International Development Conference: Planting Mangoes

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Last weekend, Highfield campus hosted the University’s fourth International Development Conference, drawing together ethically-minded students for a day and a half of talks and discussions from multiple charities and NGOs. Emily Frost tells us all about it.

My experience of the conference began on Saturday morning, with a lively discussion about the merits of International Volunteering, sparked by an analogy, claiming that we can never expect to produce mangoes in developing countries when planting papayas. To clarify, the subject of this debate was how our involvement in volunteering abroad could be made more sustainable for the causes it aims to help, and how we can facilitate continued growth for a cause by planting the right seeds. For someone, like me, who has taken part in such projects overseas, it was an eye-opening experience and really forced me to think about how I could better have spent my money and planned my volunteering.

I then moved on to a talk given by Stop the Traffik, an organisation that strives to eliminate human trafficking, a ‘global problem and local issue’. Founded by Steve Chalk, Stop the Traffik raises awareness of trafficking, which it characterises as ‘the movement or recruitment of people by deception or force for exploitation’, and was a harrowing but inspirational insight into the work the organisation carries out to help victims.

Next, I proceeded to a presentation given by Shelter Box, an organisation of volunteers who bring aid to countries hit by natural or war-caused disasters that result in the loss of civilian homes. Originally conceived by a Cornwall Rotary Club, Shelter Box sends thousands of boxes out to such affected families, each containing a tent, food provisions and other essentials that have been lost due to disaster. The stories we were told of these volunteers were truly inspiring, faced with literal disaster zones, they deliver aid in the form of boxes by any means necessary.

After a lunch of networking and chatting, I chose to attend a talk given by Restless Beings, a dynamic charity that aims to change lives through ‘creative nourishment’. The charity works with three main projects, but the talk focussed on the ‘floating street children’ in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Through a series of short films and explanations, we we made aware of the plight of some of these children, living in train stations and on the streets of Dhaka, some controlled by surrogate ‘parents’ who exploit them in different ways. Restless Beings works with these children, through a programme of talking and rehabilitation, believing that the children are able to recover most fully when they can share in each other experiences creatively. Of all the organisations I learnt about during the day, Restless Beings interested me the most deeply, as the charity challenges the usual preconceptions of ’empowering’ those in a less fortunate position. They believe that all the victims they work with have the potential to change their own lives, and just need to be told that they can.

After a day of discovery and inspiration, I left with one ambition: to plant mangoes.

If you have been inspired by any of the issues raised in this article, much more information about the causes and how you can get involved can be found here: www.southamptonhub.org

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I am studying English and Philosophy in my 2nd year, I live in a house with 4 weirdos, a trampoline and two fish called Jermaine and Vince. I love the write, I have two blogs, and also write for Summit magazine :)

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