Justina Marianayagam, a fourth-year student in the Faculty of Health Sciences (French Immersion) and Loran Scholar, has been volunteering for as long as she can remember. Contributing back to her community has always been part of an extracurricular that she does; either through school or placements she would find herself. Justina grew up in Yellowknife (NWT) before moving to Mississauga (ON), and has had the opportunity to volunteer in many different sectors in rural and urban settings. Her past and present volunteer placements include coaching soccer, volunteering as a community health intern in Chettipalayam, India and acting as a youth ambassador for Canadian Parents for French (NGO) to promote bilingualism. During her time at the University of Ottawa, she spends time volunteering at the campus radio station: CHUO 89.1 FM through hosting live shows and processing music to support local Canadian artists. In 2015, Justina created the first volunteer placement within the Chronic Pain Service at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) where she conducts monthly sessions in their “Comfort Ability Workshop” for pediatric patients and their parents. As a pain advocate and advisor, Justina has volunteered in pediatric pain research and initiatives in liaison with hospitals in Ottawa, Toronto and Halifax and has traveled nationwide to deliver keynote presentations on her volunteer initiatives at various conferences.
In May 2017, Justina carried out a four-month unpaid public policy health internship in Yellowknife, with the Institute for Circumpolar Health Research (ICHR). ICHR is a non-governmental organization whose mandate is to solve collective problems, including building a culturally respectful health and social services system in Canada’s North. Justina’s role, within ICHR, was to conduct a scoping policy review which analyzed Indigenous medicine access in the Northwest Territories. Her findings were that Indigenous people, while consulting a primarily Westernized hospital for healthcare in the Northwest Territories, do not have access to traditional medicine services such as Healers or traditional ceremonies (i.e. smudging). One of the main barriers to this access is the lack of policies in place that specifically focus on the health rights for Indigenous people. Justina also worked in collaboration with hospitals across Canada who have policies that cater to the health needs of their respective Indigenous populations. She analysed these different policies and pulled their best practices to propose to the Government of the Northwest Territories, hoping for change. From the data she collected, she wrote a report which is currently in the publication phase. Towards the end of her internship, Justina had the opportunity to present her research findings to the Federal Minister of Indigenous Services and former Minister of Health: the Honourable Jane Philpott. This moment was one of the highlights of Justina’s internship: “Sharing my project with the federal government was an achievement not just for me, but for all of Northern Canada, whose gaps in healthcare go greatly unnoticed” she claims. In October 2017. Justina and her research team traveled to Happy-Valley Goose Bay (NL) to present her research on a panel entitled “Indigenous Medicine Access in NWT Medical Centers” at the Northern and Rural Health Research Conference, one of the largest annual gatherings of Northern health researchers worldwide.
Throughout her internship, Justina worked closely with local Indigenous people; hence, her project was not only on Indigenous people, but with them. The student reminds us about the importance of sustainability in every community engagement project and suggests other students to find ways to make their volunteer projects sustainable, even after it ends (e.g. passing projects to other volunteers, following up with the organization, etc.). As an aspiring healthcare professional, this unpaid internship helped Justina learn more about healthcare issues faced in Canada’s North. She explained “when we generally speak about volunteering, people are quick to think of international work, but forget that there are significant issues here in Canada as well”. The MJCGCE would like to thank Justina for helping shed light on the healthcare issues faced by Indigenous people in our country, and for her inspiring contribution to potential solutions through her research.
Of Ethiopian origin, Lydia Yilma has a rather vague memory of her travels to Ethiopia. As part of her Master’s Program in Anthropology, she decided to embark on a trip to her home country by way of a volunteer placement with an organization known as The Joey Centre, in order to continue her research, but most importantly, to explore her homeland. Thanks to her warm & welcoming environment, she was able to make friends and colleagues, who suggested places to visit, and which allowed her to learn more about the Ethiopian culture and history.
The Joey Centre is the only one of its kind in Ethiopia, as Lydia explains, "the center is unique, and being that it is the first of its kind." Indeed, this Centre is a non-governmental organization that allows children with autism to receive academic education in a family setting where children work closely with their teachers. Rejected and stigmatized, autistic people are poorly understood in Ethiopian society. In this context, the Centre helps inform the public and parents on how to care for children with autism, in order to change the opinion of society.
As a volunteer, Lydia was able to carry out her field research, focusing on databases and not just on existing statistics. She was able to immerse herself in a real life situation to understand how people live in Ethiopia, to see the challenges parents face, and to listen to their respective experiences. Moreover, she draws a more authentic experience, very significant to her. Her field research allowed her to raise several questions she has tried to understand, such as how misinformation or lack of information about autism has an impact on society.
In short, Lydia is very enriched by her stay in Ethiopia, both academically and personally. Her immersion in a lesser-known community allowed her to learn more about the subject of his research and about herself.
Alexandria Clark, a fourth-year Faculty of Social Sciences student completing a joint honours in political science and communication, carried out an unpaid CO-OP internship in the Sahel and West Africa Club Directorate of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris, France, in June 2017. Building on her previous research on the topic, she learnt more about the issues faced by West African migrants travelling across the Mediterranean to the European Union, including mapping their routes in terms of security and travel and developing a better understanding of why they left their homes in the first place. The research results informed OECD and West African governments to identify solutions to security issues, civil strife and the insurgence of militant groups. The work also helped identify the types of services offered by receiving organizations to refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons by contributing to positive social change and solving issues affecting hundreds of thousands of refugees.
Katyanna Ménard, a third year student in the Bachelor of Science in nursing program travelled to Cusco, Peru, in July 2017 to take part of a medical program offered by International Volunteer HQ. This program allows volunteers who are trained and qualified in a medical field to work alongside nurses and doctors helping in underfunded and understaffed clinics and hospitals for low income families. As a volunteer in Cusco, Katyanna volunteered in clinics and hospitals as well as in the community to help with needs analyses or directing people to the right resources. Having gained experience while volunteering with the Ottawa Hospital for four years—including being a patient ambassador in the Cancer Centre, helping out patients’ loved ones in the intensive care unit and providing patient care in oncology units—combined with her clinical placements as a nursing student, helped Katyanna during her time in Peru. Katyanna learnt about the health system in Peru. “I had a chance to experience a different culture and language and I got to learn from fellow volunteers from all over the world. By doing this, I improved my self-confidence” Katyanna claims. Despite the language barrier and the differences in lifestyle and culture, this student explains that her five weeks spent in Cusco “have been my most memorable experience yet”. She encourages other students to volunteer nationally, but also internationally, since you gain a different kind of experience.
For Julie Patry, community engagement is about giving to the community and helping others, regardless of our own social status or that of the ones we help. She first became active in her community in high school, when she volunteered to help at the book fair and Winterlude. In grade 11, she did an unpaid co-op placement at CHEO, working as a monitor in the games room, where the young patients would go to have some fun.
Now in the fourth year of her nursing degree, Julie hopes to be able to do some volunteer work related to her field. In July 2017, she started off on an exciting adventure that took her to Cusco, Peru, to do a seven-week volunteer placement with International Volunteer HQ. When she left, she brought with her more than $500 worth of donated supplies she collected with the help of Katyanna Ménard. St. John Ambulance was one of the big donors, providing a complete first aid kid as well as more than 50 basic first aid kits and hundreds of dressing kits.
Once in Peru, Julie accompanied teams to medical settings throughout the Cusco region, visiting schools, orphanages and emergency clinics. In spite of the cultural differences and language barrier, she still managed to communicate with the patients. She was quite taken with the warm welcome she received from the community members, saying she always felt included wherever she went to help.
Her international volunteer experience gave her a different perspective on the health systems in both countries. She recommends that other students volunteer abroad because “immersing yourself in another culture is a very rewarding and enriching experience that opens us up to the realities of a community. We aren’t always aware of the realities communities are facing when these same situations don’t exist in our own community.” For Julie, to play a leadership role as a volunteer, it’s important to want to help others, regardless of how we do it, and to be proud of what we accomplish.
Julie’s experience in Peru made her want to explore other volunteer placements abroad. “You just need to say ‘yes’ and then give it your all to have an exceptional experience and gain truly unique knowledge.”
Danielle Norbert, a student in the Faculty of Social Sciences, did her second CO-OP placement in Nicaragua. Thanks to a plane ticket from the Aeroplan Charitable Pooling Program, she was able to lessen the impact on her budget of this unpaid placement with FUNDACCO, a community organization. During the placement, she served as a children’s summer camp counsellor in Managua’s Edgar Lang neighbourhood. She organized training for credit union members and developed a basic English course for FUNDACCO staff.
Aleksandar Brezar, Faculty of Medicine, received a plane ticket through the Aeroplan Charitable Pooling program to do an unpaid internship in South Africa in February 2017. He will perform the internship at Khayelitsha District Hospital, a new facility with more than 230 beds including 47 in traumatology, built to relieve the patient load at other Cape Town hospitals. Through this internship, Aleksandar hopes to give a helping hand to the hospital’s medical teams and encourage the sharing of medical practices. He is looking to collect funds or donated medical supplies, including bandages, as supplies are in high demand at the traumatology centre. This won’t be Aleksandar’s first volunteer experience. He served as a member of the board of the Centre de santé et des services sociaux in Gatineau, representing the community. He is currently involved with the Faculty of Medicine’s Office of Francophone Affairs, organizing mini-courses in medicine for high school and university students. Recently, he completed an internship in family medicine in Iqaluit, Nunavut.
Victoire Kpadé is completing her bachelor of science with a major in biochemistry and a minor in health sciences at the Faculty of Science. She’s heading to Ghana for three months to volunteer as a medical assistant for the West Africa AIDS Foundation’s international clinic. Her work will include receiving clinic patients, taking their medical histories, noting their symptoms, measuring their height, weight and vital signs, and preparing their rooms. The WAAF’s mission is to help fight the spread of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other communicable diseases, and mitigate their effects on communities by providing care and support.
Hannah Adam, a student in the Faculty of Education’s Teacher Education program, is using her Aeroplan Miles to go to Tanzania for three and a half weeks in June to volunteer for TEMBO, a charity that recruits teachers for its English camp. The camp helps build English literacy, math and social science skills for girls, to facilitate their transition into an all-English education system. With the help of volunteers, it exposes them to the English-language curriculum prior to entering high school. Hannah is not new to international service — she has carried out humanitarian work in the Dominican Republic with a group of volunteers.