Expert Interview with Sven Mauleon About volunteer opportunities overseas for retirees
Retirement needn’t mean the end – it can also mean the beginning of something new.
Volunteering is a wonderful opportunity to try out things you never had a chance to while working in your first career while helping out the needy in the process. Sometimes, it can even lead to a second career.
Openmind Projects is a volunteer organization that specializes in finding volunteer positions in and around Southeast Asia.
Openmind Projects’ Sven Mauleon took a moment to tell us about the organization, share some memorable experiences, and inform us about some particular places in need in Southeast Asia.
Can you introduce us to the Openmind Project? What’s the main premise?
Our Mission is to help local people to help local people with the help of volunteers and IT. To bridge knowledge divides between rich and poor by helping the underprivileged gain access to better learning opportunities with the help of modern information technology and overseas volunteers.
What inspired you to start the organization?
To show that with the help of IT, which is rapidly improving and becoming less costly, poor people can gain access to education and knowledge even when schools are poor. Teachers are scarce in countries like Thailand and Laos.
What are some of the countries that you’ve worked with?
Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Nepal
What are some good destinations for a retiree who is considering volunteering overseas?
Retired people may require a bit more comfort than many of the filed projects we work with in villages, the mountains, etc. One very good place is to come to volunteer at our main Training Center in NongKhai, Northeast Thailand.
Many retired volunteers choose to do so and then stay at a nice budget guesthouse by the Mekong River with a sunset view over Laos! There are other destinations and places for the retired. When they contact us, we discuss what they want to do and how they want to stay; and together, we find a good place for them.
What have been some of the most amazing or memorable moments of running Openmind Projects?
The most rewarding experience is always to see how our trainees grow. At our Center, we invite young people from the field project to come, stay and study together and help each other. We give them access 24/7 to IT and the Internet, and they are learning IT and English by doing while together with us and overseas volunteers. A trainee may have come from a village, grown up without electricity, and never spoken English much less touched a computer. After a year, they can help volunteers learn Thai or Lao, or go along with the volunteer to a school and team teach. After a year or two, they move on to a better job, to study, or to go back to help their friends. That is the most rewarding aspect of Openmind Projects!
How many people have you helped during your existence?
Around 30 trainees at our Center; but then again, volunteers go to help out at local schools, teach English and IT, and more; so we reach out to many more. And four times a year, we arrange for English, IT, and Culture camps at our Center, hosting some 25-30 students for week long camps.
What are some different ways that Openmind Projects’ volunteers help the communities they’re working with?
Helping people to learn, learning by doing and activity, and situation-based learning is our motto. A natural way to learn, instead of by rote learning. Our volunteers help a person to learn something that is relevant to them so they can use their skill immediately.
It’s a clear, a meaningful way to spend new and free time while getting to know people and make friends from other parts of the world.
What are some countries right now that are particularly in need of assistance?
We focus on SE Asia, because we know this part of the world. But the needs are huge elsewhere too!
For people who are volunteering overseas for the first time, what are some items that you recommend they bring, and why?
Actually, we tell our volunteers that they can buy most items on arrival. Most important, don’t over pack! You will be sorry for that.
For people who are interested but aren’t available to get away, how might they go about finding volunteer opportunities in their own communities; and again, what are some reasons they might want to do so?
They should contact NGOs in their own community to find out what suits them and learn how to help.
How satisfying has it been for you personally to work with the Openmind Projects?
As I said, seeing young people grow is always an amazing, satisfying experience!
How have you benefitted while at the same time hleping others to benefit?
That is how I have benefitted; and also, over time learning how we can improve the ways we help people and help them to learn.
Volunteering in Southeast Asia with Openmind Projects is a chance to volunteer with an organization that was set up to help underprivileged people in this region; it is not an international volunteer agency.
It is possible to volunteer in one or several of the many projects that we support in this region; from schools, temples, and orphanages to eco-tourism and national parks, refugee/migrant communities, and health and child care projects.
Our support includes distributing computers to under-resourced schools, developing community based eco-tourism, offering young people free training at our Center in Thailand and recruiting overseas volunteers to join the projects.
We have helped place and train numerous overseas volunteers over the past ten years. All projects offer volunteers an excellent opportunity to learn about life and culture in Southeast Asia. Some projects suit young volunteers. Some require special skills. Some projects suit families. Some suit senior volunteers. Due to our local presence, we frequently custom design work for volunteers with special skills.
Here is a list of examples:
In Northeast Thailand, stay at our Training Center in NongKhai, Northeast Thailand by the Mekong River and teach at a local school
Or stay with a local host family and volunteer at a school or other project in the countryside, village or small town in Thailand such as the Anuban Nonghanwittayakon School, the Phu Wua Mountains and Village Schools (see also http://thailandwildelephanttrekking.com, a website made by us to promote community based eco-tourism), the Ban Koh Klang Nursery and Primary Island School, the Wat Keaw Kro Wararam Secondary Temple School.
Volunteer in April or October School Holiday Camps.
In Laos, volunteer at the Phu Khao Khouai (Water Buffalo Mountains) and Village Projects or at the Dongsavath School for poor children just outside Vientiane.
Volunteer in Nepal at the HUC, the Helpless Upliftment Center Orphan Home and School in Kathmandu or volunteer as a Community, Eco and School Volunteer in Chitwan or in Elephant Care in Chitwan, Nepal.
Volunteer in Eco Projects like the Phuket Marine Research Center.
Make sure your retirement plan can support your volunteer interests. Use the NewRetirement Retirement Calculator to thoroughly assess your financial picture — now and for the future.