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.

 

How to Rock Valentine’s Day

Now, V-day doesn’t have to be all about person who’s on the receiving end of your batted eyelashes. However! If you are a traditionalist/romantic a few ideas to fill your days with more kisses than usual:
Tell them you’ll cook what ever they want in the kitchen and do what ever they want in the bedroom.
Or maybe combine the two (winkity wink!)
Eagerly and uncomplainingly attend an event of your partner’s choosing.
Yes, this includes movies starring The Rock, professional sports games, sports bars, hiking trips and video game marathons in his BFF’s basement.
Get a membership/subscription to something that’s meaningful to both of you.
It could be a season pass to the roller derby or the art theater, as long as it’s something you like to do together.
 
Recreate your first date, down to your outfit and what you ordered.
Ours was a late, weeknight drink at The Turf Club followed by pie at Perkins. Que Romantico, no?
 
Get a calender made featuring photos of all the fun stuff you’ve done in the past year.
Plan an escape.
It doesn’t have to be extravagant! It could be camping in your neighborhood park and zipping your sleeping bags together. Or having a dirty weekend at a sleazy hotel with bad florescent lighting. Getting out of the house is sexy.
Write your partner a letter about the day you met them
– what the weather was like, what was going on in the rest of your life, what your first impression of them was.
 
Get something meaningful engraved into something ridiculous
– a spork, a guitar pick, their cleats, the handle of a screwdriver. You get the idea.
Make customized fortune cookies.
I’ve done this in the past by microwaving fortune cookies for 30 seconds, pulling out the factory fortune with a tweezers and then stuffing my own inside.
What will you be doing with your special someone?

The Best Date Ever

(Natalie usually blogs at the chronically adorable Pony and Pink. She’s an art student, polyvore genius and champion dress-wearer. I think she’s the girlfriend you call when you want to scour that vintage boutique, and then eat finger sandwiches and catch the Beirut show – Sarah Von)

I don’t take myself out any more. Not on dates. I forget to buy myself pink carnations. I convince myself I’m too busy to go the movies alone.

I think this happens a lot. We make excuses. We work hard all day until all we want to do of an afternoon is drink a beer and fall onto the couch. And we rely on coupledom to propel us out into the world and rescue us from this behavioural rut. Rely on the people we date to, well, take us out on dates. Provide the romance. And I think there’s something wrong with this picture.

I am, as of now, going to take myself out for dates more often. And – naturally – dress up for the occasion.

So, in case you’re in need of a little romance, here are some ideas for solitary dates … and, because I am a self-confessed style fiend, some Polyvore outfits I’d love to wear during these fabulous solo expeditions.

Justify Full

Ride a carousel (or maybe a ferris wheel?) while eating a tub of Turtle Mountain Peanut Butter Zig Zag with a glittery plastic spoon. Wear the kind of dress that flutters when you walk – but maybe wear a petticoat underneath, unless it is your most heartfelt desire to re-enact The Seven Year Itch.
Insist on drinking everything through a pink straw, and call strangers “dollface”. If sugar floats your boat, eat a stick of fairy floss (candy floss, cotton candy … you know the drill) and take photographs of yourself with a half-eaten cloud of spun sugar and some very, very sticky lips.

Drive yourself to a lookout point in your city just as it’s getting dark. Watch all of the streetlights illuminate the landscape. Wear heart-shaped glasses and buy yourself fragrant flowers before you go, so the scent wafts through the car. Think about ten things that have made you happy today, and turn up the stereo. I hope it’s playing Iggy Pop or Bow Wow Wow. Your mileage may vary.

(Though, please, sweeties, lock your car doors. Just in case.)

Ride a gleaming bicycle to your nearest, geekiest museum – say, the Butterfly and Insect Museum in Honduras. Put streamers in your bicycle handlebars before you go and whistle as you ride! Take an audio tour of the museum – and don’t forget to buy a postcard in the gift shop. Send it to someone who shares your entomological passions!

What dates do you take yourself on?

Notes from the Road: Sandboarding and Whitewater Rafting

Say, what´s that a picture of?” is what you´re probably asking yourself right now, eh? Or maybe “Is Sarah still trying to impress us with all that talk of sand boarding?” Or probably “What happened to that guest poster La Bellette Rouge? When´s she coming back?”

 

Well, I´m going to go ahead and ignore those last two questions and pretend like you´re thinking about the first, mmmmkay? That photo is us, risking our necks to slide down The Biggest Sand Dune Ever.

 

Dudes. Not one iota of exaggeration: that dune was at least 20 stories tall.

 

In the event that you were concerned, I did not, in fact, die while sand boarding. Though according to that Nervous Nelly, The Lonely Planet, I could have. Here is a video that someone with exponentially better video editing skills than I possess put together that documents the sand boarding experience. (You might want to turn your speakers down or ignore the laid back hippie music. I´m pretty sure a Mountain Dew-esque, mid-90s guitar riff would be more appropriate)

 

So how does one not die while sand boarding in Peru? I can assure you success if you follow these simple instructions:

 

  1. While the dune buggy driver is driving sideways up giant dunes, scream your head off and white knuckle it on the roll bars
  2. Upon arrival at the dunes in question, reconsider your decision but allow your pride to convince you not to be That Girl who chickens out
  3. Rub an old candle on the bottom of a homemade snowboard
  4. As per the instructors directions, lay on your stomach, grab the bindings of snowboard, push yourself up onto your elbows and lock your arms in this position to funnel as much sand as possible into your cleavage
  5. Slide down a giant sand dune, not even screaming because you are too busy trying not to die
  6. When you reach the bottom, try not to act overwhelmed and respond nonchalantly when an Aussie snowboarder asks what you secret is to get going to fast.
  7. Lather, rinse and repeat eight more times.
And, friends? I would do it again. But maybe only once more.

 

As you read this, The Mister and I are headed for some whitewater rafting and then a nine hour bus ride to Cusco, where we’ll head up the Inca Trail. Apparently, Cusco itself is at such a high altitude, one might be inclined to get altitude sickness. Which one might then treat by drinking tea made from coco leaves.
Indeed. Here’s hoping I don’t develop a nasty coco tea habit that leads to bloody noses and visions of grandeur!Got the travel bug?  Check out my ebooks and podcasts on making long-term travel a reality!  Only $15 forpetessake!

Nice work if you can get it: Museum Girl

It seems to me that Fridays are a day largely devoted to doing as little as possible and maybe hating your job a tiny bit. That co-worker who steals your Lean Cuisine? Kind of want to shank them. This ridiculously small cubical? Totally over it.
Thus, it makes perfect sense to spend a bit of your Friday reading about fantastic and envy-inducing jobs that you could pursue instead of this one with the small cubical and the annoying colleague. This will be a weekly series, and I promise you some doozies. Opera singer! Handbag designer! Sled dog veterinarian!So without further ado, the first in our series: Nia M. – Museum Girl.


I met Nia when she was a wee fourteen years old, the younger sister of a friend of mine. She turned out to be significantly cooler than said friend and we spent much of high school engaging in shenanigans, deep in the woods of Palisade, Minnesota. These days, Nia rides her bike everywhere (even in the snow!), knows about everything that’s cool three weeks before you do and hangs out with bearded hotties.

So what’s the deal? What do you do?

I work at the Natural History Museum. I make science programs for the public and help to design exhibits.
Tell us about an average day in life of your job.
The average day: sit at the computer, email scientists, read some things about science, write event copy, talk to my colleagues about random things, drink coffee, sit around a big table “brainstorming” about…science.
How did you get into museum work?
Kind of by accident. I wrote a paper about habitat dioramas (those old school natural history museum displays) for a class I was taking on science and the humanities. In the course of my research I met the curator of the Bell Museum, and got interested in museum history and display techniques. After that I elbowed my way in as an unpaid intern, and eventually they offered me a job.
Do you have any special museum -related training?
Not really. That’s the thing about museums – there really isn’t an option for formal training, unless you want to be a curator. I studied comparative literature and the history of science, which I guess is good preparation for thinking about museum content and how to engage visitors.
Are there any drawbacks to working in at a museum?
I’ll never be a millionaire.
What are the highlights?
It’s a creative job, and it allows me to make use of my brain and my communications skills on a daily basis. Plus it’s fun to see your ideas come to life and to know that people appreciate what you do – and hopefully, they learn something too.
What are the misconceptions about this kind of work?
That museums are full of stuffy academics. There are a few stuffy academics, but its mostly alcoholic academics and misplaced artists.
What suggestions would you give to people interested in working in museums?
You have to be willing to work hard and contribute your creative energies without any real individual recognition, but as long as you’re okay with that, it’s a really fun job. It helps to have a genuine interest in the public good, whatever that might mean to you. And you have to like working with other people – it’s definitely not a good job for people who tend to work best on their own.

Any Museum lovers out there? Any queries for the lovely Nia?