Nice work if you can get it: Professional Do-gooder

This is part of our series of interviews with people who have fantastic, envy-inducing jobs. They all also happen to be my friends. I met Meghan while we were both teaching English in Taiwan. After we left the R.O.C., we traveled through Thailand and Vietnam together, dodging motorbikes and taking over-night trains into the mountains. Now she lives on a swanky island, house sits for millionaires and saves the world one kid at a time.So what’s the deal? What do you do?
I am the Director of a Youth Centre built by the AIDS Awareness Foundation in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos. TCI is an independent country, in the Caribbean in which struggles for identity. Provo (the main inhabited island) has grown astronomically in the last 20 years and so there is no strong foundation of culture on which the younger generation has to build. The Centre I work for fills a massive void as there really isn’t much for the young people of this island to do in their spare time. We target teens from ages 12 and up.

My job has changed from week to week since I began just over 6 months ago. I went from being handed an empty group of buildings to running drop in hours (after school and Saturdays) and searching the Island trying to find donations and volunteers to run programs of any sort. It’s sort of like being a school principal, teacher (and janitor) all while trying to search out funding sources.

Tell us about an average day in life of your job.
My day begins as most others would, checking email, seeing if the Centre is clean, getting art or office supplies, etc. Then there is a never-ending list of things to be done: check in with local schools, pay bills, advertise events, find sponsors/donors, fine-tune Code of Conduct/Discipline Plan and other standard protocols, call parents etc etc. I choose whichever of these is highest on the priority list on the day and plug through whatever I can. After school is out for the day and kids start arriving, there is the business or supervising and/or the running of programs myself.

It all changes again during Christmas and Summer Break – we open all day so I try to squeeze all my other tasks while leaving volunteers in charge from time to time.

Did you go to school for this? Or get any special training?
To be honest, I didn’t set out to do this. I studied Biology and Psychology at University but always had a strong desire to help others one way or another. I’d volunteered in various positions since I was a teenager from feeding elderly in the hospital to some of the experiences mentioned below, but only had brief stints of training specific to the tasks I was to perform

How did you get into this line of work?
To be honest, one thing just led to another. After my Bachelor’s degree, I went to Taiwan to teach English and pay off my student loan. During that time the Tsunami happened in South East Asia. I visited Thailand the following May and was touched by the community surrounding the rebuilding. I quit teaching December of that year after saving a little extra money and went back to volunteer for 2 months.

After Thailand, I traveled and then ended up in TCI working as a yoga instructor. But my last volunteering episode only made me want to go back to do more. I applied for and was selected to go to South Africa with Grassroot Soccer (www.grassrootsoccer.org), the NGO that taught me the most about the non-profit world. I fundraised over $10 000 to support my stay and spent just under a year with them. Before I went to Africa, I had made connections with the AIDS Awareness Foundation in TCI as Grassroot Soccer dealt with HIV prevention. I interviewed for the job at the Centre while away and came back this past May to TCI to help open the Centre.

Are there any drawbacks to working in this field?
It can be very overwhelming at times – generally non-profit organizations are understaffed therefore employees and volunteers will have to work very hard to keep it afloat. But I believe the community will come together if there is a good plan and a solid foundation behind the organization.

You can also feel like there is so much to be done, that it’s not worth the difficulties at times. But I think most jobs and even daily tasks are like that to some degree.

What are the highlights?
To be part of something much greater than yourself is an amazing feeling. To simply know that whatever you do, no matter how trivial the task, there is a greater purpose behind it and your work will make the world a better place. To be able to do that every day is a great reward.
There are also the little things. To see the smile of a grateful participant, to notice positive change in a regular youth member, those things keep me going.

What are the misconceptions about working in the non-profit sector?
That you can’t make a living or that it’s all volunteer work. There are a great many jobs being offered through grants issued to Orgs. The Clinton Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have brought a lot of publicity to the area in recent years. You don’t have to be in the field doing the dirty work either. Non-profits need to run like businesses as well, there is lots of admin work, marketing, PR, HR etc. These days you could be doing almost anything you want while helping a good cause and building your career.

What suggestions would you give to people interested in becoming a professional do-gooder?
If I were to do it all again, I would have looked into classes in International Development at University. There are certainly times I have felt under-qualified and a background education would have helped to overcome that. However, I truly believe that volunteering for causes you believe in, without any ulterior motive but purely because you want to help for the greater good, it what will help you see a path to get you where you want to go.

 

3 Comments

Lynda Lippin

I really appreciate this woman’s work as I live in TCI and know how difficult it can be to get anything done for a charitable cause in a country with no taxes (and no tax deductions). Great job Meghan!

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