Tragic stories have been flooding the news, but buried beneath it all was a small glimmer of hope.
The Honourable Christian Paradis, Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, made an announcement that has positive repercussions for thousands of people, both in Canada and overseas.
He made a call for Canadian international volunteer co-operation organizations to submit proposals to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development for funding.
It might seem mundane, but it was a huge sigh of relief for volunteers like me, for the 10 Canadian organizations that depend on this funding for their work, and for their colleagues overseas.
This particular funding runs on a five-year cycle, and when no call was made in 2013 as expected, international volunteer co-operation was facing an uncertain future. At times the value of international volunteering is called into question because the impact isn’t clear in terms of percentages and decimal points, but as a former Crossroads International volunteer in Swaziland, I know that measuring impact is not always as simple as collating numbers.
I embarked on a six-month volunteer mandate in 2011 and I’ve been consistently amazed with the chain reaction it has had on my life. I volunteered as a Communications and Marketing Advisor with the Family Life Association of Swaziland, a Crossroads partner that is a key provider of rights-based youth-focused sexual and reproductive health in Swaziland.
They ensure youth participate in the outcome of their own health through family planning, birth control, and sexually transmitted infection prevention and treatment. In a country like Swaziland, which has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world, this task is huge.
The workload was incredible and the demands were high, so it didn’t take long for me to feel the first impact of the experience.
Working here was no cake walk. Swaziland is not an easy country to live in. But you get through it, you push forward and gain new respect for your abilities and limitations, you adapt and gather more skills, you forgive yourself and accept that failure is a part of growth.
After returning from Swaziland I decided I wanted to continue working in health communications, especially with youth, and this fall I’ll be pursuing graduate studies in South Africa. So has my volunteering made an impact? Yes, on everything.
Canada has been financing international volunteer programs for more than 20 years. Paradis’ announcement means more than funding proposals; it acknowledges that the government is saying “yes” to the contributions we make as volunteers.
Kristiana Bruneau is from Campbell River, B.C., and currently lives in Vancouver. She worked for the Family Life Association of Swaziland as a Crossroads International volunteer for two years. Crossroads is currently recruiting volunteers for mandates at www.cintl.org