Volunteers Light Fires at Firelight

profile shot Volunteers are a significant part of Firelight’s work, two to seven are in the office on any given day working on creative and thoughtful projects. Some volunteers are about to join the Peace Corps and Firelight helps them to learn about community-based organizations before they leave. Others are globally minded business students, public health professionals, and others who believe that grassroots networks are a crucial element to thriving communities.

The volunteer program connects us to our local community and shows us how Firelight’s work and our grantee partner’s work resonates with others. One volunteer, Mia Schmid, has been part of Firelight for a few months now. Mia had the following to say about why she volunteers at Firelight and the impact it’s had on her.

“Since I was young, I’ve had a love for Africa, and as my educational and professional path has taken shape, Africa has been at the forefront. This passion has since grown into an interest in international development, a semester studying in Uganda, and a bachelor’s degree in International Studies. After graduation, I returned to my hometown of Santa Cruz to pursue a career in the nonprofit sector.

Firelight came into my life rather serendipitously after several unsuccessful months of searching for a local volunteer opportunity. I found out about Firelight from a family friend, who knew a Firelight staff member, and thought that my interest and experience in Africa would be a perfect match with the organization’s mission. After attending Firelight’s open house last November, I knew it was just what I’d been looking for—a local nonprofit with a global reach. Since starting with Firelight in February, I’ve been a part of several different projects, from donor prospecting with the development team, to country-specific research, to writing my own Newsflash to grantee partners and stakeholders in Africa. Each project has helped me become better acquainted both with Firelight’s history and its future.

Firelight’s approach to international development has also helped to inform my own personal philosophy. Before joining Firelight, I studied abroad in Uganda on a development studies program. This was my first exposure to life in a developing country and up until then I had only learned about development theories and best practices from the inside of a prestigious university’s classrooms or through the pages of convoluted textbooks. The major theories of development state that it is best suited for highly trained professionals, many of whom come from the industrialized world representing international non-governmental organizations with deep pockets and a large presence.

In Uganda, I learned that this system of funneling money from the “top down” is broken or never worked very well in the first place. Fortunately, Firelight has taught me what does work—supporting local communities to determine development on their own terms. This was best stated by Howard Kasiya, Firelight’s Malawi Resource person, when he remarked: 'Firelight is putting community-based organization’s in the drivers seat of their own development.'

What I’ve learned these past few months is that it is the community that is best suited to identify their own needs and responses, and Firelight is there to support the community in this process. Through Firelight’s grantmaking model, grantees are viewed as partners because they share a common goal—to help communities meet the needs of their children. I am fortunate to have found an organization like Firelight that is making a profound impact in hundreds of communities in Africa, from my hometown of Santa Cruz, CA.”

If you’re interested in volunteering, Firelight will be accepting applications for summer interns in June. Volunteers are asked to commit a minimum of 10 hours a week for at least three months, allowing for interns to invest in serious work projects and strong learning opportunities.

Mia Schmid, age 22, is one of Firelight's Globally Engaged Youth Volunteers. She is a recent graduate from the University of Denver where she studied International Studies with a focus on International Development, Health, and Gender. She also studied International Development with the School for International Training for one semester in Kampala, Uganda. While in Uganda, Mia conducted a research project on the resettlement of unaccompanied minors from the Democratic Republic of Congo living at Kyangwali Refugee Settlement in Northwestern Uganda. In the future, she would like to go back to Africa possibly with the Peace Corps and is interested in pursuing a graduate degree in non-profit management.