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How to Help: A conversation with humanitarians at McGill University


It is not an easy task to find optimism in today’s world. Stories about destruction, oppression, and poverty permeate perpetually through the media, often serving as a reminder of the immense tragedies and injustices drowning the world. Yet, hope dictates that empathy, idealism, and love must combat these harrowing forces; every story of suffering must elicit a will to act, a determination to help, in its listener. Fortunately, many individuals act on this volition: In 2013, 12.7 million Canadians, aged 15 years and older, dedicated their time to volunteer work. (1)

Still, there are many questions: Where to start, how to find the time to get involved, and whether you can truly make a difference in the long run. In discussing these concerns, the Grassroots Journal conducted email interviews with McGill students involved in two different SSMU groups representing prominent humanitarian organizations.

McGill Students for World Vision represents the World Vision Canada, a humanitarian charity organization which advocates for children, families, and communities, aiming to create lasting change in the lives of those living in poverty, regardless of their sex, gender, race, ethnicity or religion. (2) The McGill branch aims to fundraise and raise awareness for goals set by World Vision.

  • Enya Sclapari, graduate student, Co-president

  • Stéphanie Brien, U3 International development, Co-president

McGill Students' Chapter of the Canadian Red Cross represents the Canadian Red Cross, a part of a large humanitarian network whose mission is to improve the lives of the vulnerable such as those affected by natural disasters, conflicts, or poverty. (3) The group works to garner donations and raise awareness for appeals opened by the Canadian Red Cross, having raised $300 last year for the Syrian Refugee fund and local disaster management.

  • Kunning Li, U3 Microbiology and Immunology, President

  • Fanny Lo, U3 Biochemistry, VP Internal

  • Toscane Doh, U3 Political Science, VP External

Buried in a mountain of exams and assignments, it can seem daunting for students to try to find the time to engage in extracurriculars on top of their academics. However, some of our interviewees believe that getting involved with volunteering work made their university life more fulfilling and meaningful.

Why did you end up joining this group? How has your experience been?

Enya: “I decided to join McGill Students for World Vision in my last year of my BA. It came to my attention that I was spending a lot of time consumed in things like work and school and not allocating enough time for my community, giving back to those in need. Beginning my World Vision journey in local volunteering really gave me a chance to connect with my McGill peers.”

Stéphanie: “I joined World Vision after a difficult first year of university in terms of adaptation. All my friends who had started university before me were telling me that it was the best years of their life, and this made sense when I joined World Vision. Before, the only thing I did at McGill was [study]. Joining World Vision has allowed me to meet other students, to become more aware of societal issues, to volunteer and to take action for causes that are important to me while pursuing my studies. My experience continues to be rewarding and allows me to grow personally while helping those in need.”

Kunning: “ have been involved with the Canadian Red Cross ever since high school. In my region, our youth chapter focused on the Beyond the Hurt anti-bullying program. I was trained as one of the facilitator to go to different elementary schools and give a presentation to the students about the harm of bullying and services that are provided to help them face this harsh issue. It was an amazing experience, thus I wanted to continue to be involved with the Canadian Red Cross when I got to McGill.”

Yet, despite how rewarding these experiences may be, it is important to understand the difficulties and barriers in humanitarian work, and more importantly, how they can be overcome.

What are some key challenges in working towards providing humanitarian relief in developing countries? How can people help?

Toscane: “[... The answer to this issue is influenced by the type of relief we are trying to provide. Key challenges to helping these countries lie within the lack of organizational structure and infrastructure ready to receive the aid we want to provide them and in pinning down the kind of relief that will be both beneficial and accessible to said countries.”

Stéphanie: “I think that one of the biggest challenges, and goal at the same time, is to make sure that the humanitarian project will be sustainable in the long-term. In order to be successful, it is important to stay for a long time in the community to implement the project and to make sure it can be continued once the humanitarian workers leave.”

Enya: “One of the biggest challenges in working towards providing humanitarian relief in developing countries is public awareness. Without the public being aware of what issues are present in developing countries, nothing will be done. This later creates a domino effect, with no donations, and more importantly, no time spent trying to help those in need, hands-on.”

These challenges can seem discouraging, yet, there is an important role university students must play in addressing them.

Why is it so important for university students to engage in disaster/emergency relief?

Enya: “In today’s society, using social media has become an extension of our arm. Who uses social media the most? University students. We are essentially the plug for connections and spreading news, and fast. If University students were to continuously engage in disaster/emergency relief, this would spread public awareness tenfold. This would lead to a greater, and in my opinion, stronger community when it comes to helping those who come face to disastrous, unfortunate situations.”

Kunning: “University students are passionate, enthusiastic and empathetic. We are very willing to give back to our community and help others and are aware of the impact our actions have on others. We need more young people involved in humanitarian efforts in order to bring more innovation and to connect with the younger population, who in time will connect with their younger classmates, on and on until we manage to shape future generations.”

How can McGill students help support your cause or get more involved in humanitarian work in general?

Enya & Stéphanie: “McGill students can help support World Vision by participating in the events that we organize. Every year, we do different events in order to raise awareness about hunger (such as the 30 Hour Famine) and ongoing societal issues in order to overcome poverty and injustice. We raise funds in conjunction with World Vision International to provide international disaster relief and transform communities in poverty and to sponsor two children from Bolivia and India every month. We also organize clothing drives to collect clothes and toys to give to families in need locally so that both the international and Montreal community benefit from the work we do. Through our projects and collaborations, we hope to foster a bond between McGill students and the needs of the local and international community.”

Fanny: “McGill students interested in our club’s aims are welcome to join as a general member and follow our online updates [...]. Another great way to get involved with our club is to join our listserv and attend the events that interest you. Your engagement and participation helps us to reach our goals. ”

Kunning: “We are always looking for new fun and creative ideas for our fundraising events. If you are interested in sharing your ideas or coming to our events, please check us out on our Facebook for more details!”

  1. "Volunteering and charitable giving in Canada." Government of Canada, Statistics Canada. April 15, 2016. Accessed October 26, 2017. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-652-x/89-652-x2015001-eng.htm

  2. "About World Vision." World Vision International. November 07, 2016. Accessed October 26, 2017. http://www.wvi.org/about-world-vision.

  3. "About the Canadian Red Cross - Canadian Red Cross." Red Cross Canada. Accessed October 26, 2017. http://www.redcross.ca/about-us/about-the-canadian-red-cross.

Bibliography:

"About the Canadian Red Cross - Canadian Red Cross." Red Cross Canada. Accessed October 26, 2017. http://www.redcross.ca/about-us/about-the-canadian-red-cross.

"About World Vision." World Vision International. November 07, 2016. Accessed October 26, 2017. http://www.wvi.org/about-world-vision.

"Volunteering and charitable giving in Canada." Government of Canada, Statistics Canada. April 15, 2016. Accessed October 26, 2017.


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