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What are the pictures that you have in your mind when you think about “volunteer work“? Do you think of people travelling to developing countries and teaching people the right way to do things? Is “volunteerism” the new “colonialism” dressed up in 21st century social responsibility? Or could it be a way for the volunteers to learn some new skills? And, do you even have to go abroad or is it possible to volunteer and learn new things through volunteerism in your own hometown from other cultures? In this episode we will talk to Elena Colunga Caballero and John Kaethler from Brock University in Canada who will demonstrate that volunteering is much more about learning than about teaching.
Elena is from Spain, where the majority of people are Christians. Through her international volunteer work she has developed an intercultural sensivity and awareness of different traditions and ways of thinking. She tells us how she embarked on this intercultural learning journey thanks to her parents, who encouraged her to get involved in a volunteering project at high school. Later she collaborated in an association called “Kala – Encuentro en la Calle”, located in her city , Córdoba, in the South of Spain whose aim it is to support children and young homeless and unprotected migrants from the Northern and Sub Saharan Africa. Also, a couple of years ago she was nominated to participate in a workcamp in the region of Kurdistan, in South Eastern Turkey. She is convinced that volunteering is a great recipe for reciprocal learning.
Some time ago I interviewed John Kaethler from Brock University in Canada who told me that he had volunteered for two years as a development worker in Nigeria and again for two years in Papua New Guinea a long time ago. He points out that the international volunteer workers need to understand that THEY are the ones who are learning a lot and are growing in the process…
In our last category “absolutely open-minded” we will come back to the intercultural learning process triggered by international volunteer work. Elena tells us about a situation during which she learned about the frictions between the Kurdish and Turkish people and how the exposure to this conflict helped her accept the coexistence of different opinions on the same reality. This seems to be the key to intercultural open-mindedness. She also shares her first experience of Ramadan in a region with a majority Muslim population. We also learn that typical international volunteers seem to have some characteristics in common and finally she gives us some advice of how to start a volunteering experience through the European Voluntary Service.
Would you like to share with us your own experience as a volunteer in your own country or abroad? If so, we would be delighted to hear both positive and negative aspects of it, so don´t hesitate and share your intercultural experiences with it with us on our Facebook Page.
If you want even more background as to broader issues behind our intercultural stories in this podcast then you might consider visiting the Absolutely Intercultural Amazon store where we have both classics, basics and specifics for sale, a small proportion of which goes to us to support the costs of maintaining this podcast.
Our next show will be coming to you on 3 May from Anne Fox in Denmark.
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The host of this show is: Dr. Laurent Borgmann