A chat with Paul Quinn, one of the Global Awareness Volunteer on his way to South Africa
Hi Paul, first of all, can you introduce yourself, where you are from, what you do?
My name is Paul Quinn, I’m 25, I’m from Cavan but I’ve been living in Dublin for about eight years. At the moment I’m doing my PhD in UCD, studying Politics and International Relations.
Next month you're going to South Africa as part of the Global Awareness Programme. Are you excited about that? Is that your first volunteer abroad experience?
Yea I can’t wait, its going to be an amazing experience. The programme provides a great opportunity to work on the ground on a developmental project, to learn a lot more about the affects of HIV/AIDS in South Africa, while being completely immersed in a new culture. I’m really looking forward to integrating into the community as much as I can, experiencing the food and culture, and hopefully learning a little bit of Xhosa as well, although I think it might take me a while to get the clicks!
I travelled to Nigeria with EIL last year, where I volunteered on a human rights project. The whole experience was unbelievable. My main role involved researching and preparing a report on “The Human Rights Issues of People Living with HIV/AIDS” in Osogbo City which meant visiting hospitals, clinics and support groups, listening to peoples experiences and interviewing others. It’s difficult to even begin to comprehend the issues people in those communities face, but they’re still incredibly grateful for everything they have. I also got the chance to help on an educational needs assessment programme for military wives and a programme for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC’s). I learned a lot from my experience in Nigeria but I know I barely even scratched the surface of the issues people face in the global south.
Why did you decide to apply for this programme and what are you expecting from this volunteer experience?
While I was in Nigeria and after I returned I spoke with last years global awareness participants, it seemed like they had a great experience. They were all really passionate about the programmes they worked on and learned loads. I became more involved with EIL and the development education committee as well. I think when you see how passionate other people are, it’s a bit infectious, that’s probably why I’ve ended up going on the programme this year.
It’s hard to know what to expect, even though I volunteered on a human rights project last year, South Africa will be completely different, culturally, linguistically and every other way. We have done some training on ‘Understanding HIV in Development and Community Responses’ in preparation for our work which has already taught me more and its given a new perspective on a lot of issues. I think the whole experience will make me more informed so when return I will be able to share my experience and help inform others, that’s my aim anyway.
On your return to Ireland, you will be leading an Awareness Raising Campaign. What do you think about making your community more aware of HIV&AIDS issues? How important do you think public action is?
I think the awareness raising part of the programme is probably the most important. While we can definitely make a positive contribution to the project in two months, in the long term awareness raising creates something sustainable. It gives us the opportunity to share our experience and challenge the misconceptions that are out there. Making people more informed is probably the best way to tackle stigma and discrimination and promote better understanding.