MELISSA GODIN Class of 2013 Interviewed by Michelle Noble | February 2017
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
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 Masterâ€™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 havenâ€™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.
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
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
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