Barbara Borgese is the first UBELONG volunteer who served at the “supporting efforts to stop child labor” Volunteer Abroad in Ghana. Originally from Italy, she is an accomplished professional with seven years of experience in children’s rights, particularly child labor and human rights education. Barbara is currently a community coordinator and educator at The Brooklyn International High School, a public school in New York City for recently arrived immigrant and refugee youth. A graduate from Columbia University’s SIPA and Sciences Po-Paris, Barbara has worked for ILO/IPEC and Watchlist, among other organizations. “Volunteering on this project in Ghana for four weeks was a dream come true”. Here is her interview.
What motivated you to seek this volunteer opportunity in Ghana?
I am extremely passionate about children’s rights, in general, and child labor issues, in particular. Many of my current students (“my kids”) are former child laborers. Working with them has made me want to dig deeper into their realities to find out what their lives were like prior to coming to the USA. It had also been a dream of mine for a very long time to work on a children’s rights project in Africa. When I found this volunteer opportunity in Ghana, it seemed like the perfect fit.
What was most difficult or challenging to you during your placement?
Some of the cultural practices were very foreign and even shocking to me, at times. For example, the corporal punishment of children is still widely practiced in Ghana. Volunteering in a school opened my eyes to this reality. How could I protect my kids from harm without coming off as the obruni (which means “white person” in Twi), the outsider, trying to impose her ways on the locals? Negotiating my position as a guest in this country while remaining true to my own values was not always simple. Luckily, I was able to find allies in local teachers, the local staff and other volunteers. Now, thanks to this joint effort, the project has decided to undertake a teacher-training project to change attitudes and behaviors about corporal punishment. In sum, this challenge became a great opportunity for mutual growth.
What did you learn about yourself in Ghana?
This experience gave me perspective on my own life. It gave me a greater appreciation of the simple things in life and of the people in it. I realized the full potential I have -that we all have- to make a difference in the lives of others in simple yet concrete ways, even if they are half way across the world, because we are all so interconnected. I also rediscovered how much I love what I do. Working with kids really is my greatest passion!