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Is International Volunteering A Tool For Making Global Citizenship Stronger?

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Kevin Murphy from Nurture Africa  got the chance to attend an EU funded conference focusing upon “International Volunteering as a tool for Strengthening Global Citizenship” here he talks about how it was simply not be missed.

Through our work as part of the Comhlámh Volunteering & Development Education Working Group, both I and Mary Coogan were afforded this exciting opportunity. Completing the Irish contingent was Chairperson of Comhlámh Board of Directors, Johnny Sheehan.

Organisations from eleven countries across the length and breadth of Europe were present. A greater global representation was provided by attendees from organisations working in Mexico, Vietnam, China and Kenya, who all made the journey to Kaunas, Lithuania.

As proceedings got underway, I had a personal hope that I would be sampling new thoughts, views and perspectives of volunteering and Global Education from our multicultural group. I was not disappointed! The perspectives from both sending and host organisations were sometimes running on parallel lines and other times not. A sending organisation can implement a great programme and set up great development education activities for a volunteer, when a host organisation in the global south just wants that classroom built! That begged the question….. What does Global Education mean to a partner organisation in Uganda, Kenya or India?! If you’re hoping I have the answer, you’ll be sorely disappointed! Food for thought however…..

As the conference continued, and I found myself critically evaluating my own Global Education practice in Ireland. There are amazing pieces of work being carried out throughout Europe, and I wholeheartedly include the work being done in Ireland as a part of that! Many differing perspectives on, approaches to and methods of, implementing Global Education were teased out during the conference. One concept that I continuously thought about was the concept of “volunteering to learn ONLY”. Put simply, activities carried out on a given volunteer programme had the sole objective of assisting participants, through a multicultural experience, to gain a greater understanding of social justice issues and in turn assist them to become more globally engaged citizens, at both a local and international level. There was no concept of volunteers, engaging in physical “volunteering” work in these programmes. It was about learning through an intercultural exchange, and it was inspiring to listen to stories of success! Would this fit into the wider Irish context of International volunteering…? Should I/we even consider that question…? I certainly think so! However, if a host in the global south is seeking physical tangible outcomes from overseas volunteers, and a sending organisation in Europe/or anywhere (!) is focusing upon an experience involving deeper learning and understanding, a synergy can be found. Great partnerships and equal understanding from both partners should help to ensure quality programmes!

The one resounding message that I would take back to all volunteer sending agencies in Ireland is this….. We are so fortunate to have Comhlámh working with us! If you were to imagine a Global Education success curve, Comhlámh are out in front of it! Throughout the three days of the conference, the words “Comhlámh” and “great” were continuously mentioned together. Staffs from organisations in France, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, China and Mexico were hungry for best practice resources and activities for returnees. The resources that we packed for sharing at the conference did not last long! It was an honour to represent the organisation at the conference and promote “best practice” in volunteering and global education.

Many new connections have been made, across Europe and new conversations have begun regarding the next steps that can be taken. This is an exciting and inspiring time for me personally. I have been energised by my involvement in this project and would like to wholeheartedly thank Grainne, the whole Comhlámh team and the Volunteering and Development Education working group for the opportunity to participate in this conference. The seeds have been sown and exciting times lie ahead…..

View Mary Coogan’s gallery of photos from the conference.



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