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Humanitarian brings new perspective on volunteering

In his 27 short years, Navonel Glick has seen and done more than most will in an entire lifetime.

As program director of the humanitarian non-governmental organization IsraAID, Glick spoke to UNB Fredericton students on March 10 about the experiences that have shaped his life for the past seven years.

He explained how he went from apathetic chemistry student to dedicated altruist; seeking a change of scenery from the freezing McGill campus, he decided to embark on a four-month volunteer stint in Nepal.

“I thought I’d come back and keep working, like going on sabbatical,” he said. “But instead I ended up staying for 4 years. And that led to a change of career.”

Glick eventually found himself working for the Israel forum for International Humanitarian Aid (IsraAID), a group whose efforts range from disaster relief in places like Kenya and the Philippines, to financial and medical projects designed to provide long-term sustainability – something they believe is the key to real change.

“You want to find someone in a crisis situation, who doesn’t have the mental space to able to address tomorrow, and really help them build a situation where they can think about how to make their own lives better,” he said.

The goal of Glick’s presentation was to address the misconceptions that exist around humanitarian aid, and that well-intentioned volunteers can sometimes do more harm than good.

While Glick feels that humanitarian work is something that everyone should experience, he emphasized that activists should focus on sustainability, as opposed to “feel-good” short-term aid that often does not last. Instead, he believes that donations made to reputable charities or NGOs can be the most effective way of providing lasting change.

“If they choose to go volunteer somewhere they [should] have an idea of what they’re doing and ask ‘is it sustainable?’ ” he said.

“Would it be better, instead of spending thousands of dollars to go volunteer for a week and build a hut when you’re not a construction worker, would it be a better idea to spend the summer working and send the equivalent amount of money to an organization?”

While his work with IsraAID has put him face-to-face with human suffering in places like the Sudan and Haiti, Glick said that the positive experiences in his work more than outweigh the bad.

“When people from different cultures get together and try and help, it’s amazing the positive feedback you get. In the US, I was recently in Colorado after the floods. There was this woman who almost fainted when she saw from how far we had come to help, she started crying,” he said.

“I had a similar one in NYC after Hurricane sandy, where an American family asked where we came from, and the mother was shocked and couldn’t stop hugging us – she wrote us back a few months later, saying thank you.”

Naomi Rosenfeld, director of Hillel of Atlantic Canada and organizer of the event, said that Glick’s presentation was meant to give students a different perspective on volunteer work.

“I think that it’s important to get out of your own life and mundane problems,” she said.

“We all get very involved in our own lives, and that perspective of really seeing what’s going on in the world is an important lesson for us all – especially during midterm season. I hope people take away just a little bit of inspiration.”

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