by Denise Miller
My first experience with Global Volunteers was in 2005, when I read an article in The Washington Post about volunteer vacations. When I looked at the Global Volunteers website, the Cook Islands was featured on the front page, and I was hooked. This was a place I had always wanted to visit, and to have the chance to do that while helping people was an opportunity I could not pass up.
Upon arriving in Rarotonga, our team was given several project options, including a market research project for the Red Cross. Having been a professional Marketer at software companies for more than 10 years, this was a perfect fit. I was told that the project was very complex, and would take the entire 3 weeks to complete. When I arrived at the office, I was given access to the data and a computer, one of several in the office. By the end of the first day, I had discovered that it was not the project itself that was complex; it was the lack of computer training for the staff that made it seem overwhelming.
On day 2, I approached the staff director and explained that I had completed the project – and offered to spend time training her staff on how to use the computers. I spent the rest of that day, and several days after, teaching the team the basics of Microsoft Office, and how to use the internet for research. Being a small island, word of the training traveled quickly, and soon there were requests for computer training from several other project areas, including the school and library. For the remainder of the program, I worked with a number of people teaching them how to use their computers more effectively, and take advantage of their access to the Internet to increase their knowledge of areas outside of the Islands.
I felt very well-used during those three weeks – and the teachers and students were clearly grateful. Each day, I’d return to the hotel with a great sense of pride and accomplishment for the difference I was making.
An added personal benefit was the surprising impact on my career Global Volunteers has had. After my experience in 2005, I added the Cook Island project to my resume. In every single interview since that time, I have been asked about my experience, and each interviewer has been impressed with not only the work being done, but my decision to participate. It has both differentiated me from other candidates, and allowed me to highlight skills outside of marketing.
Fast-Forward Ten Years – Another Skills-Building Assignment
In 2015, I found myself working as a Marketing Director at a company that not only supported volunteering, but actively promoted it. I took advantage of the 5 days of service PTO designated for volunteer work the company offers, as well as the donation matching program, and joined the St. Lucia Project as part of their 31st team of volunteers. I was assigned to tutor elementary school children in math and English along with 3 other team members. We spent our days at the primary school, spending one on one time with 5-6 children per day. Two of the other team members were former teachers and helped guide me on strategies for effective tutoring. I was able to use my marketing and event planning experience to help organize a social event with the teachers, which helped strengthen our relationship with the local community.
It was amazing to me to see – even in the short two weeks I was there – a quantifiable improvement in the abilities of the children. It was very clear that short-term volunteers, working under the direction of local people, can have a positive and measurable impact on child development.
I now look forward to all of my future opportunities to serve and learn with Global Volunteers.