February 02, 2019 | Connor Bechler

Three students are standing in a stair well talking while looking at papers they are holding
Image credit: Lyric Floria

Bringing together around 300 students, 20 schools, and 20 to 25 nonprofits from all over the country, the 2019 Faith and International Development Conference (FIDC) will challenge its participants to consider international development through the lens of equal partnership rather than salvation. Entirely student-led, with three student co-directors and 50 to 100 student volunteers, the three-day conference will involve a wide range of speakers, breakout sessions, and activities on the theme “Beyond The Savior Complex: working and serving together.”

Service through partnership

“The savior complex is a dominant problem in international development,” said Ivanna Rodriguez, FIDC co-director and a Calvin senior studying economics, data science, and international development. According to Rodriguez, the savior complex describes when someone with higher social status does development work solely in order to save people of lower status without considering the community’s problems through the community’s perspective. She noted it can occur along various lines of difference, including race, gender, and religion.

“We want to provide a way forward, as there are ways to do good development work,” said Emma Vanderkolk, FIDC co-director and a Calvin junior studying social work, international development, and environmental studies. “International development has to be an equal partnership in order for good development to actually occur and withstand the test of time.”

The co-directors also pointed out the savior complex is an issue of faith.

“As Christians, we shouldn’t think of ourselves as the saviors, but rather seek to have the attitude of selfless love that Christ shows us,” said Rodriguez.

“We’re Christ’s hands and feet, instead of working above other people, we have to work together with them towards shalom,” added Cameron Doan, FIDC co-director and junior studying business operations, international development, and data analytics.

Vanderkolk noted that to keep this at the forefront, each morning of the conference will start off with worship and devotions. “Our faith has been weaved in and out through the entire conference, and we hope every session asks how Christ would do this work and how we can glorify God through this work.”

A student-led conversation

“FIDC is a really unique conference, as it’s student-run and yet still attracts schools from all over,” said Doan. “When we became co-directors, our two faculty advisers gave us advice, but told us to do what we wanted with it.”

This focus on student leadership has provided the now 14-year-old conference with a variety of themes and events. Doan noted that while much of the structure remains the same, this year they’re adding several new events, including a networking event where students will be able to pitch themselves to organizations and get feedback on their resumes, a “Talking about Language” panel discussion on the problematic language surrounding development work, and two showings of the documentary play Seven about seven women activists from different countries who have struggled for women’s rights and wellbeing internationally.

All three co-directors have greatly enjoyed both planning the conference this year and volunteering in previous years, and encourage students to volunteer and attend.

“Through volunteering with FIDC, I was able get to meet and build relationships with the speakers and the sponsoring organizations’ representatives, which helped me network and gain professional experience,” said Vanderkolk.

“It’s all student-run, so when you’re there, it’s just really great to see it all come together and put on an excellent event,” added Doan. “Speakers in the development field come from all over the world—it’s really powerful to hear their stories.”

“The development field is so broad—FIDC helped me see what fields there are and where I could focus for my area of study,” said Rodriguez. “You see all the different organizations and say ‘oh, I didn’t know you could do this in international development,’ so that’s really cool.”

To view a full schedule or to register, go to https://calvin.edu/events/fidc/index.html. Students interested in volunteering for the conference should contact Emma Vanderkolk at ejv62@students.calvin.edu.

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