U of G Seeks People to 'Leave for Change'

January 29, 2009 - Campus Bulletin

When Lisbeth Sider boarded a plane for Vietnam in late October, it was a landmark event. She had never travelled outside Canada before (apart from a few shopping trips to Buffalo as a young child).

A communications officer in the CIO office, Sider was headed for Hanoi as part of Leave for Change, a program that gives employees an opportunity to use holiday time to volunteer their knowledge and skills during short assignments in developing countries. U of G has been sponsoring regular full-time staff and faculty to participate in the program since 2007, and Sider was one of six people chosen last year.

From her first day in Hanoi, when she found herself wading through thigh-deep water in the midst of the biggest flood the city had ever seen, she knew this would be an experience like no other.

For 3½ weeks, Sider worked with a vocational training school that was created to help reduce poverty by providing free education and training. She was assigned to the communications department, where she taught the staff how to use programs such as PhotoShop and Illustrator and helped out with new branding for their website. She continues to give them support long distance from Guelph.

“The staff were eager to learn and fabulous to work with,” she says. “When people are so excited about what you do, it’s revitalizing. And to see that you’re actually making a difference is very fulfilling.”

On Feb. 4, Sider and other Leave for Change participants will share their experiences at an information session from noon to 1:15 p.m. in Room 442 of the University Centre.

U of G is again inviting applications for the program, which is offered through Uniterra, a joint initiative of World University Service of Canada (WUSC) and the Centre for International Studies and Co-operation. Uniterra mobilizes people and organizations in Canada and the developing world to reduce poverty by achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals.

Under Leave for Change, Canadian volunteers are assigned overseas for two to four weeks. This allows a limited number of qualified employees from participating organizations to transform their holidays into short international assignments with well-defined tasks and the support of development professionals in the host country.

“They contribute their knowledge, technical skills and know-how to an international development project,” says Martha Harley, assistant vice-president (human resources).

President Alastair Summerlee says Leave for Change is a win-win program for everyone. "It enables people to share their skills internationally and, on their return, share their learning at their workplace,” he says.

Uniterra screens all applications for suitable matches with posted vacancies, interviews short-listed candidates and chooses participants. Employees selected must attend pre-departure training on campus before leaving for their volunteer assignment. When they return to Guelph, they are asked to share their experiences informally with others.

That’s something Sider is happy to do. “I would go back to Vietnam in a heartbeat,” she says. “The trip was an eye-opening experience, and I’m now looking at things with a different perspective. I feel re-energized in my job, and I’m more appreciative of everything we have here in Canada. I came back a better person.”

For more information about Leave for Change, call Annette Boodram in Human Resources at Ext. 56495.

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