12 Sep International placements: a classroom without walls
By Selima Mechkene
Through EQWIP HUBs I was able to develop crucial life-skills for the real world as an international volunteer. Volunteering abroad for 6 months was a big step for me. After finishing my Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Sciences, I enrolled in Environment and Sustainable Development at the University of Montréal as I have always had a passion for nature. My program required doing a professional internship in a field related to our studies. A Facebook ad about EQWIP HUBs caught my attention and I applied for an Environmental Sustainability Officer position and was placed in Zanzibar, Tanzania.
During my 6-month international placement, I worked with two other Environmental Sustainability Advisers (ESAs) to support the implementation of the environmental sustainability plan of the project and contribute to raising youth participants’ awareness about environmental sustainability issues. As an ESA, we facilitated trainings on how to conserve natural resources, what a circular economy is and how to benefit from it, how to start a green business, and how to turn a current business sustainable. Workshops on topics such as composting, and field trips to green businesses helped youth see viable environmental business opportunities and sustainable business practices. Clean-up events and activities hosted alongside other environmental NGOs in Zanzibar helped to further demonstrate the importance of environmental sustainability for youth participants.
As a result of the ESA’s activities, youth participants successfully facilitated a Paper Charcoal workshop. The trainer was a female member of the Environmental club who shared her experience selling Paper Charcoal for a living. Students learned a way to reuse paper waste and reduce reliance on wood for cooking, in addition to illustrating green business opportunities. Club leaders gained leadership and time-management skills by facilitating the discussions and delivering key ideas clearly. I enjoyed observing the participants as they discussed biodiversity issues and shared their personal thoughts, since the topic was about their island.
These trainings and activities had a major impact on our students’ behaviour: they grew mindful of their impact on the environment and started asking more questions about plastic pollution and climate change. We noticed many of them switched to reusable water bottles and reusable bags, reducing their use of single-use plastics. They are now curious and passionate about the environment and they are taking action by participating in tree-planting and clean-up activities.
Through my time as an ESO, I worked with a wide range of people from students and trainers, to local NGOs and partner organizations. This allowed me to acquire project-planning and problem-solving skills that I would not learn in any classroom. I also strengthened my oral communication and team management capacities. I learned to be flexible and patient, and how to handle challenges in a positive manner. My experience abroad gave me the essential skills needed for the international job market and empowered my sense of self-esteem by contributing to positive impact in the lives of young women and men.