• Home >>
  • Voyage >>

On the occasion of Volunteers’ Week in Scotland, here is an update on what my experience in Edinburgh has looked like so far

In January, I have come over to Edinburgh as a volunteer through the European Solidarity Corps, an initiative empowering young people to engage themselves in the response to societal challenges. Despite seeing many expats escaping their host country due to the current pandemic, I have not considered going back home earlier. I have lived in different countries over the last decade, and not being set apart from the local community, whatever happens, has always been my philosophy.

I am happy ProjectScotland, my hosting organization, has decided to let my project run. My role consists in combatting the barriers faced by people with disabilities to access volunteering and to help them gain the self-confidence to engage themselves in this sector. Like everyone, I have been working remotely. And instead of visiting our charity partners all over the country, We are communicating through a screen.

I have to say, being visually impaired has provided life-long training for a lockdown situation, because despite being a traveller and a marathon runner, there are many days where I cannot go for a walk when I would like. It is the case when I first arrive in a new country and do not know what is around, or when bad attitudes and the lack of accessibility or energy discourage me from exiting my door. So not only during the lockdown but every day, I do not have the same rights as others accessing streets, leisure places, gyms, shops, beaches, goods, services. I am daily facing barriers created by society, with stressful situations as a result. This requires building resilience and being more connected to my inner self.

Having a passion for social commitment, I have been working to make the world a more inclusive place to live. The words integration and inclusion are used interchangeably, when they are so different. Integration is allowing someone to access your organization but not making any adaptation. It is expecting the volunteer to fit into how things currently work. But inclusion is encouraging difference, respecting and valuing who people are while understanding them.

Over the last couple of months, my priority has been to make volunteer engagement managers think about the role for disabled people in the response to Covid-19. Too often we think people with disabilities are always in need of help, and not the other way around. This is a wrong assumption which continuously places disabled people at a disadvantage. They are automatically thrown to the vulnerable box, because they are seen as recipients of charitable work, but they also can and want to volunteer themselves. By not being inclusive, organizations miss out on so many talented and determined volunteers, even in an emergency situation.

Once I started my law degree, I decided to volunteer abroad. Back then, my best friend was both French and Peruvian, so we spent a summer in her home country to create a massage center for professional therapists with a visual impairment. The aim was to significantly improve their working conditions and autonomy. Without this place to work they had to go to patients’ houses to perform their work. Carrying a massage table all day long is not an easy thing and in Northern Peru, roads are damaged and traffic is quite unsafe. This project fully realised my vision of a solidarity commitment where beneficiaries are actually recognised to be the main actors and we are simply there to support them.

After completing my law degree, and before starting an MA both in Human Rights and Conflict Resolution in Canada and in Costa Rica, I went to the Fiji Islands to volunteer in an animal shelter for a few months, but since I was on my own I faced many barriers for orientation. Getting settled in a new place is challenging for everyone, but for a visually impaired person it requires additional orientation and mobility training. In some developing countries, such training does not even exist because people with disabilities are not always empowered to go out alone, and even when such a thing exists in more developed countries, waiting lists are too long and native applicants are prioritised.

After completing my MA and working for a year in a peace building project located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, I came back to France and passed the bar exams. When I saw the results, I could not believe I had become an advocate! And I guess that was one of the best days of my existence. But before making my way into criminal court and wearing the black robe, I decided to take another year off to do more voluntary work, because I have been selected to this project among 300 applicants.

I immediately felt this role was designed for me. When it comes to volunteering, people with disabilities have fewer opportunities, especially abroad. In reality, they should be comfortable volunteering without facing any barriers, which requires challenging attitudes: something I have done throughout my whole life so far.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

Leave a Reply: