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Students urged to think about more than just themselves

Shanae Strachan says the summer she volunteered in Uganda during her college years was one of the best things she ever did
  • Shanae Strachan at 19 years old spent a summer of her collegiate years volunteering in Uganda at the orphanage and Kampala slums. Strachan, now 21, is pictured with two of the Ugandan children she met.

Guardian Lifestyles Editor

Published: May 29, 2013

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Societies can never reach their apex unless the populace is selfless and philanthropic. This is a belief that Shanae Strachan holds onto. She says most people assume that philanthropy requires excess amounts of wealth, but she believes philanthropy simply means a love of humankind, and therefore, does not preclude someone without money from being philanthropic. She says this is precisely why volunteering can be seen as a philanthropic activity.

In the spring of 2010 Shanae held a fundraiser dinner in New York City to raise money for BULA Children’s Home (a Ugandan NGO that aims to promote childhood development by focusing on children’s rights, educational opportunities and sensitivity to each child’s unique background) in Mengo, Uganda. Along with a monetary donation from her school, Monroe College in New York, and toys donated from Starbucks, the then 19-year-old student who studied hospitality management packed her bags for a summer of volunteering at the orphanage and Kampala slums. She says she faced opposition from family and loved ones about her safety during that time, especially as Al-Qaeda-linked Somalia militia had bombed the capital city and killed 74 people.

Shanae suppressed her fears and told her loved ones she would return in one piece.

“I knew that my trip was much bigger than a bombing, and that I would be okay. I was going to take care of and plant a seed into the tender lives of over 30 Ugandan orphans,” she said.

Looking back at that summer the now 21-year-old said volunteering abroad for her was better than filing papers and answering calls in an office.

“Assisting in the day-to-day management of a major orphanage in Uganda and networking with other non-profit organizations in the Mengo district really enhanced my organizational skills. It tested my patience and through the two-month long experience I discovered a very strong person that I did not even know was there,” she said.

Shanae says most students think that their field of study has no volunteer opportunities, but she says they are out there.

“If you are studying marine biology, spend some time in Hawaii studying the behavioral patterns of dolphins. If you are studying childhood education why not volunteer as a teacher’s aid in South America or Asia? If you are an engineering major why not build houses in Sudan for the refugees? There are opportunities for every field, and the great part is that most of these volunteer opportunities are funded.”

Since that summer, Shanae said she has come to recognize that the corporate community views people that volunteer their time to be team players, and someone who is compassionate and globally considerate.

“It also shows that you have a work-life balance and that you will be an asset to the company’s mission and vision. Most employers are becoming more socially conscious and value volunteerism above all else,” she said. “Volunteering is perhaps the single greatest deed one can do. Volunteering should never be an option — we all can immensely contribute to the advancement of society. Furthermore, volunteering can also advance one’s education and career. Personally, volunteering while in college not only gave me the opportunity to help those people who are suffering, but also led to scholarships [Monroe College increased her scholarship by a few thousand dollars and the American Hotel and Lodging Educational Foundation Scholarship] and opportunities to network with many influential leaders. Additionally, it propelled my career — my employer was so fascinated with my penchant for giving that they decided to hire me on the spot. People tend to have an affinity for people who are willing to give back to society.”

As the school year comes to a close and thousands of Bahamian students prepare to seek higher education or enter the work force, Shanae says she wants graduates to realize that not all lessons are learned in the classroom. And that it is important for them to expand their horizons by volunteering their time abroad while pursuing their education.

She encourages them to think about volunteerism as she said it would allow them to grow as individuals, and at the same time provide them with an excellent opportunity to see the world. She said it would open their eyes to a whole new way of thinking.

“The experience changed my life. I know that those children and I have a forever bond. I contact my family in Uganda almost every week, I left a piece of my heart there and it feels as though I never left. The two months of my life that I spent in Uganda continues to open doors for me everywhere I go and I would not trade that experience for the world. I encourage the youth of The Bahamas to get out there and make the most of your college experience and give back. If you cannot make it to the other side of the world just yet, start in our country [because] there is so much to be done in the islands of The Bahamas.”

After her experience, Shanae says students who will open their minds and hearts to the idea of volunteerism during their college years should contact the nearest Bahamian Consulate to be aware of visa processes and required vaccinations, if any, for their destination, and she encourages them to pack lightly, but to not forget their Bahamian flag. Researching the culture, language and history of the community she said is also important. And when in the country she says they should talk to the locals and be considerate of their religious views and cultural preferences. Through it all, she said they should always be courageous as the world is at their feet.

Shanae has also volunteered in Bulgaria and Peru. She is a member of Active Intervention for Mothers, Roots for Development, The NGO Committee on the Status of Women, NY, The Mpule Institute, The Bahamas Red Cross, and The Bahamas National Trust. Shanae currently resides between Manhattan, New York and Nassau, Bahamas.

Shanae graduated magna cum laude from Monroe College, with a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management at the age of 19.

She is open to assisting any students that want to volunteer abroad, especially in Africa. She can be contacted at strachan.shanae@gmail.com.

Shanae Strachan’s volunteer abroad tips for college students

• Open your mind and heart.

• Contact the nearest Bahamian Consulate to be aware of visa processes and required vaccinations, if any, for your destination.

• Pack lightly — but don’t forget your Bahamian flag.

• Research the culture, language and history of the community.

• Talk to all locals.

• Be considerate to others, especially their religious views and culture preferences.

• Be courageous, the world is at your feet.

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