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What’s It Like to Host a Student Leadership Conference?

Global Brigades chapters across Canada kicked off 2016 with three inspiring Student Leadership Conferences. Here, University of Toronto Global Brigades shares their experience hosting the Central Canada SLC.

By Nadine Narain and Sarah Wheeler, UTGB Executive Board & Conference Planning Committee Members

This January, University of Toronto Global Brigades (UTGB) held our first Central Canada Student Leadership Conference. UTGB hosted student leaders and brigaders from universities throughout Ontario for a weekend devoted to exchanging ideas and stimulating discussion.

We thoughtfully selected topics for the SLC, opting to address challenges and criticisms that Global Brigades members often encounter on campus. We also aimed to encourage neighbouring universities to form Global Brigades chapters, in order to further GB’s vision to ignite the largest student-led social responsibility movement.

A major discussion at the conference was the notion that Global Brigades is a “popular voluntourist group.” Our team felt it was vital to explore why GB receives this label and how, as students, we can inform ourselves on best practices for short-term volunteering to resolve global health and economic disparities. Christie George, GB’s Director of Volunteer Programs, emphasized that Global Brigades’ trusting partnerships with local communities and our holistic approach to sustainably transitioning communities are key to dispelling these criticisms. Attendees also agreed that it’s important to clarify that a brigade is not a vacation – it’s hard work!

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Global Brigades staff members, University of Toronto global health experts, and representatives from Not Just Tourists -Toronto and the International Centre for Disability and Rehabilitation all encouraged us to think more critically about the purpose of brigades. Our guest speakers engaged attendees around how student groups can collaborate with developing countries to optimize resources and services for greater impact.

We talked at length about the role of brigaders in-country and proper practices for interacting with community members. Past brigaders reflected on how Global Brigades’ volunteering guidelines are implemented to ensure that our work reflects GB’s mission and values when we’re on brigade. Students stressed brigade education as essential to prepare brigaders for their experience and presented ideas for educating members before and after brigades, like bringing in guest speakers, holding Spanish lessons, and organizing post-brigade activities early on. We also discussed ethical concerns around using social media and the importance of increasing our awareness about a brigade country’s culture and health care system.

These discussions were the perfect segue to viewing former GB Creative Director Luke Namer’s new film project Redefined. Redefined poignantly draws attention to how the media depicts rural communities in developing countries. Luke’s project documents the value of being a global citizen and remaining socially conscious about how we depict our story and the stories of the communities we interact with during our brigade experience. It was a pleasure to be involved in Luke’s filmmaking journey and we look forward to taking part in future screenings!

On the more practical side, our sessions on leadership training, best practices for brigade planning, and volunteer engagement were designed to benefit all attendees, regardless of their chapters’ level of establishment. We were encouraged by the students from Ryerson and York who said that the sessions made them more motivated and empowered to start up GB on their campuses!

Overall, planning the Central Canada SLC was an incredible opportunity for our chapter to grow as team. The UTGB conference planning team worked tirelessly to ensure that our conference was filled with lasting memories, and opportunities to form new friendships, learn collaboratively, and renew our sense of empowerment around Global Brigades’ mission. Being able to rely on and collaborate with our fellow team members was essential to achieving our conference goals. We’re so proud of our planning committee members; they were the perfect example of UTGB’s dedication to global health and development.

As the conference weekend came to an end, attendees were eager to return to their respective universities to commence action plans for 2016. UTGB is excited to welcome new chapters from fellow Toronto universities and we’re ready to extend our support in whatever ways possible. As both our UTGB chapter and the Global Brigades organization continue to grow, we believe in constantly challenging and empowering ourselves to work together towards an equal world.

We would like to extend a huge thank you to Nicole Jollimore, our GB Chapter Advisor, who played an instrumental role in both planning and executing our conference. Additionally, we would like to thank Global Brigades Canada for supporting our initiative, as well as guest speakers: Dr. Lawrence Loh, Dr. Paul Hamel, Luke Namer, Christie George, Avi D’Souza of Not Just Tourists – Toronto and International Centre for Disability and Rehabilitation student representatives Michelle Scott and Kellen Baldock. Finally, we would like to thank all students who attended our conference and contributed to such an empowering experience!

If you are interested in hosting a Global Brigades Student Leadership Conference in your region or receiving more information, please email: conferences@globalbrigades.org

Global Brigades