Berkshire institute works hard for a ‘better world’

Just six miles south of Williamstown, tucked away in the Berkshires, lies the Institute for International Cooperation and Development’s (IICD) Massachusetts campus, a non-profit organization that is working to help developing nations. Founded in 1987, IICD, as its web page explains, is “working [for] solidarity with people in the developing world…and [for] a ‘better world.’”

More specifically, IICD volunteers learn the language and culture of a developing nation, as well as other practical and fundraising skills here in the United States, before taking on various humanitarian projects abroad.

Elizabeth Boisvert, a freshman at Williams last year, is currently on a leave of absence studying at IICD where she is preparing to work in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe program consists of five and one-half months of education at IICD’s Massachusetts campus, six months of work in Zimbabwe and a month and a half follow-up including public education work. While abroad, volunteers on the Zimbabwe team will help set up and maintain village health programs, combat the spread of HIV and help form farmers clubs to help the regions agriculture.

Boisvert hopes to be assigned to Ponesai Vanhu, a local school for street children where two IICD volunteers will teach courses and run extracurricular clubs. “When I read the e-mails that we get from Zimbabwe, they often talk about the [students at Ponesai Vanhu] and how strong and loving they are, despite their tough backgrounds. These kids have so much inside them, and they deserve the chance to learn, play and develop their talents without worrying about having enough food or finding a place to sleep for the night.”

Boisvert went on to express her hope that she will have an impact on the lives of the Zimbabweans she comes in contact with. “I think that for some people in Zimbabwe, it helps just to know that there are other places out there. Just my being there will plant seeds of thought and open up new worlds.” This bridging of cultures is one of IICD’s main goals. They even expect their volunteers to return ready, willing and able to share the ideas that they gleaned from their experiences abroad with people back home.

Dan Sabet, team leader of a group of IICD volunteers headed to Nicaragua, has already spent a semester abroad in Latin America. Although he regretted the limited long-term contributions he made – “mixing cement nine hours a day gets a bit old,” he said – he noted that the experience still had a significant effect on him.

“It is impossible not to [be changed],” Sabet said. “We are all aware of the situation in developing countries, yet I firmly believe that it is something that we all need to see with out own eyes. I learned more in that short time that I was there than I could from a lifetime of university education.”

Sabet is also in charge of the upcoming IICD fundraiser, an interactive “Hunger Dinner.” In order to give all those attending an idea of what injustices the IICD is fighting, participants will be given a piece of paper with their new identity and economic background as they enter. According to Sabet, “based on this information, guests will be either seated at a fancy table where they will be served a very nice meal or at a plain table where the will eat a meal of rice and beans, while over half of the people will end up on the floor with only a bowl of rice to eat.” The different groups will play out various “real life” scenarios throughout the meal, all of which will be followed by a discussion. Sabet predicted that, “the inescapable lesson [will be] that almost all of us, in our normal lives, would be one of the 15 percent eating the nice meal.” The dinner will be held at 7 p.m. this Thursday at the First Baptist Church in North Adams (131 Main St.).