When did you volunteer with Bobbi Bear? How long were you with them?
I was there twice, once in 2006 at the Tree Clinic and then I went back in 2010 for six weeks.
What inspired you to go to Bobbi Bear? What were your expectations before staying there?
The first time I wanted to learn more about their work and gain a better understanding of the issues they were dealing with.
I had some idea of Bobbie Bear’s work after having been to the Tree Clinic and an understanding of the context as a result of research for my dissertation. After having gone through formal education in Anthropology, I had a new way of approaching the experience as I was more sensitive to other aspects of the trauma these children go through but I still went with an open mind. I didn’t really go with set expectations, I simply knew it would be hard and I knew it would be challenging but I don’t think you will ever be fully prepared for that sort of experience.
I also didn’t have a chance to be briefed in advance as I went as part of another organisation. Although I was initially worried, it was good to just get off the plane and get started.
Has this decision affected your understanding of life or your subsequent career choices? How so?
Working with the women of Bobbi Bear made me want to do similar work and ignited my interest in child protection. It definitely shaped my academic choices and my career aspirations.
The social work and volunteering component has definitely helped my career as it’s always been valued in the opportunities I’ve gone for as it was a great complementary asset to my formal education in Anthropology.
What did your volunteering work consist of? What were your highlights?
Volunteering at Bobbi Bear is unlikely to be consistent due to the nature of the work. In my experience, I spent time at police stations, in courtrooms, at the hospital, the Tree Clinic and Saturday support group at the Bobbi Bear house. I didn’t get into schools as a result of strikes at the time. I worked with CSO’s and every day I helped look after two little girls who were in Bobbi Bear’s care at the time. I would help get them ready for school, they would eat with us, we would help with homework and put them to bed. I also went to a Bobbi Bear fundraising event.
With only a six-week research period for my dissertation, I didn’t spend my weekends away from Bobbi Bear although other volunteers did take some time to explore. The work at Bobbi Bear is challenging and emotionally draining but the people you work with are amazing and getting to know them and learning from them is definitely the highlight.
How do you feel the experience changed you?
The experience definitely changed me, I’m not sure you could come away from it entirely unchanged.
In your opinion, should people volunteer abroad? Why?
I am incredibly aware of the critical and ethical concerns surrounding volunteering and agree that some volunteering can have a negative impact. But the right people in the right projects can have a positive impact for all involved. I think volunteering must always be sustainable and should never be approached ethnocentrically. As an anthropologist, I think we can learn a lot from other cultures and as a result, volunteering abroad can enhance that experience. And of course, it helps your career when you can show you have already committed to your subject.
Why should someone choose to volunteer with Bobbi Bear and who do you think is most suited to spend time there?
Bobbi Bear, in my opinion, is an incredible project to volunteer with. For those who practice or are studying social work, counselling, psychology, child development, youth work or anthropology, I believe a great deal can be gained from this experience. Working within a different culture, understanding the challenges of that environment and learning how Bobbi Bear work to overcome them can deepen your understanding of a subject and enable you to broaden your approach to it.
Can you name the most impactful moment from your volunteering experience?
It’s hard to pin down a specific moment. I feel that wherever I travel in the world it is the people who significantly define my experience; that is especially true of Bobbi Bear. I was in awe of these women and their strength when you’re out there every day fighting an uphill battle, it was inspiring to witness it.
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