Kim Simard

(Togo 2005)

In 2005 I had the privilege to work on a participatory media project with an NGO in Togo. Our shared objective was to involve a community in the creation of a participatory radio project addressing issues of HIV/AIDS related stigma and discrimination. It has been estimated that in this region of Togo over 20% of the population is infected with HIV. In a country of only 5 million inhabitants, about 10 000 of Togo’s deaths are attributed to AIDS per year.

In Togo, education and prevention is the main strategy in the fight against HIV/AIDS. In many communities it is the only strategy. Access to counselling, testing and ARV treatment is very limited and in some cases there is nothing available for those needing care and support. There is an urgent need for accessible treatment at little or no cost. Many do not bother to get tested for fear that they will not be able to do anything about it if they are positive. Those who do know there status often feel helpless, knowing even a subsidized price for treatment is too expensive. Despite the limited resources, NGOs and grassroots organizations are tirelessly working to make headway, and they are often successful despite the barriers they come up against.

As a volunteer in Togo, I was able to contribute to the mobilization of a community in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The project we worked on became a source of empowerment for the community who participated. It was also a personal source of empowerment. I never thought it possible to initiate change in a context such as this. The work we accomplished profoundly impacted the way in which I view my role in society. My overseas experience has opened my eyes to the world in which we live, and I now know with certainty that I can make a contribution.

The international community and donors do not play a very active role in Togo’s development due to various issues, many related to the nation’s governmental policies. But with the support of our government, Canadian volunteers working shoulder to shoulder with NGOs and other organizations are playing an integral role in the development of projects to strengthen civil society. Whether by empowering the underrepresented, ensuring human rights or fighting the effects of poverty, without a doubt this is a worthy investment. I am sure that everyone in this room tonight agrees, Canada’s international presence does make a difference. We, as volunteers, do make a difference.

I went overseas with Canadian Crossroads International but today I stand with you, my fellow international volunteers from all of Canada’s volunteer cooperation agencies, as a global citizen. Each of us has a story to tell. No doubt like me, you have been forever changed by your experience. For us it was a privilege, and with that privilege, comes responsibility. Today I ask you each to join with me to ensure our global community lives without poverty, has all that is needed to be and stay healthy, and is a place where equal rights are no longer a luxury. Let’s keep our government aware of our actions, let’s make sure that they know we plan to keep working towards a better future, and let’s act for the future today.

Crossroader Kim Simard (Togo 2005), speaking at International Day of the Volunteer celebration in Montreal, 2006

 

Crossroads International gratefully acknowledges the support of: