Supporting the Leaders of Tomorrow
When Heather Hale embarked upon her first long-term volunteer placement with Cuso International in 2014, her friends and family didn’t bat an eye. “I’ve been volunteering all my life,” says Heather. “Nobody was shocked by my decision.”
Growing up in rural Saskatchewan, Heather has strong roots in volunteerism and community service. With extensive experience living and working abroad, Heather was especially eager to work with Cuso International when she found out about the organization’s commitment to inclusive partnerships. She liked that Cuso’s partner organizations made all the decisions about the work to be done. Heather’s placement took her to Guyana where she had the opportunity to work on two youth engagement projects.
As with any job, Heather had to work through the learning process when she started her placement. “Any time you go into a new environment, there are different challenges,” she says. “No matter where you are, you have to learn the ropes.” Open-minded and curious, Heather relished the opportunity to learn. “Volunteering is a great way to really experience different cultures and places,” she says.
In her first placement, Heather worked as a Youth Leadership and Governance Advisor and travelled throughout Guyana with a team of youth who met with other young people to talk about the issues that concerned them. Visiting the different regions of the country was interesting and Heather was impressed by the peer-to-peer collaboration that took place. “It was really exciting to see the young folks talking to one another,” says Heather. “Not only were they discussing the issues but they were also looking at possible solutions.”
When that project wrapped up, Heather started working with the Caribbean Community Secretariat (CARICOM) to support the Youth Ambassador program. The youth ambassadors are appointed by their home country and serve as the link between CARICOM and Caribbean people between the ages of 18 and 30. Heather worked closely with the Youth Ambassadors, supporting them as they set their annual plans in motion and as they achieved the goals along the way.
Thinking back about her experience, it’s the newfound friendships that bring a smile to Heather’s face. She loved meeting new people and having really great conversations.
“I had so many opportunities to work in a team of hard working people on projects we were all passionate about,” she says. “There was a strong sense of collective achievement.”
Now back in Canada, Heather says that she didn’t feel a significant change upon her return, like so many other volunteers do. A seasoned international volunteer, Heather says that instead, her experience solidified some of the ideas she’d had and added nuance and depth. Heather imagines she will volunteer again in the future but for now, she is focusing on her work as a Volunteer Resource Officer. It’s hard to imagine someone better suited for arming volunteers with the tools they need to succeed on their own volunteer journeys!