Volunteering provides opportunities to create global impact

The Kitsilano Library will be holding a monthly speaker series where speakers will share their personal experiences with global development. The series titled Together: Stories about the Impact of Global Development, is presented in partnership with Aga Khan Foundation Canada and runs until May. Tina Parbhakar is slated to be a future speaker.

Parbhakar is a lawyer who is passionate about global development issues. Her areas of interest are children’s law, children’s rights, gender equality and violence against women.

“From a very early age my parents really encouraged me and my siblings to be members of the community and give back,” she says.

Parbhakar currently works with the BC Ministry of Justice and practices civil litigation. After completing her undergrad in international relations at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Parbhakar was looking to pursue global development work and became interested in the International Youth Fellowship program with Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC). The foundation, a non-profit organization, works to find sustainable solutions to the complex problems causing global poverty in Asia and Africa.

Tina Parbhakar (middle) with some staff from the Madrasa Early Childhood Programme in Uganda. | Photo by Shafique Sekalala

She says her inspiration to work globally began early: “I went to India for a family wedding but, in the course of being there, a lot of children would come up to me, a child like them, to beg.”

“It really had an impact on me,” says Parbhakar, who grew up in Vancouver and is of South Asian descent, found her motivation in observing the disparity between her situation and theirs.

Volunteering internationally

After being accepted into the fellowship program, Parbhakar traveled to Uganda for eight months as a communications specialist for the Madrasa Early Childhood Programme. Founded in 1993 in Uganda, the programme also operates in Kenya and Tanzania. It began as a pilot project in Mombasa where the children in certain communities were performing poorly in education compared to the rest of the population.

“The approach integrates local culture such as language, stories and songs with contemporary preschool methodologies and encourages early literacy and numeracy skills, social skills, active exploration and problem solving,” says Parbhakar. “It’s very play-based and child-centered, compared to the typical formal education opportunities in East Africa.”

Parbhakar shares that research findings have shown that the Madrasa approach is effective in improving cognitive function and development as well as educational success later on in life. To date, the program has helped establish over 200 preschools and taught over 70,000 children.

Getting involved

An avid volunteer, Parbhakar will be sharing what she’s learned and aims to connect her experiences to the themes and writing about global development work.

“I would like others to feel motivated to participate in some of the work that’s happening. People think you have to be abroad to have an impact on international issues, but that’s not the case,” says Parbhakar. “I want to engage others in a dialogue that’s personal and explore the broader implications of our lives and experiences. As Canadians, it’s important to ask, ‘What do we have to offer?’ “

Through her various engagements, Parbhakar found that organizations were accommodating of her busy schedule and different opportunities have different timelines involved. She feels that it’s important for people to figure out what they’re passionate about and volunteering is a great opportunity to do so, whilst gaining new skills and building mutually beneficial relationships.

“If you have a few hours to spare, then why not?” asks Parbhakar.

Recently, Parbhakar has been editing stories from the Voices of Future Generations initiative, a non-profit effort to promote the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which supports children globally to write and publish books about the world they wish to see. She has also joined the board of ArtStarts in Schools, a non-profit that promotes art and creativity among British Columbia’s young people.

For more information, please visit www.vpl.ca.