Student rides ‘groundswell’ to opportunity abroad

Adela Talbot // Western News

Sarah Emon, a fourth-year Psychology and Women’s Studies student, is heading to India for six weeks with Operation Groundswell, a non-profit that offers alternative travel opportunities for youth. Once there, she will work with a handful of local organizations, learning of issues affecting India’s women.

Volunteering abroad had been Sarah Emon’s plan since she started her studies at Western. But it took a ‘groundswell’ to make that plan a reality.

“I was never satisfied with any of the volunteer programs. A lot of them are designed by Western countries, and they go in with their own agendas and their own idea of what the issues in a particular country are,” said the fourth-year Psychology and Women’s Studies student. “They can end up causing more harm than doing good.”

Then, she came across Operation Groundswell, on Facebook, last fall. Founded in 2007, the Toronto-based non-profit offers alternative travel opportunities for youth with the goal of generating social, environmental and political awareness.

“Part of their mandate,” Emon said, “is working with grassroots operations in the countries they visit.”

In May, Emon heads to India for six weeks with Operation Groundswell’s Gender and Religion program. There, she and about a dozen teammates will work in-situ with women’s organizations and non-profits.

“The focus of the program is to teach us about women’s issues in India, in the context of the country’s religions and cultures,” Emon explained. “In the Women’s Studies program, they stress the idea of taking off your Western goggles and looking at issues faced by different women, in different parts of the world, and learning from those women. I’m really excited and interested in experiencing this first-hand.”

Over the course of her stay, Emon will work in communities in northern India, stopping in Delhi, Amritsar and Dharamshala, among others. Her team will work with local women in community and temple kitchens, with Tibetan refugees and the Tibetan Women’s Association. They will work with women in rural farming and learn about environmental degradation, agriculture and other local issues that impact women in rural Indian communities.

“More than anything, I’m excited to interact with the women and see the issues they face, and the strategies they’re using to implement change in their own countries,” Emon said.

She’s going into the trip with no expectations, just an opportunity to learn.

Given the opportunity to fundraise her way to India, alongside a requirement of fundraising a minimum of $750 to contribute to a community of her choice when there, Emon opted to pay for the trip out of pocket, focusing on garnering a collection to contribute.

“Everyone on the team has been asked to fundraise, and we decide how it will be distributed – 80 per cent of what we raise goes to the local programs and 12 per cent will go to an environmental company that will offset the carbon footprint we will create by going there,” she explained. “Only 8 per cent is going to administrative fees.”

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JOIN THE GROUNDSWELL: To learn more about Sarah Emon’s Operation Groundswell effort, visit