“Come and see, then go home and tell what you have seen”- Jenny Derbyshire, volunteer with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel.
In recent years I have spent two periods of three months working as a volunteer with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). Run by the World Council of Churches and managed in Ireland and the UK by Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW), volunteers come from over thirty different countries, from all faiths and none.
I retired in early 2011, after working for many years in adult literacy and community education, most recently with the National Adult Literacy Agency. In November that year, I was on my way to be an Ecumenical Accompanier (EA) for three months in East Jerusalem, and in February last year I returned, this time as an EA in Bethlehem.
There are four strands to being a volunteer with EAPPI: protective presence, monitoring and reporting human rights abuses, support for Israeli and Palestinian peace groups, and advocacy work.
Both Israeli and Palestinian contacts tell us the international presence does help – it means there is a little less violence and a little less fear. In Jerusalem and in Bethlehem we spent a lot of time monitoring the huge checkpoints Palestinians have to negotiate to get to work or hospital; we gave protective presence to school children under threat from Israeli military or settlers; we reported on home demolitions, land grabs and settler attacks.
We monitored the destruction of mature olive trees by settlers, and we helped to plant new ones. We worked with both Palestinian and Israeli groups who are resisting the occupation, including the Israeli Women in Black who hold a silent vigil every Friday in Israeli West Jerusalem. Their placards say simply, “End the Occupation”.
“Volunteering is a fantastic learning experience” - Claire Glavey, UN volunteer intern in Laos
In 2013, along with 11 other Irish people, I was given the opportunity to participate in the United Nations Volunteer Internship Programme, which is supported by Irish Aid. I spent the year working with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in Laos in Southeast Asia.
I worked on communications and knowledge management, which involved a diverse range of roles, from communicating with the media, to organising a photography exhibition showcasing rural development projects. I also worked to suppor the IFAD office and project teams with funding proposals, project reviews and documenting project achievements and learning.
The highlight for me was visiting agriculture and rural development projects in the stunningly beautiful mountainous countryside of southern and northern Laos, as it gave me a greater insight into the challenges facing IFAD and the Lao Government in attempting to combat rural poverty and malnutrition, and the progress being made.
To people considering volunteering overseas, I would encourage you to look into the wide choice of programmes available and choose the right one to suit your skills and interests. Volunteering is a fantastic learning experience: a way to broaden your perspective on the world, to develop and contribute your skills, to gain a greater understanding of development issues and to connect with people and cultures that you might not otherwise encounter.
Article – The Irish Times 10/10/14