Siofra Herr writes about her experiences of Volunteering with UCDVO and taking part in the Comhlámh ‘What Next’ course.
On the 17th of June this year, myself and eighteen other volunteers embarked on a four week volunteering project teaching computers and English in Morogoro Tanzania. The volunteering programme was run by UCDVO in partnership with TanzEd and Camara Education, and we, the volunteers, would be separated amongst three primary schools, a computer lab having been set up in each primary school prior to our arrival.
Each day was structured so that time was given to teaching English to the primary school students, practising English conversation with the schoolteachers and teaching the schoolteachers how to operate Edubuntu software in the computer labs. After lunch, time was dedicated to running summer camps with the students, where we played football, did facepainting, art and many other games and activities.
I applied to volunteer with UCDVO for a wide variety of reasons. Having taken part in the Comhlámh and UCDVO evening course ‘Be the Change’, I had developed a strong interest in global development. I found it difficult to properly understand many of the issues facing global south and was keen to experience and understand a bit better a culture vastly different from Ireland’s. Whilst in Tanzania, we developed really strong bonds with the teachers and pupils, we learned an awful lot from them, such as local traditions, songs, Swahili and a bit about history and politics in Tanzania. I found it really interesting during the conversational English classes with the teachers, to hear their opinions on a wide range of topics and was really blown away by how well many of them could communicate their thoughts so eloquently with only a basic level of English, I quote from one teacher, “Our country is rich, but our people are poor”, a sentence which really stuck in our minds.
Upon return from Tanzania, I applied to take part in a training course in the Czech Republic funded by Erasmus Plus, where Comhlámh and other organisations aimed at global development, sent returned volunteers to reflect on their time spent volunteering and to consider and share knowledge on international development. Returned volunteers from England, Ireland, Germany and the Czech Republic took part in the training course which lasted five days in a remote setting in the Czech countryside, about a three hour train journey from Prague.
The first couple of days of the course were dedicated to engaging with the other participants. We all got to know each other well over the five days and each person shared their story about volunteering individually, we heard about the obstacles they faced whilst abroad as well as what they found to be the most rewarding aspect of volunteering. We then moved onto engaging with topics related to international development which people held an interest in, such as gender equality and equal access to healthcare. A ‘marketplace’ was set up where people wrote down on a poster different articles, campaigns, websites, videos, courses etc. that they had come across and found really beneficial in helping them engage and understand different issues better.
The whole atmosphere of the training course was incredibly relaxed and calm, where we stayed had no wifi and was located in the middle of the woods, our minds were completely focused on the training course and getting the most out of it we could. The last few days were dedicated to setting up an action project to implement when we got back home, millions of ideas were shared including setting up a better course on sexual health to be taught in Irish schools and building an online resource and support network for Borderline Personality Disorder.
I feel over the last couple of months I’ve gained a far better and deeper understanding of international development and am keen to stay involved in campaigns and to learn more about global justice issues.
Siofra is a second year Mechanical Engineering student at University College Dublin.
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