Youth volunteers exchange experience abroad

Each year youths from Latvia go to very exotic destinations for volunteer work in the GLEN program. But the main takeaway from volunteer work abroad is self-development, not helping others, Dace Stendzeniece from the GLEN volunteer work and education organization told Latvian Radio Wednesday.

Mostly volunteer work offers the chance to get to know the world with material support from various organizations. Most often youth volunteers say that the biggest gain from the experience is the people they meet and the new friends they make.

"My project was social media - looking for info about various activities where the organization is participating and then passing it on," said Kārlis, who has just returned from Tajikistan where he did volunteer work. 

As the internet was very slow in Tajikistan, Kārlis was mostly busy in the household of his host family. Thus he could enjoy Tajikistan's countryside life, and the best memories he has are about his host family.

"[..] This experience could be even more important than the work experience I got there [..]. I think the way human relationships are forged within the bounds of such a project can be, on purely existential terms, more important, crucial and interesting," said Kārlis.

Silvija, who spent three months in Uganda two years ago where she taught youths about reproductive health, agrees that the people met during the program are the main takeaway. The experience in Africa also allowed getting rid of some stereotypes that Latvians have about Africa.

"We are used to thinking that the far-away Africa where there are these far-away people about whom we know nothing. They are so different from us, on another dimension. But we do have very much in common. They are very, very much like us," said Silvija. 

The two went to do volunteer work through GLEN, which offers Latvian youths visit third-world countries once a year. Volunteer work can mean a lot of things - for example, giving lectures or doing local research. 

Representative of GLEN Dace Stendzeniece stressed that volunteer work isn't about teaching people in poor countries how to live. What's most important is the growth of the travelers themselves.

"[..] We go to share our experience and knowledge, what we have learned in studies at the university. [..] While at the same time we want to learn something unique from them, what they know how to do and we don't. It's just experience and knowledge exchange, not help," said Stendzeniece.

Youths aged 21 to 30 are admitted to participate in GLEN projects. GLEN Latvia describes itself as a politically independent non-profit organization, active in the field of development co-operation and education. The main purpose of GLEN’s activities is to raise awareness about global development issues in Latvia.

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