Home Country: United States
Why should you be the IVHQ volunteer of the year?
Living in the United States of America is a privilege of sorts because, as a citizen we have a plethora of avenues by which we can effect real change. Living in a developed nation has not only presented me with a numerous amount of volunteer opportunities with various organizations, but has also given me the gift of a broadened worldview. My volunteer experience covers a vast amount of time, with years of hard work spanning across three continents.
Throughout my life, I have dedicated my time and energy to helping local community members, as well as doing my best to help the global community. As a young girl, I participated in various food drives for local churches and in city-wide river sweeps that aided in waste management and environmental remediation. But a great deal of my volunteer experience occurred when I began studying at the State University of New York: College of Environmental Science & Forestry in Syracuse, New York. During the four years I spent at this university, I was blessed with the opportunity to not only receive a great education, but to become involved in student organizations whose missions centered on volunteer service and cultural diversity. During my freshman year of college, I spent my spring break volunteering with Operation Southern Comfort in New Orleans, Louisiana, to aid individuals impacted by Hurricane Katrina, through church and residential restoration. As a member of Alpha Xi Sigma Honors Society, I spent years volunteering at various forestry-related outings and events, both on campus and throughout the city of Syracuse. This past September, I was fortunate enough to volunteer with IVHQ in New Delhi, India, where I met their amazing in-country staff and made wonderful new friends. My volunteer work took place at the Education Cum Vocational Association for the Disabled, where I taught basic English and Mathematics to a rambunctious, but kind-hearted group of young children. I believe my values and current academic/professional goals have stemmed from these life experiences, and I am certain these experiences have only strengthened my understanding of different cultures, and ultimately the world at large.
When I hear about volunteers and philanthropists giving not just their time and talents but also their resources to help others empower themselves, I am convinced that their worldview reinforces the fact that we are all connected. The common phrase ‘Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’ is a philosophy that I have committed to throughout my life. I am interested in a world where those who are at the proverbial top are reaching down to lift up others and I believe the talented minds behind International Volunteer HQ have made that commitment.
I would be honored to be the 2015 IVHQ Volunteer of the Year because I view this award and future volunteer trip as a way to strengthen my knowledge of global issues and to engage with like-minded individuals that want to be a part of the solution. Volunteering with IVHQ and other organizations has really cemented my desire to continue work towards empowering developing nations. I truly am humbled by this finalist nomination and this award/experience would only serve as a meaningful milestone in my life.
What motivated you to get involved with volunteering?
I have always been influenced and motivated by my parents to expand my horizons and was taught that volunteering is always an excellent activity to achieve this goal. As the child of Africans, my parents have always regaled me with tales of their childhood in Nigeria and the beautiful landscapes found all across the continent of Africa. But also included in their chronicles were the challenges faced with agriculture in hot climates and the constant economic turmoil that plague the countries of the third world. Consequently, I was raised to value and understand the importance of our environment and was taught basic actions like recycling at a young age. This background not only influenced my decision to obtain a B.S. in Environmental Studies, but motivated me to participate in different environmentally-focused volunteering events, in both Illinois and New York.
As I grew older and became more educated on the events occurring throughout the world, my desire to become more involved with cultural immersion and international development grew stronger. I aspire to learn and understand different cultures around the world, and my continuous motivation in volunteering is to leave a lasting imprint on the lives of others.
How much time do you dedicate to volunteering?
The amount of time I have dedicated to volunteering is difficult to quantitate, in terms of a specific amount of time. I have a vast range of time dedicated towards acts of service, varying from a few hours to a few weeks spent overseas and in the U.S. But each time I volunteer, I do so with a resolve that any amount of time spent volunteering is always a worthwhile investment of my time.
Currently, I volunteer every month with ONE throughout the city of Chicago and in my Congressional District in DuPage County, Illinois. ONE is an international organization that dedicates its’ resources to eradicating poverty in Africa and promoting advocacy that ensures social justice for all. This organization utilizes its volunteers to aid in the promotion of political advocacy and international development. Our events/advocacy work can range from 8 hours on an event day to just phone calls and collaboration.
What is the most rewarding part of your volunteer work?
There are many rewarding aspects of volunteer work and my favorite reward comes from affecting the lives of everyone I interact with, including a change in my worldview. Watching someone smile because of a completed project and knowing that this action will positively change the trajectory of their life is one of the best feelings in the world! No matter what language barrier or cultural difference I have encountered in the past, a genuine smile has always shown to be a universal language.
While I continually strive to volunteer with my best foot forward, I have also realized that I have been deeply affected by many of my past volunteer experiences. Many volunteer experiences have made me take a step back to re-evaluate my lifestyle, while also making me very grateful for all that I have been given. It is a very moving experience to impact and connect with the people you serve through volunteer work, and I hope to inspire others in taking their first steps in volunteer service, no matter what the cause may be.
What is the greatest challenge of your volunteer work?
The greatest challenges I have encountered in my volunteer work is time and money or the lack thereof. There have been instances where an inadequate amount of funding and time has left various volunteer projects unfinished. There have also been instances where I wanted to dedicate more than a few weeks to volunteering, but my current responsibilities and financial status would not allow for a more extended period of time abroad. Many of my service sites and endeavors depended on donations or government funding to continue their operations. In the past, I have witnessed insufficient funding gravely effect these organizations. The Chicago Center for Green Technology, a prominent center for environmental education and career training in Northwest Chicago, had its already limited funding discontinued in the fall of 2014, forcing this center to close its doors to the public. This is why I strongly believe that continuous government funding, coupled with donations of any kind, are imperative components that have the power to impact the lives of many.
In regards to time, I believe time has the ability to allow a volunteer to learn about the pressing matters that affect a specific community, and how their service work can effectively alleviate these issues. I see this as a very important aspect of volunteer work and a lack of time spent gaining background knowledge on a project or community, can lead to costly mistakes and unsuccessful volunteer outcomes. Overall, I believe that the challenges faced with money and time have deepened my understanding of the fundamentals of volunteer service. These aspects have helped me learn from my mistakes and have assisted me in the process of becoming a more efficient volunteer.
Why do you believe you will be effective volunteering within a community abroad?
I believe a multitude of factors have showcased my ability to be an effective volunteer, specifically in a community abroad. In addition to volunteering in India this year, I successfully planned and executed SUNY-ESF’s first volunteer abroad trip to the Fiji Islands in the winter of 2013. Our work focused on community development and the restoration of a kindergarten in the rural village of Naibita.
In addition, respect for other cultures is of the utmost importance to me, and I see this as an important aspect of any positive volunteer trip abroad. I approach new ideas and places with open-mindedness and I have learned to adapt to my surroundings, wherever my volunteer travels may take me. These attributes have been successful for me in the past and I believe they will continue to serve me well in international settings.
What are you hoping to gain from an international volunteer experience?
I always see international volunteer trips as learning experiences, and I hope to build on this knowledge through education. I truly believe formal and informal education is a gateway to the world, and it exposes me to different cultures on a continual basis. Keeping abreast of domestic and international affairs is crucial to the growth of one’s mind and future. I believe that the more you dedicate your time to volunteering, the more likely you are to develop ways to substantially benefit your volunteer efforts; this is my hope for all international volunteer trips I embark on.
I want to change the world, but I have seen that it requires my involvement along with the galvanization of a movement of people who will not only speak of their aspirations, but are willing to take steps towards making their acts of service a reality. As an extension of volunteering and learning abroad, I believe international and economic development is crucial in any developing nation. The advancement of technology, the continuous stream of funding for life-saving programs, and government funded health initiatives have all played a part in aiding efforts in international volunteerings’ overall mission to combat poverty, and empower citizens. Working together to achieve an overall emergence of global stability is my hope for the future.