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MELISSA GODIN Class of 2013 Interviewed by Michelle Noble | February 2017

M

elissa was in the midst of her 21st birthday celebrations in Vancouver when she

received the call she’d been hoping for from Oxford University - she had won a 2016 Rhodes Scholarship! And what better way to celebrate than with family and birthday cake? A natural leader and advocate since her Mulgrave days, Melissa is now at NYU pursuing Global Liberal Studies and examining ethical tourism and the growing phenomenon of volunteer tourism for her undergrad thesis. Sparked from her research in Cambodia on orphanage tourism, Melissa has founded the ‘Not a Saviour’ campaign to raise awareness about the potentially detrimental impact of volunteer tourism. Melissa has also spent time in Paris, interning with the Canadian Embassy for the Political Affairs Branch, while furthering her knowledge of sex trafficking by working for a non-profit organisation called, Fondation Scelles. With a wealth of experience at the age of only 21, we couldn’t help but want to pick this ambitious girl’s brain! We hope you enjoy this Alumni Spotlight on 2013 grad, Melissa Godin.


ABOVE: Hannah and Melissa at the 2012 Not For Sale Spirit Week.

If you can remember, what was your

as well as the other service-based

I started noticing from a young

very first philanthropic endeavour?

activities I engaged in at Mulgrave,

age that volunteer tourism was the

absolutely affected the trajectory

main avenue through which young

of my academic pursuits. While at

people from the middle/upper

Mulgrave, I began to pose questions

class were engaging with issues of

about the role of NGOs in alleviating

poverty. People tended to be less

inequality and poverty. But I think

interested in the injustices in their

that in my last years at Mulgrave, I

own communities or countries and

also started to realise the limitations

were allured by poverty in other

of philanthropic initiatives in the

nations. I was curious as to why this

You were very involved in the Not

scheme of larger political and

was the chosen avenue for so many

For Sale initiative for Spirit Week in

economic structural inequalities.

millennials to make a difference

2012, which aimed to abolish slavery

Though my interests in high school

in the world and what that said

and human trafficking globally

were based on issues of social

about the ways we perceive and

and in our own backyard. Did this

injustice, at university, I became

engage with questions of global

have any impact on you choosing

more interested in understanding

development.

to study human rights, politics and

how economic systems create and

sustainable development at NYU? If

perpetuate these inequalities.

The earliest philanthropic endeavour I can remember was from when I was in elementary school. My best friend and I had a car wash/ lemonade stand for the Children’s Hospital. I’m not sure if we washed anyone’s car other than my mom’s!

not, what inspired you to choose this field? My experience with Spirit Week,

What prompted to you explore the impact of volunteer tourism for your thesis?

Can you tell us a little bit about your Not a Saviour campaign? After my second year of university, I received a grant to research orphanage tourism in Cambodia.


is not to discourage young people from getting involved, but rather to encourage them to get involved in the right ways. What were you doing when you found out you had been awarded the Rhodes Scholarship? How did you celebrate? I had to fly home for the interview from New York, so I was back in Vancouver when I got the news. I was having a celebratory birthday dinner with my family and an old Mulgravian friend, Connor, when I got the call. We were already eating birthday cake, which made it the perfect setting to celebrate. That is one special birthday! What do you plan to pursue at Oxford? I hope to do a Master’s in Development Studies. How did your injury as a figure skater during your Mulgrave years influence your approach to facing challenges ABOVE: Melissa during her time in Cambodia conducting research on orphanage tourism.

In Cambodia, there has been

Although this is in extreme cases,

an increase in the number of

even in the best of scenarios, the

orphanages throughout the country

orphanage tourism phenomenon still

despite the fact that the number

results in families being split apart.

of orphaned children has been

Most volunteers are unaware that by

declining over the past twenty years.

volunteering in an orphanage, they

This is because there is a demand

are perpetuating a cycle that splits

for orphanages by foreign volunteer

up families. I gave a TEDx talk on

tourism companies. People have

my research when I returned from

actually started opening up fake

my trip and found that most people

orphanages where, in some cases,

were unaware of this serious issue.

the children are kidnapped from

I decided to start the Not a Saviour

their homes and sexually abused.

campaign to raise awareness. My aim

moving forward? My injury definitely had an impact on the way that I viewed myself and my life. At the time, people were not really taking head injuries seriously, which made an already difficult situation a lot harder because people around me could not grasp the severity of the injury. I haven’t had a day without a headache since, and while I have been incredibly fortunate to have spent my university years studying in different corners of the globe, it has also been really difficult to come to terms with


NO ONE IS BORN STRONG; YOU JUST HAVE TO DECIDE YOU ARE STRONG.

the fact that what was supposed to

was an incredible teacher to have

whether locally or globally, is not

be a temporary injury, is permanent.

around because he gave me the

necessarily to spark change or

However, having to stand back up

freedom to practice being a leader.

transform communities, but rather

on my own two feet at such a young

Sometimes, I look back on the

to facilitate global awareness

age — enduring the IB and applying

SAC or Spirit Week initiatives we

and engagement while building

to university while having difficulty

organised and I laugh thinking,

compassion, understanding and

reading, really showed me a strength

‘I can’t believe he actually let us

curiosity in our students around

in myself that I did not know I had. I

do that!’ It was really nice to have

other cultures and global issues.

was kind of a wimpy kid, and I think

someone validate our ideas and

For those in a similar situation

this really made me see that no

aspirations at such a young age. I’m

looking for a global educational

one is born strong; you just have to

also really grateful for Ms. Soper

experience, what steps can they take

decide that you are strong.

who was always there for me,

to ensure they’re selecting reputable

especially in my last year when I

organisations with good intentions?

Most inspirational Mulgrave teacher?

was struggling with my health. She always went out of her way to make

I have had so many inspirational

sure I was doing okay. But again, all

Mulgrave teachers that it’s difficult

of my teachers were incredible, and

to pick just one! In fact, the teachers

I have countless wonderful things to

I had the privilege of growing up

say about all of them!

with were the best part of my Mulgrave experience. Mr. Wilson

As a teenager with no practical qualifications or knowledge about global development, the best thing to do to make a difference in the world is to learn about it. I think that when trying to identify reputable

Mr. Wilson explains that the purpose

organisations, it’s important to

of service initiatives at Mulgrave,

read their mission statements to

ABOVE: Melissa in front of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.


MELISSA GODIN


women. I was standing on street corners of Paris with an umbrella, new shoes, and a pen and paper and I felt like I was intruding on a life and a story that was not mine. Who was I, a 19-year-old from West Van, to be asking these women intimate details about their lives? What did I really know about suffering, inequality, or poverty? The women, however, were very open and friendly with me, and I realised it was because I was the only person who had ever cared about the way they saw the world. And that was really impactful for me because it made me realise that at the end of the day, we all want our voices heard and our stories told. After you’ve finished your Master’s ABOVE: Melissa suited up in her Mulgrave uniform.

at Oxford, what would your dream job be?

see if they, too, acknowledge the

had its own unique impact on you, is

limitations that an unqualified

there a moment or experience you

individual can have in two, three

can think of that was particularly

or even four weeks. Operation

profound or eye-opening? Perhaps a

Groundswell, for instance, is a

better question might be - greatest

great Canadian volunteer tourism

experiential epiphany?

organisation that aims to educate its

I would like to be a storyteller for issues of social justice. Having studied development, I have come to realise that the underlying issues of poverty are fundamentally misunderstood and misrepresented.

I love the term ‘experiential

I would like to be part of research

epiphany’! It perfectly characterises

teams that work on the ground

so many of my experiences over

with people living in poverty and let

the past couple of years. I think the

them tell their stories. I think that

You have accomplished some pretty

field research and interviews I did

if every article on terrorism were

incredible things since graduation -

with Chinese prostitutes in Paris

matched with a story of an innocent

from receiving the Dean’s Research

was particularly impactful because

Syrian refugee, we would not be

Grant to travel to Cambodia to

it made me realise, above all else,

currently witnessing a Muslim ban

conduct research on orphanage

that these individuals are just people

in the US. I think that storytelling is

tourism, to speaking at a TEDx

like us - who smile, laugh, and cry -

incredibly important in influencing

event, to an exchange programme in

and are supremely real despite the

the decisions made on issues of

Paris, and now becoming a Rhodes

unfortunate reality of their lives. I

development.

Scholar (just to name a few!) While

felt incredibly uncomfortable when

each of these experiences must have

I first started interviewing these

participants on the socio-economic and political factors that have a determining impact on poverty.

Melissa Godin, 2017


Alumni Spotlight: Melissa Godin