Borderless World Volunteers: A Humanitarian Associate Confronting A New Trend
Borderless World Volunteers is a registered Canadian charity whose main purpose is to provide guidance and support to undergraduate students, so they are able to implement development projects at a local level in different developing countries. It is mainly based in McGill University, and for the past few years the club has grown and expanded, welcoming more and more members. What makes Borderless World Volunteers so special?
The most important reason is that it provides the opportunity for students to go on volunteering summers trip for six to eight weeks. The club organizes fundraising events throughout the year in order to raise enough money to do so. This means that Borderless World pays for the food and accusation in the developing country, so that students only have to pay for their plane ticket. Therefore, the club’s fundraising events are for a specific cause, as opposed to many other events called humanitarian where you are never certain of where the money goes.
Moreover, Borderless World always puts the needs and interests of the developing countries and the local communities first. The volunteering that it offers is different from the popular volunteer-tourism, where people go build a school for two weeks in a country and then travel. It repels the self-interested idea that humanitarian volunteerism looks good on a CV, while it does not support the growing market of NGOs auctioning at a high price their volunteer opportunities.
To begin this process, students contact local NGO’s that do not require a high fee to get involved. This is an opportunity to truly immerse oneself into a local community. In addition, small and local NGOs usually enable people to implement original and successful ideas and projects that they might have themselves. Another main issue that mass-scale volunteering has caused is the fact that when volunteers leave, the community is left as it was before; there is usually no long-run improvement observed. However Borderless emphasizes the fact that projects should be sustainable, because we believe that projects are truly beneficial when the initiatives are taken by the local people. Borderless tries to give local communities a chance to continue the new development projects.
But more practically, what does it mean to be an international volunteer in Borderless World Volunteers? There are weekly meetings starting in September. We are firstly divided into groups based on our field of interest (gender, environment, health, education…). Once we have met the members of our group, we contact local NGO’s that provide services in our particular field. The NGO needs to meet certain conditions, such as being low budget or being accessible from an airport. After an appropriate NGO is found and has accepted volunteers, members start designing a project that they can implement there. Next, projects are presented to the executive branch of Borderless World, which selects the most promising ones. International volunteers are also required to fill in an application and have an interview, to make sure they will be capable of handling living in a developing country, among other things.
Once volunteers know their definite location, there are a throng of things that need to be done. Volunteers have to apply for visas, visit a traveler’s clinic, get their planes tickets, etc. However the volunteers are guided through this process and prepared for their trip by the executives. As a matter of fact, mandatory workshops are organized, providing information about first aid, or cultural shock symptoms, and tips, which help volunteers get the most out of such a volunteer opportunity.
As is evident, these trips require a full year of preparation, as well as a time commitment and infallible motivation from the volunteer. I personally have faced many challenges this year. The first one is working as a part of a team. Everyone reaches out a point in life where they have to work with someone they don’t particularly get along well with. It is hard to adjust to everyone’s personality at the beginning; however, this adjustment is part of the experience. Moreover, a second challenge we had to face as a team was to be prepared for anything. Until you are actually on a plane, there are many things that could occur to complicate the trip. For example, we had to deal with a discord with our NGO over the sudden rise of the price of volunteering. It was stressful, especially so close to the summer. However I believe the best way to deal with these complications is to rely on your team and your trustworthy executives. Besides, it is important to be prepared for the worst, because nothing usually runs smoothly once in the field.
More specifically, I am involved with the gender group that will be going to Ghana, in the east of Accra, for eight weeks this summer. Our NGO is called United, and its main purpose is to bolster development in West Africa through collaboration with neighbors of Ghana. They have asked us to bring some goods to them, such as pencils or calculators. We intend to organize activities for the children, and perhaps teach some classes. This NGO also runs drama clubs, and we would like to utilise them to introduce the children to the issues related to gender. In addition, we will aim to raise awareness in Ghana about gender and the inequalities that persist in developing countries. For instance, sexual violence is still extremely common in West Africa, and there is not an open dialogue about it. Perhaps if we try to talk about it in the community, people will begin to understand its importance and start mobilize to change the status quo.
Nevertheless there is a chance that our Western and individualistic concepts will be overlooked or rejected by the community. I feel a bit anxious about this volunteering experience, since we are diving into the unknown. But I am still looking forward to it, and I am extremely excited for this summer. It is such an amazing opportunity, and I hope to get the best out of it. In the end, I enjoyed being involved with Borderless World this year, as it was extremely enriching. I highly recommend anyone who might be interested to get involved next year!