After working full-time for the Air National Guard for a year, following nine years as a weekend warrior, Matthew Edward is no stranger to service, but landing in Kigali, Rwanda was certainly a departure from his typical Massachusetts pace. A Boston native, Matthew has an MBA from UMass Dartmouth and a Master’s of Education from the George Washington University. He came to MovingWorlds in hopes of bringing those skills to bear in a beneficial way. Having spent some time in Vietnam and Portugal, he was keen to explore opportunities where he would be able to combine his interests in a new part of the world. We connected him to the African Entrepreneur Collective in Rwanda and made this idea a reality.
Matthew shared his experience below:
What was your Experteering project?
I actually had several projects. In one, I worked with a pre-school in suburban Kigali, run by a local woman with financial backing from an American funder. My job was to give advice on the physical design of the facility (basic conceptualization), as well as curriculum design. She had originally wanted to run a completely bilingual instruction program, but we ultimately deemed that it would be a bit much for that particular age group. I also helped her make connections at UMass Boston, in order to draw on more volunteers from the education sector. I also helped her set up with an account on MovingWorlds, so that she can continue to find skilled support.
My other project was working with a woman who was growing cayenne pepper, but having difficulty selling it. It was very high quality product and stockpiled, but she needed assistance actually making it work for her. For about a month, we collaborated to interview, vet, and hire the right people to sell the pepper. Afterwards, a Frontier Market Scout arrived who had a background in sales; we overlapped for about two weeks and then I handed off the project to his capable hands.
Why did you decide to participate in a MovingWorlds Experteering project?
I’ve wanted to go abroad and do some volunteer work for a long time, but I had been working to save up some money first, and finally I was in a good place to really start looking. I had Googled Peace Corps alternatives, as Peace Corps, for me, was too long of a commitment and my wife was unable to be placed since she wasn’t an American.
So I came across MovingWorlds, and applied to several opportunities. Housing assistance was an important factor for me, so after a few browsing through projects in Uganda and Kenya, I ultimately came across the two organizations in Rwanda that had many positive reviews from other volunteers, which made me more comfortable, so I decided shortly after that.
What was the highlight of your Experteering trip?
Definitely getting to work on the preschool project was my favorite. It was extremely rewarding, while also being fun. Even though I had a chance to explore the country a bit, outside of Kigali, I still actually found work to be the best part of my time there.
What advice do you have to people thinking about going volunteering overseas?
In my personal opinion, time is a very limiting factor, so you want to make sure you go for enough time to actually accomplish what is needed. In my project, even after three months, not everything was finished. Depending on the project, I would suggest 90 days to be a good start to actually do something solid. Also be sure to research the organization ahead of time! My organization had a lot of media coverage on them, so I was really able to get a comprehensive picture of who I would be working with.
Finally, in order to be most productive when you arrive, I would definitely recommend making sure the details of the project are outlined ahead of time. Even better would be to have a Skype interview or briefing beforehand! [Editor’s Note: We couldn’t agree more, which is why we push all matches through our planning and preparation process to ensure this happens]
Do you still keep in contact with your host?
Yes! We still keep in touch by email, and I stayed on their mailing list. We’re also connected via social media.
Why do you see something like this as important? Do you feel like you made an impact?
I definitely felt that I got out of the experience what I was looking for: living abroad, professional experience, and new perspectives. On the preschool project, I think yes, progress was made while I was there. Maybe not as much progress as I would’ve liked, due to the cultural pace I was working within, but progress nonetheless. [Editor’s Note: We like to say that progress and impact happen after you leave – that is the true mark of an effective Experteer!]
Any other thoughts or insights on the experience?
I think Moving Worlds is a great way to find an opportunity to volunteer that is less lengthy and not as extremely competitive with crazy long application periods. It’s also an excellent way to build your professional portfolio.
Overall, I really enjoyed it; my organization provided housing, which was critical to my participation for that period of time. They had had volunteers before through other sources, were well organized, and had other people coming and going, which gave me exposure to a bunch of affiliated people, as well. All this is to say that it was a strong project and enterprise.