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Travelling to make a difference

Changing the world: UBC Okanagan students Kevin Ilomin

Kalun Boudreau is sure of two things: he wants to pursue a career in medicine and he wants to make a difference in the world.

Many young people aspire to these goals, but Boudreau and four of his friends are actively working on achieving them now.

Calling themselves Students For Kenya, the five University of British Columbia Okanagan students flew to the African nation last Friday to embark on a three-week volunteer tour working in orphanages and HIV/AIDS clinics.

The students will share their skills by teaching orphaned children arithmetic and literacy skills, and visiting and caring for patients afflicted with the AIDS virus, as well as their families.

“I’m extremely excited, this is a dream trip for a lot of us,” said the 21-year-old Salmon Arm resident last week, explaining his long-term goal is to join Doctors Without Borders.

Also known as Médecins sans Frontieres (MSF), the humanitarian organization was formed in 1971 by doctors and journalists in France. Today, MSF provides aid in nearly 60 countries to people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect or catastrophe.

“Is this right for me?” he asks, noting that this trip is a way to find out if MSF will remain a goal, and to make change, even if it is small.

“It’s an amazing opportunity that most university students don’t get unless they reach out.”

And reaching out is exactly what Boudreau and the other four students did.

This trip of a lifetime began like many projects, with a conversation last fall. By October, the group had given themselves a name, found a suitable group to work with and begun fundraising.

After “looking at a bunch of volunteer organizations,” the Students for Kenya settled on Rural Development Community Program (RCDP), an international group that has placed more than 4,500 students in volunteer-abroad programs since 1998.

“It’s an umbrella organization that organizes volunteers for local initiatives,” Boudreau says. “They get in touch with many countries and advertise the projects on their website.”

On that website, RCDP explains that Kenya has been hit hard by HIV/AIDS.

“Many families have been devastated by the disease as they’ve lost bread winners, women have become widowed and children orphans,” reads the website. “There are local initiatives hard at work to stop the spread of the disease and provide proper health care to the victims. They’ve been doing a good job as government has so far failed to provided sufficient services to HIV/AIDS victims.”

Once the young volunteers had determined who they would apply to work with, they began fundraising in earnest, gathering money and materials such as soccer balls, pens and pencils, books, toothbrushes, and children’s toys.

For the HIV/AIDS clinic they went on the hunt for condoms, latex gloves, gauze, and any other available medical supplies.

Boudreau says the students are allowed to take 150 pounds of luggage each and pretty well met their goal by having bottle drives, barbecues and other fundraising events.

“Rotary supported us hugely, they jumped completely onboard,” says Boudreau with enthusiasm. “A couple of Rotarians donated a whole pile of first aid equipment and (dentist) Gene Tymkiw donated toothbrushes, gloves etc.”

The local showing of a film on Africa two weeks ago didn’t garner a huge audience, but it did bring in $500.

Boudreau, a third-year medical biochemistry student, is on the dean’s list and was permitted to apply to UBC’s medical school.

“It would be a year early so I’m not expecting to get into this round,” he says, noting that only he and one of the other Students For Kenya plan careers in medicine.

“The others just want to get the experience of helping out, to go and learn and teach and interact with the people as much as possible, to see another way of life and understand it better,” he says. The three weeks of volunteer work will be followed by another educational adventure – a week-long trek up Mount Kilimanjaro.