‘Tis the season for giving

Melissa Weigel

For most University students, volunteering means going on a break trip or tutoring inner-city children once a week. Volunteer organizations do play a large role on campus, but usually only as a part of a student’s four-year college experience. For Kevin Hartigan, now the South Asia regional director for Catholic Relief Services, volunteering was much more than simply a part of his college life-it was practically a full-time job. As an undergraduate student for eight years, he spent much of that time working with people at a refugee camp in Thailand, with street children in Rio de Janiero and with the poor in Guatemala.

“I took advantage of all kinds of opportunities that just kind of presented themselves,” Hartigan said.

For instance, he took a semester to study abroad in Uruguay, but soon after he got there, the students and teachers went on strike at the university. Since the school did not re-open that semester, he had several months in South America to volunteer.

Another time, he and a friend were traveling around the world and had a seven-day layover in Thailand. This was at the height of the refugee crisis in Cambodia and Thailand, which he read about in a local newspaper. After hearing that news, he sought out local organizations helping the refugees and managed to get a job working for one of them.

“A lot of times local organizations are less bureaucratic about hiring younger people,” Hartigan said, “but oftentimes, you’ll have to work for no pay, just room and board.”

Many students at Villanova take a year or two after graduation to volunteer around the world. Hartigan was invited to campus as part of the Villanova University Catholic Relief Services partnership. He spoke to several classes of students about his work, and he also advised students who were interested in his line of work.

“He talked about the prerequisites that are good to have before entering his kind of work, like graduate school and the Peace Corps,” senior Anna Obergfell said. “It’s good to know that you need to have some international background before they throw you into that.”

According to Hartigan, the best way to enter a line of work with an international relief organization is through volunteer work. This can be through applying for positions at reputable international organizations or simply showing up wherever there is an emergency and going to grass-roots organizations for jobs. However, Hartigan said that many of his colleagues got the same volunteer experience through programs like the Peace Corps and the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

“The good thing about Peace Corps is that it gives these people a chance to see if living overseas is for them,” Hartigan said.

This is one of the hardest parts about his job, being away from family and the United States, Hartigan said. He returns to the United States about twice a year to visit family.

“I find that I spend more time with my parents than my siblings who live in the United States because I have more vacation time and during my vacation I am basically living with them,” he said. “I’m not caught up with the scheduling and the conflicts of the United States.”

Another major concern for many traveling overseas to volunteer is security. For Hartigan, though, that is not a big issue. He says that most volunteers are not sent to war-torn countries or other at-risk cities; these jobs are usually given to those higher up in the organizations with more experience.

“The bigger concerns are actually health risks,” he said. “It’s a big drag because you’re always sick. Not with life-threatening illnesses, you’re just uncomfortable. It’s gotten so we just carry medicines around with us.”