From the perspective of a blind or partially sighted person, the thought of volunteering overseas might be a far-off pipe dream.
However, thanks to the innovative work of CIC (Children in Crossfire) and RNIB (Royal National Institute for Blind and Partially Sighted People in Northern Ireland) this no longer may be the case. A seminar hosted in Dublin today to present the findings from a pilot project, VIVID, opened up a wider discussion about the inclusivity of persons with disabilities in the volunteering sector in Ireland.
Laura McCauley, youth assistant with RNIB, who volunteered in the Gambia in 2012 as part of a DFID sponsored project initiated by CIC, shared her experiences and her ideas of how to ensure volunteering is an option anyone and everyone can get involved with. Thanks to the support of Caroline, Richard and others in CIC, Laura was able to make a significant contribution to the project in which she was working.
Many of the recommendations that emerged from the pilot research are those that would apply to any volunteer programme: effective recruitment procedures, in-country support, and clear roles for volunteers. The only difference is that programmes which aim to include a visually impaired person (or anyone for a disability for that matter) is to ensure whatever supports specific to that particular volunteer are made available.
Richard Moore, founding director of CIC, shared his story, a ‘positive experience of blindness’ – but not without its challenges – explaining his personal interest in the VIVID project as well as the significance for CIC of this project. The partner in the Gambia, GOVI (Gambian Organisation for Visual Impairment), was supported by CIC to develop teacher training and resource development to promote the integration of visually impaired children into education.
Laura spoke about her vision for the next steps of the project, that in 5 – 7 years’ time, anyone with a visual impairment could have a range of overseas volunteering opportunities to chose from: short term, long term, ‘learning’ projects, as well as projects to accommodate the unique skills and perspectives that blind and partially sighted volunteers can contribute to development.
Throughout, Caroline Murphy, Dev Ed manager at CIC, talked about the importance of a development education approach in making the connections between volunteers from Ireland and the local context overseas; as well as importantly the ‘us’ perspective that was developed among the people with whom Laura was working – generating a feeling of equality and interconnectedness on a more global level. Caroline reinforced the importance of a development education approach in volunteering for the learning that can contribute to further discussions and action here in Ireland.
The discussion has started… The next steps are multi-layered; through the Comhlámh network, CIC wish to promote the inclusivity of blind or partially sighted people in volunteering, and are keen to link with any volunteer sending agencies who are open to continuing elements of the project through creating further opportunities in their programmes. The opportunity of linking an existing organisation with good practice in volunteering with CIC and their experience of contributing will hopefully lead to programmes that are accessible for anyone and everyone.