Many thanks to Tuva Johansson for writing this blog post about her current role volunteering in Mumbai. I always like to include the first hand alumni experiences in this blog so if you are reading this and think you have something interesting to share( it may be an internship, a job or any related experiences), please do get in touch.
What made you decide to volunteer overseas?
I studied the MA in Public Policy, and just handed in my dissertation. In May I started to think about what to do after completing my master’s programme. I want to work with education policy, and since I do not have much work experience in this field it is daunting trying to elbow my way in. In 2008 I did some field studies in Eurasia and loved it and since then I have been longing to go away again, to some other part of the world. So when deciding what to do after my masters I thought, why stay in London when I can go somewhere new for a few months while getting some work experience? So I started to look for internships and volunteer placements in India. I have always been wanting to go to India and when rummaging trough charityjob.co.uk I found Atma, an organisation working with education in Mumbai, India.
Atma seemed to be a sincere and organised NGO, and offered qualified unpaid volunteer placements and “real” work assignments. I applied and now I have been here at Atma for a month and will stay here for two more. They were very helpful with accommodation and all essentials. Atma is a non-profit organisation that offers support to grassroots organisations in the education sector so they are able to maximise their impact. Atma is led by an amazing team of creative and engaged individuals whom I have already learnt so much from.
What kind of work have you been doing in Mumbai?
My job consists of working with one of their portfolio partners, an education non-profit organisation called VIDYA. They work with children from less privileged backgrounds and aim to increase their educational outcomes. The school system in India is very diverse, there are governmental schools, NGO schools and private schools. Some are good, some are bad. And for children from less privileged backgrounds the education is very often poor and the attainment levels very low. My tasks these three months is to maximise VIYDA’s impact by standardise their volunteer program. This means that I have to create a volunteer handbook, volunteer policies and make sure this is being implemented in the organisation. I also have to create a Standard Operations Procedures Manual, in order to standardise the organisation’s day to day work by putting policies in place so that VIDYA will be more sustainable as an organisation and this will also be imperative for helping the organisation to expand.
What have you learnt from your involvement?
It is very inspirational going to new, strange places. Language barriers and cultural differences puts demands on you as a person and as a professional. It is important to be open-minded and attentive. Mumbai is a city with enormous contrasts which can be very disheartening. Apart from this, Mumbai is fascinating, the people are warm and helpful and Atma is a very supportive organisation. My tip if you want to go away, make sure you find a good NGO that is trustworthy and give you real work assignments. Also make sure that they are clear about your responsibilities and their expectations of you. Atma has various volunteer opportunities; fundraising, program documentation, finance, HR. So if you are interested in education, give Atma a try! Next I will go back to London and hope that my experience here in Mumbai will give me the confidence and work experience so that I will be able to pursue my interests in the education field at home.