Sunday, November 22, 2009

Reflections on Volunteering - first installment

The girls we taught in 2007, now at High School

In September and October this year my friend and I went to Tamil Nadu to volunteer as english teachers and to work with a small NGO, ODAM. The Organisation of Development, Action and Maintenance envisions "Establishing equality among human society" irrespective of caste, creed, gender, region, religion, language or politics. To translate this vision into action, ODAM works on issues such as: rural poverty, women's empowerment, child welfare and environment.
Why did we go? This was our second trip becuase after our first one we felt committed to returning to demonstrate a human connection and to see our girls growing up. But the first time we went was a matter of opportunity. After more that 15 years working for the Government I had long service leave and my plans then included traveling. I had 6 weeks in my program to fill in and volunteering somewhere in India made sense - it would be a cheap 6 weeks, and give me an opportunity to try something different. I don't have children, and my husband doesn't get as many holidays as I do - so it makes sense for me to give my time through volunteering. Volunteering allows me to share my skills and knowledge with an organisation that may be poor on human resources. It also provides me an excellent opportunity for personal and professional learning. At the moment, I am committed to volunteering as a learning experience instead of enrolling in my PhD which would demand me to compromise some of my values.

How did I choose ODAM? There are many hundreds of agencies that happily take volunteers. There are also many who charge you for the experience. Many others work towards their own set of values and beliefs. Finding an agency or opportunity that was affordable, and fitted well with my own beliefs were two of my main selection criteria. I wanted to work towards the empowerment of women and against violence, I didn't want to be involved in 'pushing' organisation values or religious beliefs on anyone I would be working with, and I wanted to learn about a new culture. Finding ODAM (on Idealist) was the answer. In early correspondence with the volunteer coordinator at ODAM I asked lots of questions about what work they do and how they could use me. I appreciated the way they responded, and my friend and I eventually agreed we could go as English teachers.

Would I do it again?
I'd definitely volunteer again. And I'll promote ODAM to anyone who will listen.

This is just the first of my reflections on volunteering. I will post more soon about my experiences in India, the challenges and lessons I learnt and how it changed me.

Girls playing the senses game.

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