My human library book experience with Comhlámh

I had never heard of a ‘human library’ book and when the opportunity came to speak about my recent volunteering experience in this experimental event, I jumped at the chance! I volunteered as a human library book at International Volunteer Day and this was a very enjoyable and interesting experience. Returned volunteers from across Ireland took part in a ‘human library’, and celebrated the theme ‘Volunteers Build Resilient Communities’. This event was hosted by Comhlámh and took place in the Chocolate Factory Dublin Creative Community.

The photo was taking at Comhlámh’s celebration of International Volunteer Day where we facilitated a human library as a part of the celebrations. The two people are Áine Lynch and Cisco (who was a NUI Maynooth student at the time).

Six volunteers chose ‘chapters’ of their volunteer experience that they would like to talk about and the audience came up to us and chatted to us about our various experiences. Each volunteer had a space with the titles of their chapter beside them and a few chairs around them and people could approach a volunteer if interested in asking questions or finding out more about their volunteering experience. Comhlámh staff were on hand to explain to people how this activity worked and I really enjoyed discussing my three chapters with those who came over for a chat.

The three chapters that I discussed were:

  1. My volunteer experience in Uganda
  2. Don’t be worried about fundraising! My fundraising experience and tips
  3. My experience in Vietnam and with the SDG’s in Ireland. Be the action, be the change.

I volunteered with the Charity ‘Nurture Africa’ for three weeks in Uganda in 2017. Nurture Africa runs a specialist paediatric health centre and provides some of the most vulnerable children in Uganda with lifesaving treatment and education. I boarded a plane alongside 29 other Irish volunteers, bound for Nansana, a suburb of Uganda’s capital city Kampala. I was involved in Nurture Africa’s general skills programme which involved building and community projects and community visits including library, sustainable livelihood, health and home visits. Leaders and volunteers also hosted workshops (computer skills, health and first aid workshops) within the community.

On the human library book night a member of the audience asked me what the biggest positive was from my volunteering experience in Uganda. The biggest positive was definitely the kindness and hospitality of the Ugandan people. Upon arriving at Entebbe International Airport, we were met by our driver Alex and a student Regan who worked for Nurture Africa who did everything they could to assist us on our journey. Similarly all the locals that I met were very welcoming and kind and we enjoyed exchanging stories and discussing the similarities and differences in both Irish and Ugandan society and culture.

At first, I was apprehensive of the fundraising criteria for the three weeks volunteering programme in Uganda but the generosity I received from my local community was outstanding.

I fundraised over €2,500 for Nurture Africa through two local bucket collections, a ‘Get Fit Have Fun’ sports event (sponsored by my local Karate club) and organised a charity pub quiz. I wrote letters to companies that may have been in a position to sponsor a prize for this quiz and received many great prizes that I was able to advertise before the quiz took place.  During International Volunteer Day, I listened to other volunteers’ creative fundraising stories and it became apparent that the fundraising element became one of the surprising joys of the volunteering process!

I was a participant on the SDG Advocate Programme with the Charity Development Perspectives in 2018 and I saw firsthand how a group of informed citizens can bring transformative change to Ireland. The SDG Advocate Programme involves three stages which are:

1: Critical analysis, discussion and understanding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) and our role as active citizens.

2: The SDG Advocates spend two weeks working and studying alongside local partner organisations abroad; sharing ideas, perspectives and design of sustainable models of community-based projects.

3: Emphasis on implementing the Advocates SDG action initiatives in Ireland and an opportunity to showcase each project during an “Exhibition of Experience”.

The SDG Advocate Programme challenged my views on areas such as human rights, trade, globalisation, poverty, sustainability and social change and helped me to develop both personally and professionally. I stayed in Da Bac District in Da Bia village, Northwest of Hanoi in Vietnam and stayed with a family who ran a homestay as part of a Community Based Tourism model. I really enjoyed learning about sustainable ideas and projects in Vietnam and Tanzania and how the participants in both locations created social change in their communities. I met a great bunch of advocates from all locations and was given plenty of guidance from the leaders and advocates along my journey.  I am very grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of this programme in 2018 and to be a leader on the SDG Advocate programme this summer.

The human library book activity was followed by a workshop exploring international and local action issues and information was provided about responsible volunteering opportunities. SDG Goal number 17 ‘partnership for the goals’ is critical as only by organisations working together, can we bring about lasting, sustainable change. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience as a human library book and sharing my volunteer experience and I encourage anyone with an interest in volunteering to research volunteering opportunities and apply, you never know where it may take you.

Written by Michelle Jackson. Michelle is a SDG advocate with Development Perspectives and a Global Citizen Award participant for 2020. Michelle is also facilitating two webinars on 17th and 24th April where she will be discussing her volunteering experiences and her interest n the SDGs.