#VETSVolunteerVoices aims to bring you the stories of our passionate VETS program volunteers from the field! In their own words, volunteers reflect on their work, development challenges, and the personal growth that they have experienced during their placements. Learn more about our VETS, (i.e., Volunteers Engaged in Gender-Responsive Technical Solutions), program and the important work being carried out by Canadian volunteers and local partners in Cambodia, Ghana, Kenya, Laos, Senegal, and Vietnam.
VOLUNTEER NAME: Kavitha Sriparamananthan
PLACEMENT: February 2021 – Present, Vietnam
DATE OF INTERVIEW: October 3, 2023
Q: What motivated you to be a VETS Volunteer?
A: My motivation to volunteer stems from my academic background in international development and my strong desire to have a positive impact on as many people as possible. With a BSc in Health Studies and Gerontology and an MA in Education, Health Promotion, and International Development, I have dedicated over 7 years to working in this field. My goal in life is to contribute to positive global change, and I find great satisfaction in making a difference through activities like mentoring and training.
Since 2016, I have volunteered in various fields such as education, health, international development, and gender and social inclusion in Southeast Asia. Through these experiences, I have held positions in capacity building, volunteer recruitment and support, program management, and organizational leadership. Having previously worked and volunteered in Canada, India, Vietnam, and Lao PDR on health and gender-focused projects, I was immediately drawn to the VETS project. It presented an exciting opportunity to combine my expertise in health and gender and provide support to the local community, particularly small-scale farmers.
Overall, volunteering is a way for me to actively engage with the world, contribute to causes I care about, and create positive change. It is a mutually beneficial experience that not only benefits the community but also enriches my own life in countless ways. The VETS project aligns perfectly with my goals, as it enables me to work with various stakeholders to improve health outcomes for the environment, human and animal health, all while promoting gender equality in a collaborative and sustainable manner.
Q: What has your work (placement) been in Vietnam?
A: I have been volunteering with the VETS project in Vietnam since February 2021 as a Gender Advisor. Specifically, I am working with the Institute of Environmental and Sustainable Development (IEHSD) in Hanoi, which is VWB’s local VETS program partner. The IEHSD aims to become a prominent institute for research and development and to enhance the well-being of humans, animals, and plants, ultimately contributing to sustainable development. The institute focuses on food safety, bio-risk management, plastic pollution, antimicrobial resistance, zoonotic diseases, and more.
As Gender Advisor, I am responsible for integrating gender into the IEHSD at the organizational level, as well as into the various projects the institute works on. My focus is on developing and delivering training programs for IEHSD staff and local partners, with the aim of supporting small-scale farmers.
Notably, gender is a sensitive topic to discuss, particularly in certain cultural contexts. So, I have also been conducting a series of Gender Seminars with the Vietnam One Health Alliance since the beginning of my volunteer term in February 2021.
Q: Has this experience changed you in any way, so far?
A: This experience has had a profound impact on me, leading to several significant changes. Firstly, I have developed a newfound appreciation for farmers and their tireless efforts to provide us with food. Witnessing their hard work and dedication has deepened my respect for their crucial role in society. Additionally, I have gained a deeper understanding of Vietnamese culture and local practices, particularly in the realm of farming and training practices.
On a personal level, this journey has contributed to both my personal and professional growth. It has challenged me to step out of my comfort zone, adapt to new environments, and develop valuable skills. It has also allowed me to develop a network of gender experts across the globe with whom I share my knowledge and learn from as well. The connections I have made with fellow colleagues have been incredibly meaningful, and I cherish these connections.
Q: Is this experience deepening your understanding of “One Health”?
A: This volunteer journey has provided me with valuable insights into the practical application of One Health. I have had the chance to work alongside various collaborators from different disciplines, including veterinarians, physicians, government officials, university lecturers and public health professionals, to develop gender-responsive strategies to address issues such as plastic pollution, antimicrobial resistance, zoonotic disease prevention, etc. This interdisciplinary approach has allowed me to witness the power of collaboration and the importance of integrating knowledge and expertise from multiple fields.
By working together, we have been able to discuss and develop solutions to tackle complex challenges that require a holistic perspective in a gender-sensitive manner. This experience has not only expanded my knowledge but also reinforced my belief in the significance of One Health in addressing global health issues.
Q: Tell me a bit about the trainings you do that empower women?
A: Overall, my role as a gender advisor encompasses various activities aimed at promoting gender equity. From targeted training sessions for women to inclusive discussions on gender roles, my goal is to create an environment where gender disparities are acknowledged and addressed.
For example, I conduct women-focused training sessions on risk communication. By specifically targeting women, I aim to empower them with the knowledge and skills to effectively communicate health risks within their communities. Additionally, I facilitate discussions on the roles of men and women in farming communities and how these roles can impact disease transmission.
I also conduct training for university students in One Health programs on how to address gender differences in health and exposure to health risks when working with local communities. Through these discussions, we explore practical solutions to raise awareness and be more gender-responsive in our activities.
Recognizing the crucial role of women's union members in supporting females in farming communities, I actively involve them in training sessions. By including these key stakeholders, I ensure that the training initiatives are inclusive and address the specific needs and concerns of women in these communities.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who is thinking of becoming a VETS volunteer?
A: My advice would be to seize the opportunity. It is an incredibly rewarding experience that allows you to make a positive impact on the community while also learning and growing personally. Volunteering provides a great chance to give back and contribute to a cause that you are passionate about. It allows you to connect with others, develop new skills, and gain valuable experiences that can enhance your personal and professional growth.
VETS is a 7-year initiative (2020-2027) to improve the economic and social well-being of marginalized people, particularly women and girls, in 6 countries across Africa and Asia. In collaboration with local partners, the program is implemented through 190 Canadian volunteers on international assignment and is generously funded by Global Affairs Canada. Learn more here.