By Kimber Bialik
International Volunteer Day was created to recognize the contributions of volunteers to projects and organizations the world over – and here at BCC, we are fortunate to work with volunteers from every corner of the globe who provide their valuable support and expertise. BCC volunteers arrive with an incredible array of skills and backgrounds, and on International Volunteer Day we are reflecting on the value that our volunteers bring to the organization and the direct impact their work has on the lives of BCC clients.
The majority of BCC’s volunteers are placed directly in one of our nine centres, and work closely with the centre staff in teaching, providing therapy, and of course, spending quality time with the kids. Recently, BCC volunteers have been taking a more active role in the organization, and have been working closely with office staff on the design and implementation of projects that address systemic issues and improve the care provided to BCC clients.
Rachel Higelmire, a paediatric nurse from the United States, began her volunteer term assisting with BCC’s annual health screenings, a three week period where doctors from a local partner hospital here in Moshi conduct check-ups for each of BCC’s nearly 200 clients. Rachel noticed the high incidence of urinary tract infections (UTIs) among BCC clients, and put her skills as a paediatric nurse to use addressing this issue.
Working closely with BCC’s PROMOT Health Coordinator Godson Mmari, Rachel got to work conducting a needs assessment in all of BCC’s centres in order to better understand the local health context and to determine what areas to prioritize.
Based on what she learned from BCC centre staff and observed in the centres, Rachel was able to start the process of training centre staff in more effective hygiene and diapering practices for the reduction of UTIs, make a number of policy recommendations for BCC to adopt, and even design a pilot project for increasing children’s daily fluid intake in the centres!
By focusing on sharing her expert knowledge with local staff through developing topics for staff capacity building and recommending policy changes, Rachel’s work to reduce the incidence of UTIs among BCC clients continues to make an impact on the lives of our clients even after she has finished her tenure with BCC.
Samantha Footman and Helena Hayes, a fantastic team of nurses from Australia, arrived at BCC as Rachel was leaving – inspired by the impact that Rachel had on the children’s health, they took on a project of their own! After being placed in BCC’s Msaranga centre, Sam and Helena noticed a number of problems with how feeding was conducted for those children who required feeding assistance. Aiming to reduce the incidences of aspiration during feeding, Sam and Helena observed feeding practices in all 9 BCC centres, assessed centre staff knowledge of feeding practices, and designed a comprehensive training session to teach staff the safest ways to feed the children; as well as strategies for managing choking, coughing during feeding, and swallowing difficulties. Their training session was a huge hit, and staff (and later parents, in a subsequent session) loved Sam and Helena’s hands-on approach to sharing best practices for feeding. As we continue to monitor the centre staff’s implementation of the skills that Sam and Helena taught them, it is clear that their efforts have paid off and centre staff are now empowered to improve the health of BCC clients through these improved feeding strategies.
For anyone contemplating volunteering abroad on this International Volunteer Day, determining whether or not your international volunteer experience is designed to be sustainable and impactful can be challenging. The dreaded “volontourism” label is applied more and more frequently, and is generally attributed to organizations that charge unskilled and unprepared (and often very well intentioned) volunteers exorbitant amounts of money to spend a short period of time volunteering on an international project. International volunteer engagement in these types of projects is inherently unsustainable – projects often lack long-term participatory goals for the development of the community, unskilled international volunteers take jobs away from qualified locals, the continuous turnover of short-term volunteers necessitates constant re-training responsibilities for local staff, and both the volunteering and tourism aspects of these programs are often voyeuristic and reinforce negative stereotypes about local communities.
Fortunately, the fantastic work that Rachel, Helena, and Sam have done for and with BCC these past few months serves as a shining example of sustainable and impactful volunteerism. Through collaboration with BCC staff, they were able to share knowledge and expertise that was previously lacking within BCC, and apply that knowledge by assisting our local staff to address systemic problems instead of seeking bandaid solutions. By prioritizing long-term solutions to common health issues with an emphasis on policy changes and staff capacity building, they have ensured that BCC staff have the tools to continue implementing this meaningful work after their volunteer terms come to an end.
On International Volunteer Day and every day, BCC is exceptionally grateful for the contribution of volunteers like Rachel, Sam, and Helena, who share BCC’s commitment to quality improvement in our centres and who emphasize collaboration with staff for the implementation of sustainable solutions.
We are thrilled to have the opportunity to work with all of our dedicated volunteers, and look forward to continuing to collaborate to make an impact in the lives of our clients!
BCC accepts applications from volunteers on a rolling basis throughout the year, and is seeking volunteers trained in physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, medicine, nursing, and teaching. If you are interested in learning more about volunteering at BCC, please contact BCC’s Sustainability Coordinator Johnson Foya.