By Fiachra Brennan
It is easy to criticise immersion projects. It is easy to attach lazy labels like voluntourism to them. It is extremely difficult, however, to discount the immense impact and value of an ethical, partnership orientated, and insightful immersion project. I travelled to South Africa and Mozambique when I was 15 years old. I thought I knew a little about the world, about poverty, and about inequality. I did not. Three days in South Africa and two weeks in Mozambique opened my eyes. It helped me understand that poverty was not an isolated phenomenon. I learnt about the continuingly debilitating effects of colonialism, of international debt, and of discrimination. I grasped that the exploitation of people and natural resources by multinational firms helped perpetuate the cycle of poverty and inequality. I realised that we, as Western consumers, take far more from the Global South than we give through aid and support.
I came to understand that Western donors and European aid workers were not a solution to poverty. Instead I learnt that sustainable development could only be achieved through partnership, through the forming of an international bond of solidarity, and through a commitment to work together for a better future. I was 15 years old and I learnt more about the world in two weeks than I did through years of school-based education. That should never be discounted, should never be called worthless, should never be called a waste of time.
Participants in immersion projects, and other forms of overseas volunteering, can be accused of box ticking. Interrailing, the J1, volunteering. The SERVE immersion project is not a box ticking exercise. It is a learning experience that has a massive, lifelong impact, on the volunteer. I’m not one to over-exaggerate, but the project changed me. My purchasing decisions became more ethical, I began to consider how my actions impacted upon our globalised world, and I began to consider a career in an environment where I could make the world a better place. The immersion project shaped my worldview, my academic choices, and my consumerist decisions. It allowed me to become the person I am today.
Fiachra first volunteered with SERVE in 2013 on a SERVE School Immersion Programme. During summer 2016, he travelled to the Philippines to work alongside the Badjao Tribe in Cebu. Upon return, Fiachra has stayed involved in global justice and active citizenship, facilitating development education and debriefing workshops for SERVE Immersion students as gaeilge. In 2017, Fiachra lead a group of 13 volunteers to the Philippines. In 2018, he lead our pilot volunteer programme to Vietnam. Fiachra is now leading our immersions and coordinating the SERVE volunteer programme.
Fiachra received his Silver Global Citizen Award on Saturday April 8th, 2017 in Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin.