Meet the Advocates: Tori Fessenden
Name: Tori Fessenden
School: The George Washington University, Elliott School of International Affairs
Major(s): International Affairs and Economics (Concentration in International Development)
Class year: Sophomore
When and how did you get involved with YSI?
I got involved with YSI in the beginning of my fall semester of my sophomore year. Katie Biolo introduced it to me after I told her about my interests in international development. I came to the initial information session and immediately was drawn to the program.
Which expeditions have you gone on?
I went on the first session of the Winter 2017-2018 expedition.
What are your future plans with us?
I plan to stay involved with YSI by continuing to come to meetings, fundraisers, gatherings etc. I will continue talking to new potential advocates and telling them all about my experience, hopefully encouraging them to join and go on an expedition. I also hope to go on another expedition as well if the timing works out!
What is your favorite memory from your trip(s) to Haiti?
I have so many amazing memories it’s hard to narrow down. One of my favorites was working in the public health education station during the first clinic day. I had the opportunity to sit down and really engage with patients, and one woman in particular really connected with me. I was giving her information about how to keep her baby healthy; he suffered from anemia and asthma. She was so grateful and receptive. The translator understood me perfectly and we had a great rapport developing between the three of us. I really felt like I was connecting with the patient on a personal and human level, which is something that’s often forgotten in service trips. I was able to present her with the information in a conversational way, so that we could both easily understand each other. She told me about her daily life and asked me questions about how to change her daily habits to be healthier. It was just a really great, high quality interaction that was the culmination of all the public health information I learned and was trained about. I really felt like I was having a positive impact in the patient’s life, and she made the same impact in mine.
What would you say to somebody who is unsure whether or not YSI is right for them? Whether it means donating, traveling with us, or simply reading more about us.
There is a very valid stigma out there about service trips with regards to “voluntourism,” but with YSI it’s not what you’d think. Many international service trips are unsustainable and do more harm than good, oftentimes being ignorant and ethnocentric. When I first heard about YSI I was super skeptical given the stereotype. But when I started looking into YSI more, I realized it’s the exact opposite of the problematic service trips we see all the time. YSI’s model of sustainable, data driven, community centered development is actually the solution to the problem of “voluntourism.” YSI is always looking for ways to be better, and they will listen to you and your critiques because they truly want to improve their actions on a daily basis. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover; YSI is international service that you should actually be proud to be a part of.
What is your biggest takeaway from the experiences that you have had with YSI?
My biggest takeaway is that positive community development is possible. While studying international development and economics, it’s easy to get discouraged. In my classes we often focus on all the challenges and issues that come with community and economic development, but by working with YSI I was able to gain a sense of optimism. YSI actually makes a sustainable and positive impact, and will continue to grow and develop throughout their time in Haiti. You may not be a doctor, engineer, or economist right now, but you can still change someone’s life for the better. The world seems filled with disaster, disease, poverty, and violence. And it is filled with those things, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do something about it. There are solutions, and there is reason to have hope for the world.