This post was written by current student, Nicole Meehan.
Last summer I had the opportunity to travel and volunteer in Peru. Upon my return I wanted to reflect more deeply on my experience and possibly earn a course credit in the process. It was suggested to me to do a reading course and so began my version of DST 727, Leadership in Social Action.
I began by taking time and thinking about how to situate myself. I am a white individual who is an outsider, tourist, amateur photographer, student and volunteer. I wanted to understand how my social location connected to and impacted my experience in Peru. I wrote a series of journals to accompany a set of photographs I had taken, creating a photo essay. I then unpacked and complicated them by using concepts and readings from the course.
The volunteer work that I did in Lima, Peru was in a school for children with physical disabilities called Alegria en el Señor. There were two groups of student volunteers on my trip, speech pathologists from the University of Western, and first year medical students from Brock University, and then there was me. During the time I was with the two groups I felt caught in between, not really fitting into either. It seemed like both groups of students were there to fix and provide solutions to medical problems, where as I, just coming out of the summer institute, had a somewhat different thought process and approach.
While volunteering I was cautious and thought about the relationship between the Global North and South, and the power differences. I have noticed that the trend for affecting change involves imposing Northern policies and practices on other countries. Northerners assume that “what works here, will work there too”, not considering the implications of how a Northern culture imposed on the Global South might affect their societal structure in the long term.
Since returning from Peru, and even a little bit while I was there, I struggled with the core reason of why I was volunteering in the Global South. I sometimes felt that I had nothing to contribute, so why am I here? My thinking and understanding then started to shift and became more about how can I learn from the people and this experience. I find that by volunteering with the various communities in Peru I have gained a better understanding of the cultures and customs than if I was to just play tourist. I am still a privileged outsider, but hopefully a little less naïve to my social situation.
Working through and completing this reading course has helped me to reframe my interpretation of my experiences in The Global South and understand how it can be interconnected with my life.