Exchange students have created a project to donate items that they won’t be taking home with them

Every year, thousands of students leave their home countries temporarily to settle in other cities around the world; these cities become their new homes for a few months or even years. During this exchange process, tonnes of waste is produced that has a considerable impact on the environment. WeExchange is a global charitable initiative that encourages exchange students to donate items that are still useful and that they will not be taking home with them; it was launched last year to help reduce this waste problem.

The ultimate goal is to donate these used items and kitchen supplies to the people who need them most, reducing the amount of waste that ends up in landfills while lowering the weight of students’ luggage. We talked to Sonia Vinogradova, an exchange student from Ottawa, Canada, to find out more about the initiative. She is a third year Bachelor student at TBS Education in Barcelona and also the public face of WeExchange in the city.

How did WeExchange get started?

My friend Katya Berez, the initiative’s creator, was spending time in Italy last year as an exchange student. While packing for the journey home, she discovered that she had bought many things, such as sheets, that she would not be taking back with her. She realised that she probably wasn’t the only one in this situation, so she asked her friends. She found that her situation was not uncommon, her friends didn’t know what to do with all those things either.

Katya decided that if this was happening to all exchange students, it would be a good opportunity to organise a donation or a collection to prevent the items from going to landfills. I am studying two degrees and will be in Barcelona all year, both semesters, so I will probably double the impact. So, when I saw the initiative, I thought it was a good idea and I wanted to expand it to Spain. This is going to be its first year in Barcelona.

What is the philosophy of the initiative?

We exchange students are very privileged to be able to benefit from studying in another city where we can also live for a while. But there are many local people who need help, and we take advantage of their city. We want those people who lack resources to get help from the city that has accommodated us.

Sometimes we get asked, “Why don’t you donate these items to future exchange students?” If we can afford a plane ticket and the total cost of the exchange, we can also afford to buy these little things. We don’t want to benefit those who are already privileged.

How can someone donate?

In December, we set up a box at the school’s reception where anyone could leave the items they would no longer be using, such as sheets, kitchen utensils, furniture and clothes. On Friday 20th December, we gathered with a few friends to close the donation. We are very happy with the outcome and I hope to be able to replicate the initiative in other universities during the second semester.

Which charity do you collaborate with?

The school provided us with a contact at Cáritas. Delphine Arnau, the Head of Business Relations, thought Cáritas would be the best option. It is also located near the school, which resolves another concern: we have to be able to deliver the items.

Can WeExchange be found in other cities?

Yes, we have a presence in Milan, Berlin, Madrid, Ottawa and Barcelona. Also in the country of Chile. We post all the photos from the events we run in these cities on our Instagram account.

Do exchange students really get involved in the project?

We are receiving very positive feedback. Many people write to me to ask how they can participate and what they can donate. I’m proud that people are taking a keen interest in WeExchange. We are going to collect the signatures of all the people who participate so, at the end, we can make a kind of poster featuring everyone who has collaborated. In addition, we will be counting all the donations that have been collected.

Have you received any feedback from the charities you work with?

Not yet, as we are currently studying the logistics of the project. We will visit them in the second semester so we can work alongside them and see the direct impact of our contributions. We want to meet the people who work there and, most of all, the project’s beneficiaries.

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