It has been said that the best thing for aspiring overseas volunteers to do would be to recognize their incapacity to do the good they intend to do. Others say that aspiring volunteers can prepare differently, work alongside people differently, and ultimately learn, through the experience, to walk differently in the world. Which is true? Is there important truths in both of these assertions? Can we make a difference through overseas volunteering?
Certainly and as we have seen, a volunteer does not enter into a vacuum when they go overseas, but into a context which has had a long history of contact with the ‘Global North’. The volunteer is also entering into a social context, which has its own cultural mores around ethnicity, class, sexuality, gender and bear the contours of pre, colonial and post-colonial epochs. An overseas volunteer can work to attune themselves to such contexts and his/ her position within such contexts.
Volunteering overseas can also be a way to learn more about the structures and agents which perpetuate global poverty and suffering. It can be hard to initially locate these larger issues and how they affect communities e.g. international borders, trade barriers, medicine patents but overseas volunteers do have this a unique opportunity to develop/ deepen your understanding of the connections and can bring this knowledge and insight back home with you to help educate others and inform action.
Nowhere is our interconnectedness more manifest than in the millions of people who have taken perilous journeys to Europe in recent years in search of refuge. The wars and economic insecurity they are fleeing are intricately connected to the past and present interventions of governments here in Europe and North America.
In the midst of all these challenges currently facing us, all is not bleak. There is a potential for you in conjunction with others to bring new perspectives to bear on these issues and to deepen understanding of the issues with people locally while making connections globally.
Remember, the world has been continually changing, shaped by the different players, including many ordinary people as well as those leaders we read about in the history books. What is going to happen in the next fifty years? Who will be the ones to shape this, and where is the role for each of us as individuals and as communities?
In particular, as socially engaged citizens, what is our role in shaping the world, both locally and globally? How can we use the insights, skills and knowledge we gain to inform and shape the here, now and