Hello world,

I find the internet such an interesting space; a nexus of social interactions that might not take place otherwise. Facebook, the goliath of the social networking community, has been the arena for some very interesting conversations. There was one in particular that kind of makes me laugh, and it also made me sit down and think about my volunteer work in Uganda…

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My mom, being the very supportive proud mother that she is, reposted my video on facebook asking her friends to support.

One of her friends commented “In this world it’s hard to not think that things like this are scams. So unfortunate. Also it begs the question why would we send someone into the war-torn juggles of Africa when there is so much charitable needs here at home? Her video does not convince me of her qualifications to be of much use there either.”

To which my mother replied “You’re a dick”.

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I appreciated my mom’s desire to stick up for me (and to be honest, her blunt reply still makes me laugh), but felt that it was important for me to explain myself. I had an idea of what I’d be getting myself into when I signed up for volunteer in Uganda. I read his responses before writing my own, basically he said that he meant that there tends to be a lot of fraud in Uganda and was worried that I was being scammed, and that I must have misspelled the link to my blog (on my youtube video link) because it was sending to… well… a porn site…

Here’s my reply:

Bahaha. Thanks for the heads up. That was kind of embarrassing! Perhaps just another form of sexual health education?! (Kidding). I’ve just edited the websites. 🙂

So, I think that you’ve brought up some very good points — Thanks for sticking up for me mom, but I’ll take it from here. I think that it is important to criticize international “aid” and development as well as the programs that send people to “make a difference”. Who are these programs really benefiting and under what guise or prerogatives are they operating? How well-trained are these people who have come to “help”? And who benefits? The person or the community? You should check out the documentary “What are we doing here?”. It is about developmental aid in Africa.

I have been interested in international development and travel for a long time, but have only begun to educate myself about the validity of the work during this past year as I began to consider volunteering with CVAP and going into a career in HIV EP. I personally know the people who started and currently run CVAP, so am not in the least worried about being scammed by a fraudulent organization. Furthermore, all volunteers are going through weekly training sessions where we engage in debates and dialogues surrounding development work. Among other things, we have discussed the role of the NGO, Environmental Impact Assessments, poverty, and Uganda’s political and violent history, as well as what “sustainable development” really means. I am not saying that this makes me an expert on any of these subjects, however I really appreciate that as a group/organization we are conscientious of the role we play and the impact we have. This is why it is so incredibly important that we work with the community and that they are just as engaged, if not more, as the volunteers that are coming there.

Just to address a few of the questions/comments you had, volunteering at home is equally important! We have a lot of stuff that we need to sort out in our own societies. I am an avid volunteer, and all of the work that I have done in HIV EP has been volunteer — this includes coordinating a sexual health conference for youth (14 – 18) that took almost 8 months to plan and was held last fall. I am happy to say that it was a well-attended success (almost 100 youth and 13 different community-based organizations). Equally, CVAP has a sister project called CVAH (Concordia Volunteers At Home) which several volunteers take part in upon their return. Also, volunteering forms part of the criteria for the application process.

On that note, I’d also like to suggest that instead of simply focusing on “charitable needs”, our energy should be focused on changing current social paradigms. “Charity” tends to maintain the status quo instead of addressing the infrastructure that allows for such needs to exist in the first place.

Although I have not yet been to Uganda, the pictures of the new facility does not seem to be in the middle of a jungle. CVAP’s Executive Director has assured us that measures are taken and rules are enforced to protect our safety while in Gulu. You can check out their new facility here: http://now.concordia.ca/community-engagement/outreach-initiatives/20110214/building-sustainability-in-uganda.php

I am sorry that you feel that I “won’t be of much use” while volunteering in Uganda. Obviously, I have a lot yet to learn, having said that I do feel confident in my ability to build solid interpersonal relationships, volunteer, live abroad, and about my experience in the HIV EP field. Interestingly, I was also one of the top applicants.

Please don’t read this with a negative tone, as it was written with quite the opposite actually. I think your questions and criticisms are valid, and I knew going to “volunteer in Africa” would bring them up. Also, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me should you have any other questions or feel that I did not address any concerns you may have. Sorry to write such a long post, but I think this stuff is worth talking about.

Thank you for your compliment; my mom isn’t shy to say how proud of me she is (as you can probably tell by the fact that she has reposted all of my videos).

I hope that you enjoy the rest of your sunday evening, and thanks for taking the time to watch my video!

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It seems that I was able to convince him that I might “be of some use” afterall. 🙂 The result of this faux-feud on facebook?! We’re now facebook friends and he made a kind donation to support my volunteer work in Uganda. I also asked him if I could repost this conversation as I thought that some of you might have the same questions or concerns.

As I mentioned in my reply, I’d be happy to answer any questions you have!

Warmth,

Jade
xx (one for each cheek)

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