by Jennifer Wedekind (J06)
Nathaniel Whittemore and Jonathan Marino are out to change the world, one volunteer at a time.
Last summer Whittemore spent three months touring the Balkans, the West Bank and Middle East, and East Africa on a Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences research grant to assess the status of student international volunteering. “It confirmed my suspicion that there are a lot of young people from a lot of places who want to explore international issues,” said Whittemore, a Weinberg senior from Scarborough, Maine. “But unskilled volunteers can only do so much.” Far too often, Whittemore found, their work, while dedicated, wasn’t actually helping to create change.
Inefficiency, government constraints and the lack of refugee rights made even the most basic needs, such as medical supply distribution and schooling for children, difficult to provide.
So Whittemore, 21, and Marino, a School of Education and Social Policy senior from Rockford, Ill., launched the International Youth Volunteerism Summit last February.
Marino had extensive experience in organizing student volunteers from working with the Northwestern Community Development Corps and from serving as an undergraduate board member of Connections for the Homeless, a Cook County organization that works to prevent and reduce homelessness. On the international level, Marino volunteered in El Salvador, Guatemala and South Africa, helping to rebuild homes after mudslides, caring for HIV/AIDS orphans, and assisting teachers in local schools.
Both Whittemore and Marino were drawn into the field of international volunteering after their study abroad experiences. They knew that U.S. youth are more internationally aware than ever before, but Whittemore and Marino faulted existing institutions that focus too much on “raising awareness” and too little on skill sets and pragmatics.
“We were both interested in what’s beyond good intentions,” said Marino, 21. In response, the IYVS summit held at Northwestern offered practical workshops on topics such as fundraising and grant writing, engaging local populations and interfaith communication, all aimed at providing students interested in international volunteering with the knowledge and tools necessary to create effective and lasting changes.
The four-day conference brought together about 75 student delegates representing almost 30 U.S. universities and 20 countries, including Kyrgyzstan, Sri Lanka and Yemen, as well as panelists from an assortment of nongovernmental organizations. The delegates were selected based on applications and project proposals, which ranged from a documentary on Tibetan children to educational programs in Ecuador.
IYVS set up a partnership with the Evanston-based Rotary International, among other donors, to implement some projects proposed by the student delegates. (As of press time, the IYVS team had not chosen the grant-winning proposals.) The IYVS leaders also hope to help delegates implement their projects by connecting them with Rotary clubs around the world.
The IYVS is a project of the Just Naïve Enough Global Capacity Initiative, an organization founded in 2005 by Whittemore and Marino aimed at making “globally conscious American undergraduates globally capable.” Whittemore, who will graduate in June, will return to Northwestern in the fall to run Just Naïve Enough through the University’s Center for International and Comparative Studies. “This program is a possibility for Northwestern to take a leadership role in [a field] that will be growing in the next several years,” said Andrew Wachtel, director of CICS and dean of the Graduate School.
Marino, who will also graduate in June, will serve as a part-time consultant for Just Naïve Enough while completing a one-year public interest fellowship working with the Chicago Public Schools.
In the coming years, the students plan to continue the annual IYVS and work with summit alumni. They envision creating a network of essential volunteer resources through Just Naïve Enough.