Terrific opportunity to learn new skills and develop your existing ones in new cultures
Pros: skill development, new challenges to tackle, learning a new language, chance to see parts of a country that no tourist will ever see, opportunity to hear the stories of fascinating people
Cons: a very different work culture that to those of us from developed countries feels poorly organized, inefficient and frustrating
I've been working with Cuso International in Honduras since January 2012. Cuso is a Canadian NGO that works in international development through the use of skilled volunteers placed in positions in the countries where it works. While I'm technically a volunteer, I'm paid a stipend that is roughly equivalent to a Honduran salary for this position, which in my case involves working as communications and knowledge management facilitator for the Comision de Accion Social Menonita (CASM) in Honduras.
I've had an amazing two years here developing a communications strategy, culture and tools for CASM, which works in seven regions of the country. There is no "typical" day, which is one of the things I've loved best about the work. I've particularly enjoyed all the opportunities to visit the regions and go out into the field to learn more about the work that CASM does, which ranges from improving agricultural practices and risk management among small farmers, to preventing violence and creating hope for vulnerable children and youth in the slums of San Pedro Sula.
I came into the work with a great deal of experience in communications in Canada, but soon realized that a lot of that knowledge had no real application in Honduras. That's particularly true of all internet-based communications - including email correspondence - as the country does not yet have a culture of using electronic forms of media and in many cases, people also don't have access to computers, Internet, or even electricity. Low literacy levels among the populations that CASM works with have also challenged me to come – more... up with new ways to communicate suitable for people for whom reading doesn't come easily. I've developed many more skills around the use of video, highly illustrative guides (I'm particularly proud of one on how to grow better cocoa) and simple Web sites.
And of course, the big challenge has been learning to do all that and more in a new language. The learning curve of working in Spanish was steep, but I'm happy to say that I'm now bilingual, and love being able to communicate easily with people in Latin America. – less