Do More With Your Skills

If you want to do good in the world but you’re not sure what exactly you have to offer, think about what you’re good at and do exactly that! As someone who runs a charity and volunteer program, I know all about the importance of skills-based volunteering, training and work. Although anyone can rock up at a school and teach English for a week, the real impact is made when you leave something behind which continues long after you have left. From electrical training to hygiene practices, medical knowledge to staff management plans, wherever your experience lies, use that strength to make a difference. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to use Cambodia and my own experiences there to demonstrate my ideas.

When looking to volunteer or give back to a community, either at home or abroad, it seems logical to research organisations or industries where your existing knowledge and experiences are an asset. Imparting skills and knowledge through your work will prolong and strengthen the impact your time has on the community you are helping. For example, in Cambodia there are many land mine victims due to the country’s recent history. Therefore, many prosthetic and orthotic charities in Cambodia regularly host volunteer trainers from the developed world who are trained in orthopaedic care and physiotherapy. These professionals can then impart their knowledge and work alongside local staff to improve and hone their techniques.

Cambodia also plays host to many volunteer lawyers. The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, or ECCC for short, is currently trying the leaders of the Khmer Rouge for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Yes, I know this is supposed to be a happy blog – sorry. Although there is a core team of lawyers, the ECCC also enjoys a stream of volunteers, qualified lawyers, eager to gain experience on the international stage as well as lending their knowledge and skills to the process.

Another common volunteer practice is teaching. I’ll admit, I started out teaching as a volunteer when I was just eighteen and the first few weeks were … interesting. I had no training and my only credentials were that I had just spent the past fifteen years of my life being taught. It took time but eventually I became a competent and, I believe, skilled teacher and made it my career for two years. However, what volunteer teaching programs really need, especially in countries such as Cambodia, are qualified teachers who can not only provide excellent quality teaching for the children but also work with their colleagues to improve the teaching skills of the local workers too. I have run numerous workshops with the teachers at my former workplace where I would teach them my own phonics syllabus and offer classroom management techniques. It is these events which leave a permanent, positive imprint on an organisation.

And in complete contrast to what I just said, I run a volunteer teaching program through my charity and most of the people who come to us are inexperienced in this field. However, the remote nature of the school at which we function means, in my view, any exposure to the English language is beneficial and we cannot afford to employ an expatriate teacher. However, our volunteers can still make a difference through their own skills there. Our recent library project occurred when, coincidentally, a qualified electrician was volunteering with us. Therefore he was the one to connected the solar panel up, watched with interest by a number of the older boys who attend the school. The other volunteer is a physiotherapist and she was able to diagnose one of the children with a hip alignment issue.

If you’re considering volunteering, my advice would be play to your strengths. My strengths are threefold: communication, organisation, and bossiness. Yes, the third one is a strength because I am able to get events and projects to actually happen in a country where motivation can be a little lacklustre. No offence, Cambodia. Just this week a friend of mine who completed her Masters in Advertising at Bond University helped me create two websites, one for my own charity and one for the umbrella charity for which I work. Using her skills and experience as a graphic designer and advertisement, she was able to help me create exactly the look I wanted. And, because I run a charity, she did it for free. The perfect example of skills-based volunteering.

So whether you’re a teacher, electrician, plumber, health professional, lawyer, builder, entrepreneur, researcher, communications expert or anything else, go online and search for volunteer opportunities which will best benefit from your skillset. The more applicable the placement is, the more both you and those you’re helping will get from the experience. Do more with your skills by applying them directly to your volunteer work.

Go, do, experience. More Good Deeds.

Sovann Komar Outreach Program for Education has teamed up with a school in Kampong Speu Province called Karuna Youth Cambodia. We are looking for volunteers to teach English at this NGO school where 400 children receive a free education. There is great onsite accommodation and food is provided for just $1 per day.