What I did on my summer break

Graphic by Alessandra McGovern

The newest group of students accepted into the Concordia Volunteer Abroad Program (CVAP) begin their pre-departure training sessions this January for their summer volunteer trip to Gulu, Uganda.

CVAP, a fee-levy, non-profit organization at Concordia, sends staff and volunteers to work on supporting community development projects in Uganda for four months in the summer, alternating for two months at a time.

They also collaborate year-round with groups such as St. Jude Children’s Home, SOS Children’s Villages, Sports Outreach Ministry and The AIDS Support Organization (TASO).

Although some students face challenges such as homesickness and adapting to the slower pace of Ugandan life, CVAP’s executive director Jamie Robinson said the pre-departure sessions have undergone improvements in preparing volunteers.

“The feedback from our partners is that volunteers are ready to work with them and volunteers have more to contribute, and probably in some respect have more humility in their approach as well, which is really essential,” she added.

Jeevan Sidhu volunteered with CVAP in the summer of 2011. “It was amazing,” she said, “the time goes by faster than you think.”

According to Sidhu, the program takes you out of the classroom and gives you crucial experiential learning.

“It’s about really just being completely immersed in a situation and learning in a different way than you would in a textbook,”she added.

The four-month-long training sessions, which can be taken as a four-credit course, cover topics such as environmental impact assessment, radical approaches to community development, and critical race and gender theory.

“We really want people to make the most out of their experience,” Robinson said. “If students are well prepared then I think our community partners benefit from that preparation.”

The sessions, said Sidhu, also help deal with any anxieties the student may have. She noted how enthusiastic this year’s group is.

“I’m so excited for them because I know I had the same experience as them just a year ago.”

CVAP volunteers work on agriculture projects, health care projects, help with surveys and more.

A recent example of the work students did at St. Jude’s, said Robinson, includes a health and hygiene workshop that the students ran for the children. They “made some visuals to go up in their washrooms and other places for children to learn about hand washing,” she explained.

Robinson said volunteering helps people understand the value of their lives and their time. She cited examples such as helping a community receive health care and contributing to economic progress as being worth that time.

She believes that volunteering, no matter where it takes place, “is an expression that is worth more than money.”

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