Tue, 24/07/2018 - 18:20
Cooperation. Three volunteers explain and take stock of their experiences on solidarity trips to southern countries.
The summer opens up a substantial period of free time which many young people use to go on solidarity trips, taking part in work camps and organised group activities in countries in the south. Even so, the humanitarian emergency caused by the plight of refugees arriving in Europe means for many volunteers European territory is also an objective for people wanting to help out organisations working on the ground.
In order to get an insight into what motivates them, how they feel about their experiences and how their lives have changed since their return, we met Blanca Muñoz, who went to Tanzania, Arnau Quinquilla, who went to Guatemala, and Cristina Gironès, who is off to Palestine in August and has already been to Greece and Western Sahara.
Organisations working for awareness
The three organisations they travelled with, or will be travelling with (in Cristina’s case in August) are, respectively: Servei Civil Internacional, SETEM Catalunya and the Associació Catalana per la Pau. All three are recognised NGOs which could almost be described as social movements working towards awareness and fighting for human rights at a global level.
Their programmes operate in places around the globe where there are conflicts, or where human, economic and social rights are violated. Their mission is not one of going to “help”, but rather the opposite, helping us as privileged people from the North to become more aware of and grasp the origins and realities of flows of people, such as refugees and migrants.
It comes as no surprise then that these three profiles are of people who are committed to society, aware of the footprint we’re leaving on the planet, before they even set off. But let’s delve further into their motivation, and in particular their internal changes and visions of global justice.
Reasons of conscience to travel and find out
When asked why they chose to spend their holidays doing these types of activities, all three agreed that they had a need to discover what things were like in other countries, more than anything life models or situations and struggles far removed from their everyday lives. Yet this motivation was also mixed with their will to “do something”, to try and help people in serious or unequal situations. This was Cristina’s case in 2015, when she decided she couldn’t just sit back and do nothing, seeing what was going on in Greece. She packed her rucksack and went off to take part in an activity organised by SOS Refugiados.
The transformational goal of the person travelling, as well as how they behave when they get back, requires them to understand the origin of inequality.
Training with a critical spirit
Entities organising overseas stays also carry out training sessions, providing a context for travelling volunteers. Yet despite the profile checks, not all volunteers share the exact same vision as the entities.
The transformational goal of the person travelling, as well as how they behave when they get back, requires them to understand the origin of inequalities, economic models and the social and environmental implications of our actions for certain regions around the world.
Arnau explains how, as a trained physicist, the socio-political and economic contexts help him get a much better grasp of some global dynamics which, although he knew they were unfair, he didn’t understand the basic causes.
All three agree that solidary stays are tough, not so much because of living conditions, which differ greatly from those in Barcelona, but because of how harsh it can be to come into such close contact with injustice and inequality.
Experiencing certain things close up, such as the impossibility of schooling children in Tanzania in Blanca’s case, the destruction of farming resources witnessed by Arnau with the Comité de Unidad Campesina in Guatemala, or the living conditions in refugee camps in Greece which Cristina saw first-hand, causing them something of the new concept of ‘surrogate post-traumatic stress’. The term describes taking on part of the stress of those they were in contact with.
Travelling as a means of personal transformation
When we ask if they think they were useful for the organisations and the people they were helping, Arnau is in no doubt: no. But, like Cristina, he points out that the aim was for the experience to serve as a means of transforming people like them, driving them as activists seeking fairer models. In this sense, through their knowledge of the reality in southern countries, they really can be of use. Although she was able to help people become literate and took part in an empowerment programme for women’s collectives in Tanzania, Blanca also believes that the stays are too short to have a genuine impact.
“You realise you’re living with much more than you need, that we don’t need to consume as much as we do and that often we complain out of habit”.
Shock upon arrival and again upon return
Asked about how their trips changed them, Cristina and Blanca describe a “state of shock” when coming back: “You realise you’re living with much more than you need, that we don’t need to consume as much as we do and that often we complain out of habit”.
They also noted the privilege of being white Europeans, particularly in terms of possessing a passport allowing them to cross borders without any problems.
While all three affirm that before travelling they understood people’s reasons for reaching Barcelona as they flee wars, persecution and poverty, their own trips and experiences actually made them even more aware. “We reaffirm that it’s an injustice not to want to let them in. It’s inhuman”.
After coming back from their travels, all three continue to apply what they’ve learnt in their daily lives and have the will to change the world. Blanca tells us she opted to do a Postgraduate in Development, Cooperation and Community Action, Arnau continues to be an activist, and after her time in Greece Cristina has become even more involved in projects aimed at having a political impact. These include the creation of a young people’s association supporting the Western Saharan cause, SàharaDempeus, as well as a documentary about the Palestinian cause, a project she’ll be carrying out with the ACP this summer, with the rest of the members of her volunteer group travelling there in August.