Alumni Spotlight: Allison Burney

Hi, I'm Allison. I'm a writer, travel lover, and coffee addict. I'm someone who dreams big, loves adventure, and wants to experience the world. I've spent the last few years volunteering, teaching English, and traveling abroad. I think it's safe to say that I'm hooked!

Allison Burney, age 22, volunteered on the project in St. Cuthbert's from Jan. 9 - Apr. 2, 2012. She grew up on a farm outside of a small town called Woodville, ON (about an hour and a half north of Toronto). She spent the last 4 and a half years living in Ottawa, ON while attending Carleton University. Allison is currently living back at home in Woodville after returning from Guyana. She isn't sure where her career path is headed but she will be working as a program assistant for a leadership program for high school students that takes place at Carleton University this summer.

Why did you decide to volunteer with YCI in Guyana?

Allison: After I graduated from university (I went to Carleton University in Ottawa and completed a combined Honours in Journalism and Human Rights and a minor in Psychology), I was ready to take a break and do some traveling and exploring. I wanted to do something new and challenging. I didn't have my sights set on anywhere in particular to begin with, so I started doing some research online and looking into different options. I came across Youth Challenge International's website, and felt that this organization could be a good fit for me.

One of the main reasons I chose YCI over other similar organizations was because of its focus on youth development and innovation. I agree that empowering youth to become involved and to contribute to their communities is extremely important in driving positive social change worldwide. I think I really identified with YCI's vision, as well as their mission.

The main reasons I chose Guyana instead of one of the other countries YCI offers placements in basically came down to: timing, length of placement, and the fact that it was English-speaking, as I don't speak another language. The Guyana placement was available at the right time for me to take off, it was the longest available placement at that time (12 weeks), and I could communicate (somewhat!) easily with the locals there. I had also never been to South America, and thought it might be pretty cool to go!

Allison volunteered at an elementary school in Guyana

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

Allison: For the majority of my time in Guyana, I followed a basic schedule. I taught the Grade 3 class at the primary school with another volunteer from my group all day three days a week (Wed, Thurs, Fri). I also taught remedial Math and English lessons at the secondary school two days a week after school (Mon & Tues). These lessons were for Grade 7/8 students who needed extra help in these subject areas.

When we weren't in the classroom, we were sometimes planning workshops for both the primary and secondary school students on a variety of topics, which we held at different points throughout the project. By the end of project, we had run close to 10 different workshops on dental hygiene, nutrition, water conservation, study skills and test-taking.

After school and on the weekends, we found lots of activities to keep us busy, including fishing, camping, learning how to make roti and curries, running, hiking, and visiting locals. We also spent much of our free time playing with the children in the village. They were always full of energy and kept us on our toes! We were invited for dinner at some of the locals' houses on different occasions, and spent many weekends getting to know different families in the village and building relationships. We even had movie nights at one family's house every few weeks!

What made this volunteer experience unique and special?

Allison: I think what made this experience unique and special for me actually came down to the length of the project. Being in the village for three months, as opposed to just a couple of weeks, allowed me to really build relationships with the villagers and to get to know some of them on a more personal level.

It also allowed me to experience what life is really like in St. Cuthbert's Mission, and to dig beyond what you see at the surface. Being able to settle into the village and to truly be able to call it home by the time our project ended was really special to me. I felt really comfortable and well-adjusted to village life at the end of my three months, which I think is a pretty rare feeling, especially for volunteers doing short-term placements overseas. I felt very lucky and privileged to have had this unique opportunity. The life-long friendships I've made with some of the locals will always remain a special part of my volunteer experience.

How has this experience helped you grow personally and professionally?

Allison: I think this experience has impacted me in a number of ways on both a personal and professional level. It has definitely confirmed my interest in travel and my desire to learn about other cultures and ways of life. I think it's safe to say that I've been "bit" by the travel bug! I am very interested in learning more about the world and exploring what it has to offer. This experience was also eye-opening for me on a personal level and allowed me to put my own life into perspective. I became more aware of my situation and how decisions I make can have an impact on others.

One of the reasons I wanted to volunteer abroad was to gain experience in international development, as I had recently started considering this path as a future career option. Having this opportunity has definitely increased my interest in the field, as I found both the challenges and rewards we experienced throughout this project fascinating. Though I am still not 100% sure that this is the career path for me, I am definitely hoping to get more involved in development work and to continue learning more about it.