Volunteering Isn’t Just Teaching English
Are you fed up with the fact that most volunteer experiences are for teaching English? Do you have a fear about past participles, adverbs of frequency and conditional phrases? I think most native speakers of English are a bit intimidated to actually teach English and I don’t blame them – we don’t know grammar rules, we just speak!
When I started to look into volunteering opportunities as part of my career break travels I found it frustrating that most of the opportunities seemed to be in the English language area. Yet as a career breaker and a former IT business manager with an MBA – I kept thinking that I could be utilized in a better way than to simply teach English. I hunted for organizations that would actually look at my business experience and work experience and try to put it to use. But alas, there aren’t really many of these types of opportunities and the ones which are available are harder to find.
One of the things that attracted me to GeoVisions was not only the Conversation Corps cultural exchange programs, but also the fact that in some of their destinations they were going beyond teaching English and trying to find other ways to use volunteer’s skills in their Volunteer Abroad Options:
- Medical/Health work – Cambodia, South Africa, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Argentina
- Land Conservation – Australia, Costa Rica, New Zealand
- Wildlife Work – Mozambique, South Africa, Costa Rica
- Humantarian Work – Brazil, Thailand, Costa Rica, South America (teaching computers, working with orphans and kids)
And in the Middle East, they are just starting to provide a great array of opportunities which have nothing to do with English teaching. I’ve been lucky enough to go visit some of them in Jordan and Lebanon as they start to get off the ground.
One of my recent visits was to the Schneller School in East Amman. The school is essentially a boarding school for orphans, refugee children, or kids with extremely difficult family situations. There are currently about 300 students living on the campus including 15 girls; the addition of girls are relatively new to the program.
The vision and value of the school is clear as you walk throughout the grounds. It’s about bringing people together in peaceful co-existence and respect. They accomplish this by intermixing the kids and religions showing them that differences aren’t a bad thing.
Since most of the kids are orphans, Schneller School is a boarding school which really wants to provide a family environment. Each student is assigned to a house or a family; there are approximately 20 kids in a family. The family has a surname and that’s what the kids identify with. There are adults in the house and they eat together, sleep together, do their homework together and generally operate like any family would. The school just started to open this concept up to girls over the last year, so there is now a girls house too; something I was very excited to see.
Not only do kids get a great education that they would have never had access to, but they also are taught a trade; something that can really sustain them as adults. The campus complex (which is HUGE) contains a mechanic shop, carpentry, and welding. Each building has a teaching area and a work area providing young adults with some amazing skills.
With their first class of girls now established, I’m excited to see how they intend to integrate the girls into skill building practice.
One of the most impressive things I witnessed was the deep commitment of previous students. Most of the instructors at the school lived there and had been former students there themselves. The man who took us around the complex was brought there when he was a young boy and now he works there in a position of leadership. He speaks three different languages and is completely committed to the school. In fact, the Director of the school, Ghazi Musharbash, was a student at the school too. He’s gone on to be a successful businessman, a senator, and now runs the school.
What types of opportunities exist here for volunteers?
Well, they are still working that out, however as I walked around the grounds I could see many ways a volunteer could help that went beyond simply teaching English. There were computer rooms where you could teach computer skills, or maybe work with older kids on presentation and interviewing skills. You could work with athletics or landscaping the grounds with the kids. If you are at all handy and like to build/fix things – I think there would be lots of great opportunities to help out in the family homes themselves. Many are undergoing remodels and it would be a super opportunity to live with the family and help remodel the home at the same time.
The volunteers will live on the campus in one of the family homes or in a dorm. Volunteers will have access to the computer room (very nice and new!) and all facilities. The school is located in East Amman, however local buses run by the school regularly and you can easily get to any part of the city by simply standing on the highway and flagging down the bus (which is the normal procedure in Jordan).
I talked to the Director of the Educational Training Center, and learned they have worked with many volunteers in the past, however, since I was there reviewing the opportunities for career breakers, I wanted to talk to him about opportunities for older volunteers who have a wide skillset and experience beyond teaching English. He said he would work with them to see where they could best be utilized throughout the campus. He meets with volunteers weekly to get feedback and update on the projects. It all seemed very promising.
My Volunteering Advice
I’ve learned from experience that sometimes you need to get ‘on the ground’ to the volunteer opportunity, assess it, and mold it to your strengths. Often the people running the volunteering in the country are more flexible once you arrive at a place than the company who placed you into the opportunity.
As a career break traveler, you are most likely more mature, more confident of your skills, and can also assess a situation and determine what is needed. Of course you should work with the local contacts to pitch your ideas. Basically, as I’ve traveled and gotten older, I realize that everything is negotiable – even volunteering assignments.
Like anything, it’s up to you to make it the experience you’d like it to be. No one is going to hold your hand or read your mind.