Ever since I was a child, my parents stressed the importance of education, of giving back and empowering those that are not as privileged as us. Growing up, I volunteered for many causes, shared whatever I could with whomever I could and learnt the importance of service, as well as the great sense of joy and satisfaction it can bring. I stumbled upon AIESEC in my college days and was instantly motivated to join by the idea of volunteering abroad, of enabling change in a community. The organization made the world seem smaller to me, like we’re all connected and have the power to impact one another.
When I finally got the chance to go on exchange myself, I felt like it’s time for me to leave my mark, to work on making a difference. I strongly support Quality Education for all and believe that, as a young adult, it is my responsibility to empower others to make better decisions and gain knowledge. Thus, I traveled to Mauritius to work on a project called Elevate Mauritius that aimed to rehabilitate street children between the age of 7 to 17, to educate and engage them in constructive activities that would offer them a sense of purpose. My place of work was an NGO called Safire, that took care of street children in Mauritius, with branches in nine regions of the country.
Currently, they host 200 children who receive education, training, as well as basics such as food and assistance in finding jobs. I spent the first few weeks at a beautiful farmhouse where Safire carried out different activities with the children, in order to promote healthy competition, teamwork and enable them to work on their best skills. Participating in various tasks helped them understand their strengths, weaknesses and enabled them to engage in what they truly enjoyed. The place was like a productive clubhouse, as well as a safe space for the kids who could not go to school for reasons like behavioral or parental issues.
Does education matter?
Education is free for everyone in Mauritius, but what motivates someone who is hungry and fighting to survive each day to attend school? How can a child who is living in an unhappy family dream about a happy life? Could someone that has spent their life witnessing unhealthy relationships grow up to be a functioning adult? Right now, 1 in 10 families in Mauritius live in poverty. Girls and women are especially affected by this, as they’re forced to resort to prostitution in order to survive. How do we, as privileged individuals, make someone who lives in difficulty and despair believe that education is the solution to their problems? Is talking about the harmful effects of narcotics really affecting the decisions of the masses subjected to drug and alcohol abuse on a daily basis?
Such questions don’t cross our minds often, and even when they do, they are easy to ask but extremely difficult to answer. NGOs such as Safire want to take a step forward and find answers that aim to solve the existing problems for the long run. However, they too, like any other organization, have limited resources and can accommodate only a limited number of children. Even after trying to do our best as a team, instead of feeling satisfied, we often ended up feeling helpless, because we knew there are others out there who need our help and support, but that due to lack of resources, it is not possible to help everyone.
My last day of work brought along an especially heart-breaking moment. As he was leaving, Vijay, one of the children I used to play football with, started shouting my name from inside of the bus, asking if he’ll see me tomorrow. I couldn’t stop myself from shedding a few tears, and after letting out an exhale, I nodded. I instantly felt bad and I’m certain I will never be able to forget that moment. During my first week at the NGO, I would have never imagined that anyone would even care if I showed up or not. I did not realize how attached I had become to the kids, nor what big of a role I ended up playing in their lives.
My project might have come to an end, but it was just the beginning of something I will try to continue my entire life – serving and empowering those less privileged. Thanks to my stay in Mauritius, I have become less materialistic, more independent, more mature. I learnt to be optimistic and patient in the face of challenges. From someone who wanted to give up on volunteering during my first week, I developed into someone who wants to dedicate his life to helping humanity grow.
I believe that being Global Volunteer can be one of the most intense and transforming experiences of your life, if you allow it to be. After everything I went through, I can only say I’m extremely grateful to AIESEC, to PwC, to my host family, Safire and everyone I met along the way for playing such a big part in shaping me into a better person.7