Tuesday, January 17, 2012

International Volunteer Day - December 5, 2011

Training of TUSEME ('Let us Speak Out' Club) at School in Malili

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.’ -Margaret Mead

Monday (December 5, 2011) was International Volunteer Day. To celebrate, the UNDP in Malawi put together an event for volunteer organizations and volunteers in Malawi.

The ceremony included some speeches and the launch of the UN Report on Volunteering. The thing that impressed me about the event was the acknowledgement of the important work of domestic volunteers.
Oftentimes, I feel like there is a misconception that volunteers in Malawi are well-wishing westerns that fly in from cold countries then leave. It is true that there are many foreigners volunteering here. It makes sense that one of the least developed countries in the world would attract resources and support from other, more developed nations. I have had the privilege of meeting many very dedicated and passionate foreign volunteers here.

Mother Group Training

That said, the term volunteering has become synonymous in some people’s books with azungu (foreigners/white people). This undermines and fails to acknowledge the resources that many Malawians pour into their communities and country. I think of the Mother Groups – women who donate their time to promote the importance of educating girls in their communities. I also think of the selflessness with which Malawians take care of their extended family and members in their communities. Of course, this is in addition to the many Malawians who volunteer on the side with non-government organizations and dedicate their time to unpaid internships. I believe that this is the case in many other places, although the stories we often hear in the west are of westerners volunteering in developing countries.

In the case of disaster relief, ‘Ninety percent of the people saved are saved by their neighbours and family, 10 percent by people who rush in from round and about, and about 0.01% of people who come in from the other side of the world.’ (Tony Vaux, author of the Selfish Altruist).

I recently attended a Mother Group Training in Malili, a rural area just outside of Lilongwe. FAWEMA was concurrently training a TUSEME (Kiswahili for ‘Let us Speak Out’) club with learners from the same school (the pictures from this entry are of the volunteer training). This school was comprised of a few small buildings and has approximately 800 regular students (although 1100 are officially registered). The energy and enthusiasm of both the Mother Groups and children was amazing, especially given that they are giving up their personal time for something that they believe in. 

Mother Group Training, Malili
TUSEME Club Members in Training (Classroom), Malili
Group Work - TUSEME Club Training

At the risk of sounding cliché, volunteering is one of those activities and passions that overcomes barriers of language and culture and connects people from around the globe. 

TUSEME Club Training
I think of the energy and commitment of the Mother Groups and am reminded of my mentors Angela and Julie from the Rotary Club of Ottawa… my former volunteer board colleagues at the AIDS Committee of Ottawa… the Rotarians that have played an integral role at coming close to eradicating polio in India … community volunteers in HIV/AIDS in the townships of South Africa… my family helping to raise a guide dog… my church community supporting a local shelter… the Malawian mother groups and TUSEME clubs… and the myriad of other volunteers of all different demographics everywhere in the world. 

I am incredibly excited by the knowledge that there are people speckled across the globe who dedicate their time and resources for the sole purpose of wanting to make a positive impact, to touch something or someone, to leave the world a slightly better place. My deepest gratitude to all of the volunteers that I have had the privilege to know.

In one of my favourite books, Touch the Dragon, Karen Connelly writes:

‘I'd like to believe--and I sometimes do--that every boundary between people can be crossed, that we are connected to each other by invisible bonds that override distance. My skin stretches over the earth.’

I think that volunteering may just be one of those bonds. 

Some New TUSEME Club Members
with gifts from Christ Church, Mississauga

Mother Group and Trainers - Malili

No comments:

Post a Comment