15 Minutes on Volunteering Abroad

Episode Transcript

Kasia Souchen: 00:01 Hello and welcome to 15 minutes to change the world, where in 15 minutes, you can learn a bit more about the world and how you can help change it. My name is Kasia Souchen at CARE Canada and the host of this podcast, CARE fights poverty by empowering women and girls around the world in more than 94 countries. Today’s episode takes a look at volunteering abroad. You may have thought about it, what a great way to pair a passion for travel, see more of the world, maybe get off the beaten path a bit, meet new people, and probably the best part, be able to help others around the world. Globally More than $800 million people are still living in extreme poverty. 14% in developing countries live on less than $1.25 a day. There is certainly a need and can volunteering abroad be the answer? While CARE doesn’t directly send volunteers CARE partners with organizations like EDC and Cuso on international volunteer placements.

Our guest today has volunteered abroad in Morocco and is here to share her experience and tips. She is Andrea Gardella, a senior economist at Export Development Canada by day and an experienced volunteer in her spare time. Welcome Andrea to the podcast.

Andrea Gardella: 01:44 Thank you Kasia.

Kasia Souchen: 01:45 So to begin, do you want to tell us a little bit more about your experience in Morocco? I think many people may conjure up images of riads, pools, maybe even camels, maybe the movie Casablanca. How would you describe Morocco based on your experience there?

Andrea Gardella: 02:00 Well all those things are definitely Morocco. You can actually visit the replica of Rick’s cafe in Casablanca. I’d say that Morocco is an absolutely beautiful country. It’s huge. I mean Casablanca is estimated to have a population of 5 to 10 million people and so it is a metropolis, uh, and at the same time you can drive three, four hours and be in a very, very small town, a warm welcoming place where you just see kids running around. And so you do have that dichotomy in Morocco. And the weather, I mean, it’s, it was actually great to be gone during the winter in Canada, uh, but I think overall as a foreigner and as a woman, I had a very specific type of experience and uh, you did have to um, keep in mind the cultural differences and the etiquette of how to navigate those cultural differences. And that was to me probably the biggest learning curve, uh, getting there. Uh, but I, you know, Morocco is beautiful and I had a wonderful experience.

Kasia Souchen: 03:01 That sounds incredible. And what about camels?

Andrea Gardella: 03:04 You know, I, I personally did not see one because I, a lot of people head down to Essaouira which is down a little bit further south and, or down into the desert and I didn’t get a chance to go but, but that is ,it is true. There are camels, and you can ride them and you could have a great time, but I unfortunately was not privy to that experience.

Kasia Souchen: 03:24 Yes. Because you were very busy volunteering.

Andrea Gardella: 03:26 That’s right.

Kasia Souchen: 03:27 And so tell us a little bit about your role as a volunteer. What was the project you worked on and what type of activities on sort of a day-to-day basis were you doing?

Andrea Gardella: 03:36 As a senior economist I have developed a lot of project management skills, strategic oversight skills and communication and content development skills. And I was brought in to support CARE Morocco in their effort to grow CARE Morocco, in Morocco, uh, but also to develop a communications and marketing plan, increase the visibility of CARE Morocco and to also grow, grow the organization. And one of the ways that I was able to support them as I was brought to a small town in the region of Meknes to see a ceremony a savings ceremony for one of the village savings and loans groups. And it was absolutely inspiring to see these women feel empowered and providing their contribution of savings to this small group of women and to see that that contribution is ultimately helping them and empowering them to grow their businesses. You know, some, uh, one woman was a, was a goat farmer and another was an artisanal artist and, and you know, the fact that CARE Morocco was supporting them through that. And giving them that, that sense of independence and ability to develop themselves, but also support their families. This is something that also supports the family and not just the women themselves. So to see that was absolutely inspiring.

Kasia Souchen: 04:58 That’s pretty amazing. To be able to see your work in action in a community is pretty awesome.

Andrea Gardella: 05:03 It was, it was. Absolutely great.

Kasia Souchen: 05:04 What motivated you to volunteer abroad?

Andrea Gardella: 05:08 Well, at the time, uh, I mean personally it was, it was great timing because you do have to be away for four months. Your employer has to provide you that time and then personally it has to be the right time for you as well. And for me, I had just finished school and I was excited about this program I’d seen it pop up every year the recruitment page kept popping up. And, and when I saw Morocco I thought what better option could there be? And uh, and so that was, that was one that the excitement really got me a volunteer abroad. But I think for me, having been, you know, I’m, I’m an immigrant to Canada and having experienced the benefit of having not for profits or government programs or systems in place that really help you integrate or to reach a different bracket in life or just any kind of development for me, I felt a very heavy need of getting back. And so I thought those two things, the excitement of being abroad and discovering a new place, uh really challenging myself to do something that I was not used to doing and then for me the important piece of, of giving back and being able to say thank you to the universe for all the great things that I’ve been able to enjoy.

Kasia Souchen: 06:24 That’s wonderful. Would you say, does volunteering abroad make a difference? Some critics might say it is better to donate financially to a cause that you care about or to volunteer locally instead of internationally. Um, would you say you sort of agree with that and also what are some do’s and don’ts of volunteering abroad?

Andrea Gardella: 06:42 That’s a big question because for me, I think both are volunteering and donating is important. I think that at the end of the day, non-governmental or not-for-profit organizations. They need the funding, the financial piece is extremely important, but the volunteering is, is bringing in different types of skills is bringing in a new or a different way of looking at something. And so bringing in volunteers has its benefits as well I think both need different objectives but both very important and in terms of locally versus internationally, it really depends on what you as an individual want to contribute too. Me as a, as an economist for emerging markets, emerging markets are always in the back of my mind of the development that’s needed in, in countries for me is always top of mind. And so that’s why I focused on international.

But locally there’s lots of great organizations that can benefit from, from local, uh, engagement and even CARE is one of them. One of our programs is to also volunteer here in Ottawa at your head office. And so it is a little bit of both. You have to look at yourself and know what, what do you want to contribute to and where are your skills best suited to, to contribute to that in terms of the do’s and don’ts when you get there to make sure you have open communication. I think that was the biggest piece. You know, we take communication for granted and the importance of just being, you know, being yourself, being honest and talking through the things I can and can’t be done because, you know, we were there for a short period of time. We have to be realistic. And so that was one big, big. Keep the conversation open, be able to give feedback and receive feedback so that you’re able to, to get the best out of the experience.

Be conscious of the cultural differences I think too, to go in as, um, as a visitor is, uh, is something that requires a lot of respect for the culture that you are entering into and understanding that there are differences and that’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing actually because you learn and you know the other person on the sidelines. But I think to be conscious of that and to be respectful is, is a big, big do. The don’ts is to assume I’m the way that you work is the same way that, uh, that they’re going to work or whoever you’re helping or volunteering with. I think, uh, you know, making, minimizing assumptions, I think going in there with just an open mind, completely open mind without, uh, without those assumptions is certainly something that’s going to benefit you for sure.

Kasia Souchen: 09:30 Perfect. And can someone at home right now on their couch or driving in their car that is listening to this podcast, volunteer abroad, it may be overwhelming to some people, maybe they haven’t, you know, had experience of traveling abroad or being in different contexts that you just explained. So are there any tips that you would say on how to get started? How to make a plan? Any tips for our listeners?

Andrea Gardella: 09:54 Yeah, I mean, first you know, do it if you want to do it and then just do it. Bite the bullet because it is an experience that will change your life. It changed mine and so first do it. Secondly, I think ask your employer if there is a program in place you don’t know that, but there, there might be something in place that you can benefit from within your workplace. The second is really do your research and so looking for reputable organizations that have programs is one way and then just kind of researching what makes sense for you, the topic the themes. Where is actually possible and, and uh, how is the process like for her volunteering?

Another piece is really talk to someone that’s done it, get some advice from them, see where they volunteered, ask them questions and again, that’s another type of research, but I think the one on one discussions are a huge benefit and then that leads me to the last one which is that social media. I mean you can look on social media, see what other people are doing, what organizations they’re volunteering with and it’s an easy way of just sending them a message and asking them some questions. And so social media is definitely another area that you can check out.

Kasia Souchen: 11:05 Yes. That’s fantastic. It’s amazing how much social media has made the world a lot smaller where you are able to sort of reach out to people and to connect in that way. Um, we really appreciate you, Andrea, for stopping in and being featured on our podcast and thank you for sharing your tips on Morocco and traveling abroad in general.

Andrea Gardella: 11:25 No, thank you so much for having me.

Kasia Souchen: 11:27 Thank you for tuning in to 15 minutes to change the world. We’re in 15 minutes. You can learn a bit more about the world and how you can help change it. We hope today’s episode has inspired you to volunteer abroad or locally, or at least just find out more information about how you can get involved. Please follow us on Spotify and stay tuned for our next episode coming up.