Volunteering Abroad: A Success Story


Volunteering Abroad: A Success Story

By: Adam Brayford
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We see them daily. Images of poverty, children and adults alike, living in the misfortune that is the developing world. We see them on a television screen. It is not difficult to feel a sense of disconnect faced with such a reality, as we pursue our studies in the classroom or from home. At SFU, our slogan implores us to 'think of the world'. However, the confines of the typical semester of study limit us to just that: thinking. Ex-SFU student KristyTreleavin urges students to look beyond their own niche, to those who lack proper health care, not to mention a higher education. Not only that, she encourages a more hands-on approach, one that she practiced while volunteering for an orphanage for children with AIDS in Mozambique. As Volunteer Coordinator for HOPE, a not-for-profit organization dealing in international aid, Kristin works daily with students who dare to abandon their own comfort zones in the pursuit of true humanitarianism.

Kristin’s story begins in high school. As a peer counselor, she provided support for teenagers in crisis. Stemming from a strong sense of compassion for those in need, her work provided the foundation for what would later become a career of helping people. Not surprisingly, following graduation, Kristin embarked on an international venture that built on her passion for benevolence in a setting drastically different from the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. Traveling 16,000 kilometres to one of the poorest nations of South Africa, the committed volunteer - fresh from high school - found herself in a region where living conditions are so poor that over half the population is under the age of 20. Mozambique would be formative to Kristin’s devotion to assisting those in need. Indeed, if any experience could expose her to the possibilities for progress that lie in the developing world, it was volunteering for an orphanage for infants afflicted with AIDS.

“I remember (happily & gratefully) cleaning up mud on the floor of the house where the HIV/AIDs-infected babies lived and just wishing that I could offer something more to these really kind, hard-working [caretakers],” describes Kristin. “I decided that, even though I had bitterly hated high school (to the point of nearly dropping out several times), I would go home and enroll in university to study development and poverty. I figured it would make me a more ‘useful’ person. The jury is still out on whether I am! However, the course of my life was definitely altered by the knowledge of people I gained while traveling and volunteering.”

And returning home, Kristin made good on her word. After dabbling in International Development and Relations at SFU, the traveled student made use of a connection she had in the non-profit sector, landing a position with HOPE. “I was impressed by the non-paternalistic culture of HOPE. The idea is to help people to help themselves,” she explains. And through her devotion to humanitarianism, Kristin has had a hand in improving many a life worldwide. Today, she has strong words to say about the value of incorporating volunteering into the university education:

‘I truly believe that people who intend to help others through their education or career path need to make every effort to understand the way people outside of our privileged niche live and think. I think that it’s impossible to fully understand the best of what the theorists have had to say about poverty and need without being able to apply it to a real-world context. Volunteering can be expensive and time-consuming, but what is university? Is it race to the scholastic finish line, where you are awarded a perfect job? No way. Make sure you take the time to enrich your education with experience - it will make you more employable because, ultimately, it will make you a more wise and kind person.’

Beyond The Article

Thinking that HOPE might just be the volunteer opportunity for you? Contact Volunteer Coordinator Kristin Treleavin at kristint@hope-international.com. Also, check out the HOPE International website for details.

Posted on December 25, 2010