PREVIOUSLY, we dwelt on our experiences working with foreign professionals such as Japanese, Korean, British and United Nations volunteers. We advised those interested to visit the website of JOCV, KOICA, VSO and UNV, among others. Exposure of this kind paves the way for acquiring some informed knowledge about other cultures.
Life experience as a VSO Bahaginan volunteer. From Ms Bernadette Meliton, at present with DucenInfotek Inc., and a former secretary of the CHEd technical panel I then headed, here is what she has to share about her Bahaginan stint, true-to-life lessons learned as a volunteer posted in an Asean neighbor country:
“In 2002, I offered my services to VSO Bahaginan as an international volunteer. After a series of behavioral and skills assessment, VSO gave me the assignment of education adviser in one of the local offices of the Ministry of Education in Cambodia, and program coordinator for an Australian Aid project called DRIVE (Developing Remote Indigenous Village Education).
The main goals of the mission for two years was: 1) to build the skills and capacity of the education supervisors of the ministry in a remote village in Cambodia by providing education management/supervisory training and education consultancy on activities that would enhance the teaching and learning experiences of the teachers and students in the classroom; and 2) to provide teacher training for a small group of young local indigenous people called Tampuen so that they could continue to educate their own people through non-formal and informal education while emphasizing respect and the preservation of their tribe’s culture and traditions.
Volunteering at age 30 and being away from home for the first time brought huge excitement and a sense of adventure but at the same time, it sent a minor concern on lifestyle and cultural adjustments.
Living like one among the community meant I had to learn their local language. It meant dressing up differently to suit the occasion, the workplace and the cultural expectations. It meant no more miniskirts, heeled shoes and shorts in public places. It meant being culturally sensitive and respecting the values and tradition that the host community holds important.
I lived in the remote small town of Ratanakiri with little or no access to electricity; water was fetched from a deep well. It was difficult in the beginning, having lived all my life in the suburbs where everything seemed easily accessible. But I also enjoyed the difference and the novelty of living life in a countryside for the first time. In fact, I enjoyed most of my volunteer life being away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the absence of noise but only the chirping of the crickets at night and the birds in the morning when you wake up. I enjoyed every short unhurried five-minute walk from home to the district office where I worked and back. I enjoyed being at home at five o’clock for afternoon tea in the veranda of my wooden house, watching the sun set and feeling the fresh cold breeze against my skin at the close of day.
I learned how to drive a motorbike on a dirt road at night when going to the tribal village for the training sessions and later on, for the teaching supervision of my local teachers. Driving through narrow paths surrounded by trees and hills and with only the moon to light my way made me wonder at times why I went for a volunteering job. Now I know and I am grateful for the opportunity to help improve the lives of others and be the agent of change by providing some useful education to a marginalized group in the Khmer society. It felt good to be able to make a difference and see unlimited possibilities with my presence and effort for people who are simply hungry for knowledge and livelihood opportunities.
Volunteering and working in a completely different environment and outside of my comfort zone truly tested the strength of my character, my tenacity, my flexibility, my creativeness. It brought out in me skills and capabilities I didn’t know I had. I discovered more of myself and in the process helped me to grow into maturity as a person and as a professional in that short span of two years.
I would say that volunteering provided me a rare opportunity to experience life from a different lens – through the lens of my host community and be a different person other than my usual self to be able to serve effectively the community I was working for. Volunteering taught me to look outside of myself and to see me as part of a bigger community working to help solve some of the social issues of the world in my own little way. It taught me a valuable lesson of selflessness and the consciousness that wherever I am and whatever I do in my own small corner affects and changes the whole world inevitably.”
Friends, isn’t it great for Badette to share her experience as a volunteer, fulfilling her humanity through service to people she never knew before; people who like any of us, pine for a better life on this piece of the world where destiny keeps us. Thanks much, Dette, for our learning gains!