Throughout my time at Oxford, I have seen that there are many opportunities for students to spend some time volunteering abroad. Indeed, many students will already have done this during a gap-year, or as part of a school project. Yet one cannot help but ask, should this form of exchange only happen (or at least be most prominently advertised) as a one-directional phenomenon – is it right for us, the privileged, to use such opportunities for our own advantage, learning new things in a new environment without allowing for the exchange to occur the other way round? Perhaps the cost of a return flight from Kenya would be better spent having a member of the community that an individual may go out to volunteer for to come and spend some time in our privileged world, where we have the means and resources to really make a difference. This year’s Oxford Forum for International Development outreach programme aims to do just that.
The Oxford Forum for International Development (OxFID), an annual conference which marks its 5th Anniversary this year, is the UK’s largest student-run conference of its type and is set to attract over 400 participants from across the UK and Europe who have an active interest in the field of development. The conference offers students the opportunity to engage with the issues surrounding international development, providing a unique forum for fruitful interaction and debate with leading experts. The conference, which takes place this month at the Said Business School, is celebrating their 5th Anniversary with the title ‘International Development – Where Next? Finding New Paths and Shaping New Visions’.With a focus on the future of development, it only makes sense to encourage global participation in this discussion, and as such OxFID have successfully started an outreach programme this year with the intention to bring UK students and young people in the developing world together to achieve real, worthwhile and effective dialogue on the most prominent issues surrounding development. Through the support of the Oxford-based Centre for the Study of African Economies (CSAE), the university International Development department (QEH) and New College JCR, the conference will be attended by a group of students from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. Through New College’s existing partnership with Makerere University, four social science students and a lecturer at the university have gained the ability not only to attend the conference, but also spend some time at Oxford learning about the way in which the university works, spending time with students and visiting the libraries and museums.
The OxFID outreach programme has also provided the opportunity for two Cambodian students, currently studying at the University of Hradec Králové in Prague on a full scholarship, to also attend the conference this year. “It is my dream to improve the education system in Cambodia”, comments Monkol Sok, a third year Information and Management student. “The core of happiness is rooted in truth and knowledge, both being revealed by good educational principles put in practice”. When I asked Monkol about what he hopes to gain from his attendance of the conference, he again referred back to the importance of education. “I hope and believe that joining the conference, and obtaining the scholarship in the Czech Republic, will help me to achieve a higher level of education and increase the possibility of me pursuing my dream”. Thavry Thun, another Cambodian student who will also be visiting from Prague, adds that his interests lie in business, economics and technology, subjects which he hopes to learn more about in the context of development through his attendance at OxFID. It is not only for these reasons that Thavry was attracted to the conference, but also the opportunity to increase his knowledge on such issues in a new environment and get “a chance to step [foot on] one of the most famous [universities in the world]”.
Not only do initiatives such as the OxFID outreach programme and the New College partnership with Makerere University in Uganda allow for dual exchange, but also provide greater global access to the resources that we, as Oxford students, have at our disposal and often take for granted. It is important to continue this exchange in both directions, and efforts to do so by the initiatives mentioned above are certainly ones that we, as a student body, should aim to follow.
Tickets for OxFID 2012 are onsale now at www.oxfid.org