From the time that I was 18 years-of-age, I wanted to live and work overseas. However, it wasn't until the age of 51, when my children were fully grown, that I was given the opportunity through VSO to become truly fulfilled in my life. VSO, a leading international development NGO that fights poverty through volunteering, works alongside communities and local partners worldwide to create lasting, positive change. Its programmes are in some of the world's poorest countries reaching millions of people through improved access to services in education, health, HIV/AIDS, disability, and governance. VSO's vision is of a world without poverty, believing that this can only be achieved by working together.
VSO in Nepal is now celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. More than 800 volunteers from over 30 countries have shared their skills and experience to change the lives of countless individuals across communities in some of the most remote areas of Nepal.. Volunteers have worked with the Nepali Government and in local NGOs in technical areas such as agriculture, forestry, business enterprise, organisational development, fundraising, advocacy to build the capacities of local individuals and communities. My VSO colleagues have volunteered in Mugu, setting up an operating theatre especially for caesarean births; in Dialekh, helping to empower women in health and other issues; in Mygadi, with DEO's helping to create school libraries and child friendly classrooms; and in Kathmandu, for the Nepali government on a bio-gas project. Since March 2009 working as a VSO volunteer in India and Nepal, I have seen creative approaches to locally-owned solutions that tackle poverty. VSO's pioneering model works because it treats people as active partners in development and not passive beneficiaries of aid.
Personally, I believe VSO is a very special organisation. My work as a volunteer has offered me a life changing experience that has given me the opportunity to share my 30 years of working experience. But more importantly, I've made an incredibly diverse network of friends and have truly come to appreciate others and their cultures. On some level I consider myself to be so much more of a world citizen, then if I had spent my entire life in the United States. The VSO experience has enabled me to grow as a person and change my career in the sense of being able to work abroad and in a much more fulfilling way. The opportunities I have enjoyed as a VSO volunteer have been nothing short of amazing. I've become a passionate advocate for persons with disability and the land poor or those who are landless; I've developed my skills as a journalist, and have worked on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities with partners, as well as coaching the Nepal Army and other wheelchair basketball teams.
I admire the values and vision of VSO in working towards a world without poverty and appreciate the organisation's approach to working in partnership with government, civil society, communities, local partners, other international NGOs and corporates. VSO volunteers never work in isolation, rather sharing their skills and experience with communities in which they live and working through local partners and government bodies. Although VSO volunteers have their individual approaches and ways of working , we do not tell others what or how to do things but model, share skills and demonstrate other sustainable solutions towards development such as working with teachers to establish improved learning environments. Volunteers often get back just as much, if not more, from the local people who they work with and often become fully integrated into communities.
I know that today, I am a very different person and that VSO - by providing me with the opportunity to live and work overseas - has changed my life. My experience as a volunteer has offered me a very different life than I really could have ever imagined living in the US. I am now a person who treasures diversity much more, have more patience for the many shades of grey which life has to offer, and wouldn't for one second trade my life for doing anything else.