Isabelle Boileau: Volunteering gives you wings
Isabelle Boileau – our volunteer of the month for January – was already very familiar with giving back locally, and she was looking for a new challenge. Since she had never travelled internationally, she decided that volunteering abroad would be a natural extension of her dedication to community engagement. “I looked into the Aeroplan Charitable Pooling Program because I wanted to volunteer overseas. I had already done a lot of volunteering in my community and I wanted to apply what I had learned somewhere further away. I also knew that it would be a very valuable experience for me.”
Isabelle is a fourth-year health sciences student at the University of Ottawa who was one of five recipients of the Aeroplan Charitable Pooling Program in 2015. Thanks to its generous donors, the Aeroplan Program helped finance Isabelle’s trip to Bogota, Columbia, where she spent a month tending to elderly women at a healthcare centre and providing them with basic services, including food, shelter, and medication. She was entrusted with creating a more reassuring and encouraging atmosphere for the centre’s clients. This included teaching yoga classes with poses that were specially adapted for the elderly ladies, who affectionately nicknamed her “Madame Yoga.”
“I knew that I wanted to work with a more vulnerable population. Human contact is so important,” she said. “What interested me in Colombia in particular was that I had a whole new culture to explore. And with regard to both the people I met and their traditions, my experience was unforgettable and incredibly enriching.”
The Aeroplan Charitable Pooling Program gave Isabelle much more than a head start: it was key to her participation in a placement that she could not have otherwise afforded. “I truly believe that without the Aeroplan award, I would not have had enough money to go,” she said. “Without the airfare, it would have been impossible.” She also described how the the award helped her in non-financial ways. “Receiving this airfare is a real vote of confidence. It really boosts your self-esteem, and makes you proud and motivates you to become even more involved.”
Far from being an isolated case, Isabelle’s experience shows how valuable such scholarships are for students studying abroad, given the constant increase in university tuition fees in Canada. Isabelle insisted on thanking the Centre and was especially proud of being its ambassador. Her previous volunteer experiences had paved the way for her experience in Columbia. “Leadership, self-reliance and creativity: these are all skills I learned by volunteering,” she said. “The only barrier I faced was language, but my personality and attitude helped me to interact well. Just by being present, smiling and friendly, you can make a difference.”
Although she understands the emphasis that her professors place on developing an international perspective, she feels that nothing can replace practical engagement on the ground. “It’s enriching in every sense of the word. When you’re on site, you gain a better understanding of the human experience than when you’re isolated in class.” She encourages all her peers to become as engaged as possible.
In short, Isabelle’s experience in Columbia helped her understand the many benefits of volunteering abroad, an experience that she believes is a two-way street. “When you get involved overseas, the whole world wins,” she said.
According to Isabelle, it’s a universal principle: “whether they live in Columbia or Canada, all people want is love from those around them.”
Donate your Aeroplan Miles to help send uOttawa students to areas around the world where they can participate in meaningful community service. From Northern Canada to China, from Ghana to Guatemala, your Miles will help get them there.