For Rebecca Klaassen, an international development student, volunteering is all about finding something you’re passionate about, and then putting that passion into action. Currently on a Faculty of Social Sciences international internship in Cape Town, South Africa, she is the first recipient of the Africa Community Service Fund scholarship, set up in the fall of 2015 to facilitate students’ access to community engagement opportunities on that continent.
“Volunteering is a way to contribute to something that you are passionate about, which adds a lot of positivity to your own life and the lives that you are working to impact,” says Klaassen, who is now combatting gender inequality with an organization called Gender at Work. Her work “connects community members in various initiatives to end gender-based violence.”
Klaassen adds: “In South Africa, the Gender at Work team partners with the Labour Research Service (LRS), an organization that promotes workers’ rights. I mainly help to create materials to support a joint community-based project in a township outside of Johannesburg called the Vaal.”
Klaassen was particularly interested in the Cape Town project because of the high rates of sexual assault and violent deaths in South Africa. The effects of apartheid in the country have also led to immense social and economic inequality. Using the skills from a previous field research course in Bangladesh, Klaassen was able to better understand the situation in South Africa and decide how to take action. “My research in Bangladesh focussed on violence against women, and having the opportunity to engage with communities on this topic improved my understanding of gender-based violence and inequality, and my research skills. The project that I mainly work with in South Africa focuses on gender-based violence in a low-income community and involves many interviews.”
Her passion for helping others, which took root at home through projects serving the local community, has led to her making a difference overseas. Still, Klaassen believes that you don’t need to go far to change someone’s life. To anyone who wants to get involved but doesn’t know where to start, Klaassen says to find an inspiration and then follow it. “Think about the things that you are passionate about, or even the things that frustrate you and you would want to change, and work with them.” No matter how small a task may seem, Klaassen believes that anyone is capable of making a difference in the world.