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Volunteering for University Success

Mirdza Abele, or  Midge for short, (pictured on the left) is a 24 year old student studying Disaster Reconstruction and Development at Coventry University. She joined us in Haiti from June to September 2011 and worked on a small team of volunteers specialising in helping orphanages become more sustainable.

We asked her to talk about why she chose IDV and how her experiences have impacted her.

Why did you want to volunteer in the first place?

There were a couple of key reasons I wanted to volunteer. First, I wanted to gain grassroots experience in community development as I thought it would be beneficial for my course. I really wanted to put everything I learnt in books into practice.

I had also never been to a disaster zone nor a developing country and I wanted to see for myself how people survived following a disaster given all the challenges that they faced on day-to-day basis. Finally, I wanted to see if my presence and work could make a difference to help me decide if disaster response would really be my career.

Were you surprised by the work you carried out in Haiti?

I had no idea what to expect, and I certainly did not expect to receive as much responsibility as I did! However I am very grateful and happy that all this responsibility was entrusted upon me as it helped me learn about the reality of disaster response very quickly.

I remember a point in my work where I had to make a decision that would impact 52 children's lives for better or for worse. Of course, IDV's leaders helped me decide and supported me, but ultimately there was no way of predicting if I had made the right choice. I could not believe how much responsibility I had and it made me question my rights to make such a decision for these children. I didn't expect to get that involved during my short time with IDV – it was a great opportunity to learn what disaster response is really all about.

What is your clearest memory from Haiti?

I clearly remember the feeling I felt every morning that I got up in Haiti. It was incredibly early and incredibly hot, and the moment I woke up I knew that every second of the coming day would be filled with purpose.

I loved that feeling as I knew that I was waking up to do the job I loved working with a team of people that I had come to value greatly and who had become like a family to me. I would give anything to feel like that again.

What kind of long-term impact have your experiences in Haiti with IDV had on you?

Haiti has literally changed everything in my life, from the food I choose to eat to the career path I am headed down. I guess the biggest impact has been the fact that I went to Haiti not knowing what international development would bring to my life or even whether disaster response would be something I would like to do after I finish University. I came back with a very clear mind knowing that international development is where my life and work lies.

In addition to clarifying what I wanted to do, Haiti has allowed me to be 100% more successful in my final year studies. Everything that was taught to me in the classroom I related straight back to Haiti, and, as a result, I could get a better perspective on things. Because I bonded with two orphanages, my dissertation was based on the emergency child protection mechanisms implemented in post earthquake Haiti and how these impacted the most vulnerable groups of children. I believe that I couldn't have done half as well at my degree without Haiti.

Midge has now graduated from University and is looking forward to future work overseas.