Over the last three weeks, I have had many experiences that have contributed to my learning as a visitor to the complex, transient hub of McLeod Ganj, as a researcher of the effectiveness and issues of international volunteerism, and as an Ally to the Tibetan cause. Beyond new friendships I am making and novel experiences I’ve come to cherish, I have really started to think about ways that I can participate in ‘development’ when I return to Canada and into the future. Something our Field School program has tried to instil is the hard notion that short-term international volunteering, often taking place in the Global South by well-intended Northern participants, can act – but not necessarily, as a brief and partial catalyst to encouraging empathy, solidarity, and change in the quality of life’s conditions of others. In such a short time, I have tried to adapt to new surroundings and cultural norms, have bonded with some locals, and have learned a lot about this particular culture, issue, and place. But moreover, it has become so apparent that inequalities and injustices plaguing certain communities in the world over others are directly and indirectly the result of interconnected global systems at play. In fact, it is critical that we acknowledge that some study abroad/international volunteering experiences may perpetuate conditions of poverty and privilege between host communities and visiting guests. It has thus become much more obvious, now already being here, that I may have a much larger role at home in Canada to encourage widespread solidarity with marginalized and oppressed groups, like Tibetans under China, and others alike, than from solely being here for one month’s time.
A few conversations I have had at Students for a Free Tibet have taught me some insightful lessons that apply to solidarity and international community engagement experiences. Two Tibetan peers shared with me some cultural ‘sayings’, both relaying how important it is for people on Earth to recognize how dependent we are on one another, and how acts of compassion make the world a better place for everyone. I have inherited a very fortunately life in Ontario, which often shelters me from facing hard facts, every day, about historical and ongoing global economic, political, and social/psychological systems that cushion my upbringing and provide me opportunities, and have actively left others disadvantaged or essentially forgotten. Perhaps it is precisely because Im recognizing these privileges, being so young, with such an education, socio-economic status, amongst other integral factors, that I am capable of taking on the challenge of facing my government, media, and peers back home taking a stance advocating on behalf of individuals and communities around me that are burdened, silenced, or oppressed in ways that I do not necessarily experience every day. Individuals – especially those burdened less by discrimination, truly do hold a lot of power to have their words, values, and concerns listened to, and perhaps once acknowleding their privileges and participation in systems of inequality, can move past feelings of ‘guilt’ in order to take on the responsibility/obligations to others in the world, even in their backyard, as an Ally willing to acknowledge privilege and power imbalances, and to commit to actions to change them.