the Nicaraguan project the UCD volunteers took part in teaching and construction projects and in Haiti similar projects were organised, along with the development of infrastructure such as flood prevention walls. When our volunteers go to Vijayawada in India they live in an orphanage for children who have been either orphaned or abandoned due to HIV/AIDs and extreme poverty. They teach, work in youth clubs and organise local awareness-raising campaigns. The final project is in Tanzania and focuses on incorporating computers into the education system. I took part in this project.
A very important part of UCDVO is sustainability. Therefore at each project we, along with our local partners, decide on projects which build on the previous’ years efforts. The local NGOs play invaluable an role in UCDVO’s work, as they ensure that the schools, orphanages, local health providers and shelters are committed and have a vision for the future and for their people, but also that the work we carry out is beneficial and necessary. They provide drive and direction.
From my time in Tanzania, my highlight was seeing the impact of our work in the school. It is clear that our work is a small element within the overall movement towards the emancipation of people from poverty and the creation of a more equal world. As a result there were times when many of us felt somewhat helpless in the face of the enormity of the task and goal and the fact that there is so much to do. We could only focus on very particular areas, but, by the end of our project I think most of us felt that, through computer literacy and improved English skills, many of the people we worked with may have a better chance in the future; I also hope that through our friendship and interaction both we, as Irish people, and the Tanzanian people we met have developed a better attitude and understanding of the wider world and the challenges that face us.
Little things can make huge differences to the individual. Some of the main achievements of our time in Tanzania were that 80 computers were installed between three new schools, and 20 added to schools from previous years’ projects, giving entirely new populations access to computers for the first time. We also held refresher courses for more than 30 teachers from past UCDVO schools, enabling the sustainability aspect of the project to gain momentum.
The experience I had in Tanzania with UCDVO was unforgettable and I would encourage others to consider applying to volunteer with UCDVO. Not only are you working to make a difference and learning about the world, but you also make some great friends along the way. It is a great opportunity to work with people who share your outlook on the world and the challenges which are posed during the projects, result in teams returning to Ireland even closer and more motivated to stay involved.
“You may live in an imperfect world but the frontiers are not closed and the doors are not all shut.” This quote by Maxwell Maltz describes the feeling I took from volunteering through UCDVO. Not only do you experience the huge challenges which many people face, but also that it is possible to play your part in making the world more equal.
UCD Chaplain Father Tony Coote set up UCDVO to give students a chance to contribute to a wider community overseas. From my time away it is clear to me that our work with UCDVO is beneficial to the communities in which we work; yet it cannot be denied that there is a huge benefit for the volunteers too.
Applications open on the 24th September 2012 and close on the 8th October 2012.
Facebook: UCD Volunteers Overseas
– Kate O Donnell