Changing Directions: Preparing to Volunteer Overseas

Working to build greater social equity has been a strong interest for as long as I can remember. I became involved in international economic justice efforts as coordinator of Global Exchange’s fair trade campaigns, and learned about underlying issues and community-driven solutions by visiting agricultural producers, artisan cooperatives and labor unions, and organizing speaking tours with fair trade producers. At Dagoba and Hershey I continued to engage in and learn about small-scale producer development-related efforts.

Realizing I was drawn to this as a career, I looked into potential roles and transition routes through informational interviews with professional, and evaluating educational, work and volunteer opportunities.

Volunteering Overseas

This led me to Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), an internationally based, non-profit development organization that sends volunteers to Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. I’ve been accepted through CUSO-VSO, the Canadian branch of the international VSO Federation. CUSO-VSO recruits North Americans and is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

CUSO-VSO is searching for a placement among in-country partners who take volunteers, based on my experience, skills, and availability.

VSO focuses its work in six areas. I’ve been advised that I’m most likely to be considered for “Secure Livelihoods” and “Participation and Governance.”

How Volunteering With VSO Works

CSUO-VSO’s website maps out countries where volunteers go and an overview of the experience.

Volunteers receive excellent pre-departure and in-country training, a cost of living allowance and small stipend, medical coverage and other benefits. Placements last up to 24 months.

VSO supports the UN Millennium Development Goals, requires at least two years of relevant experience (and often a related degree), focuses on placements that use this experience, assesses candidates in person. Volunteers are employed by in-country partners.

These aspects led me to apply, particularly the thorough assessment, excellent training, placements matching (and maximally using) experience, and VSO’s development approach. John Flynn, a once-fellow Ashlander who volunteered with Peace Corps and is doing amazing work addressing human trafficking in Mongolia, also recommended it highly.

How VSO evaluates applicants

VSO’s application process is thorough and begins with a short form, resume and essay.

If these indicate you match their needs, you’ll do a preliminary phone interview to gauge your expectations and commitment, and ask any questions you have. If that goes well you’re invited to an Assessment Day to evaluate the personal qualities needed to succeed as a volunteer. This was interesting and insightful, involving individual and group activities with other candidates.

Those “selected as volunteers” after an Assessment Day (and reference checks – thanks referees!) complete a detailed CV Template and a set of questions to identify a matching placement. I’m at this stage. Meanwhile, I’m completing medical, dental and police checks, and proceeding with online training, which has been really informative, valuable and enjoyable.

All for now. If you have further questions, see CSUO-VSO’s excellent FAQ.

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One Response to Changing Directions: Preparing to Volunteer Overseas

  1. Kirsten Moller says:

    Congratulations Melissa, Let us know where you end up? You’ll be great and we trust that you’ll keep us in the loop!

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