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My website, Over50andOverseas, is primarily a resource for international volunteer opportunities for persons over 50 years of age. Recently, have noticed many visitors to the site have an interest in obtaining information about international employment. I understand the interest. I have been both an international volunteer and an employee of international non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations.

For me, it all began with international volunteering. Over 50 at the time, I served in the Peace Corps in the early 90s in Guatemala. My Peace Corps service led to service as a United Nations Volunteer (UNV) in Bosnia in 1996. The Bosnia experience led to employment with an intergovernmental organization. And so began a delightful journey.

Volunteering can become an important portal to international work. To an employer seeking to fill a position in international development or relief work, a person with a successful international volunteer background has proven much-needed abilities. The former volunteer has lived in a culture different than one’s own. She/he may have lived in a difficult situation where conveniences considered a given in many societies, such as electricity and running water, were not readily available. Employers have found that many people are attracted to the “romantic” aspects of foreign development work but have a difficult time adjusting to the on-the-ground realities. A former volunteer knows what to expect.

My experience has shown me is that the networking one can do while volunteering internationally can lead to future employment. I mentioned earlier that my Bosnia volunteer experience led to very satisfying work in many parts of the world. Another example. An Italian colleague in Afghanistan read about the dire conditions of the animals in the Kabul Zoo due to the recurring hostilities. She traveled to Kabul to volunteer to help. While volunteering at the zoo she met internationals who were working for development organizations and was offered, and accepted, a very interesting employment opportunity with an intergovernmental organization. I have met many other individuals whose international employment was facilitated by volunteering and networking.

It is important to note that employers are also looking for skills and experience that fit job openings. International volunteering is not the only factor that will secure employment. But, combined with the right background, it can be a deciding factor.

I am including below links to organizations that advertise development and relief work vacancies. You might find something that is of interest to you.

Good luck in your endeavors!

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  Photo credit: Paul Downey 

Poverty is mentioned so often in the media that people don't understand the true severity of the situation. How many actually know what it’s like to be in constant survival mode? When I first started reading the article, “Kathryn Edin reveals the lives of people who live on $2 a day” by Dale Keiger in the Winter 2015 of The John Hopkins University Magazine I expected a predictable story about abuse, work ethic, and depression. What I ended up reading was a tale about horrible cycles that never seem to end.

A sociologist and author, Edin delves into the experiences of people facing the insurmountable challenge of living cashless in America. While reading the story of Ashley, the young mother of a newborn, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. How could anybody possibly live on less than $2 a day? Don't they receive any assistance? The answer to those questions are simple, even if the reasons behind them aren’t: They can't and they don't.

According to the article, there are about 1.5 million families just like Ashley’s. Most of them have fallen into extreme poverty and can’t claw their way out. They are living a cyclical existence, unable to find work because they can’t afford the clothing, bus fare, and phone going through a hiring process requires and unable to afford those items because they can’t find work. The situation is so precarious that not even finding a job is a certain solution. The service jobs they are most likely to be hired for simply do not provide the stability needed to consistently afford essential items such as food, shelter, and proper clothing, in part due to variable hours, the lack of sick days, and other factors.

Edin’s research analyzes this vulnerable segment of the population in a variety of cities, including Cleveland, Chicago, and Johnson City, Tennessee, combining data with information gathered from subjects she has actually spoken with in order to learn about their lives. Although she discusses how they’ve reached their current state of poverty, I feel one important factor in the article was not mentioned, and that is education. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which is referenced in the article, did increase employment, and it is important to explore why some people are employed or underemployed to consider how policy may address these problems.

The role of policy is mentioned, as well as some of the attitudes surrounding government assistance. I noticed that far too many people featured in the article were living without adequate assistance -- even when available -- due to their pride. To me, cash assistance doesn’t have to be seen as a handout. It can be utilized responsibly to improve lives and provide much needed support. While further examination of cultural views of welfare policies would be beneficial, Edin's research is essential reading in order to understand a section of the American population that is too often ignored.


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Regina Crocheting web

I woke up this morning to a beautiful day here in the Pacific Northwest, one certainly befitting the specialness of this day - Mother’s Day. We are creatures of habit aren’t we, and so across the country at this very moment I’m guessing families are gathering, phone calls are being placed (did you call your mother?), flowers are adorning tables, brunch is being arranged and children’s artwork is being held up for loving inspection.

Like most days as I sip my morning coffee my mind will drift to Brazil, wondering how things are with the families we’ve served there. On this special day I’ll take extra time to think about the mothers of Suruacá, mothers like Regina Souza. As far as moms go, she really is a special one. That’s her in the picture. Wow, what a smile. Her four kids were nearby when we took this picture and I know they know how special she is. Regina thinks she is special too, thanks in part to the work you’ve enabled us to do in her community.

Regina was a participant in cCLEAR, our program that provided skills training which participants can then successfully apply to a range of community development priorities. That’s a lot of words for a simple concept. Through the program we assisted Regina, and many others in the community to strengthen core basic skills that they are now applying to build economic security for themselves and their families.

Through the program, Regina became more persistent, self-disciplined, motivated – and much more self confident. As a result of her enhanced sense of empowerment she taught herself how to crochet and sew, and launched her own independent needlework business. Her designs and instincts regarding fashion and function have positioned her for success and she shared with our team a while back the joy she gets from earning her own money and helping to make a better life for her family.

Regina 7 10 1 053 web

Not only has the extra income Regina earned from her needlework allowed her and husband to improve her family’s nutrition and general health, but Regina has also become a powerful role model for her kids and her neighbors by demonstrating that they too have the power within themselves to improve their own lives.

The support donors like you have provided enabled us to build the cCLEAR program and empower moms like Regina to become more self-reliant break the cycle of poverty. On behalf of the mother’s of Suruacá, their children, husbands and loved ones we say simply - Thank You.

Now go call your mom, or if you are a mom yourself, settle back into bed…breakfast should be arriving any moment now.


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March EmpowerBlog imgSocial media activism has proven to be a controversial phenomenon. Its efficacy is hotly debated, as some hail it as the future of social activism and others dismiss it as mere “slacktivism.” Certainly, we’ve seen that social media activism has the power to have an impact on activism. It is credited, for example, with playing a central role in shaping political debate in the Arab Spring, as well as for spurring on $115 million in donations through the viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Yet examples on that scale are few and far between. Far more common is “hashtag activism,” which seems to begin and end at posting a message about an issue. If the potential for benefit is there, though, how can international development activists harness it?

In international development, social media matters. A study published in the Journal of Information Policy surveyed advocacy groups who described four major benefits to social media activism based on its ability to: 1) strengthen outreach efforts by connecting individuals to advocacy groups; 2) promote engagement by creating feedback loops; 3) strengthen collective action by increasing the speed of communication; and 4) provide a cost-effective tool for advocacy. These findings hold true for international development, a realm in which parties are by nature spread out and cost-effectiveness is key.

By facilitating connections to remote pockets of the world, social media brings awareness to a larger public. While not every person who “likes” a post or tweets about an issue will become actively involved in development efforts, they increase the audience and the possibility of finding someone who will take action. Additionally, The 2014 Cone Communications Digital Activism Study found that 60% of Americans will continue to engage with a nonprofit organization’s content after liking or following its page. This provides organizations with a forum to continue sharing information with potential activists, including making appeals for donations, encouraging participation in events, sharing petitions, and the like.

The cost-effectiveness of social media and ease of communication make it ideal for grassroots movements, especially as technology and Internet access spread to even some of the world’s most isolated areas. As such, members of impoverished communities are increasingly gaining the ability to take on their own campaigns and are not forced to rely solely on outside organizations. Social media is a tool that can empower individuals to have a broader and potentially more effective impact on development efforts.

Of course, international development can’t rely on social media to just work. Communities and organizations have to develop strategies that will maximize its impact. As social media evolves, it’s important to understand the variety of user bases and how to use them to target different demographics. For example, a January 2015 Adweek infographic shows that, of the major social networks, Instagram has the highest percentage (59.8%) of 18- to 34-year-old users, while over half of Facebook users are now 35 and above.

Demographics aren’t the only important factor, either. Given how individuals’ level of engagement can vary as well, a variety of calls to action should be offered. According to the Cone Communications study, some people are more likely to take action, while others prefer to passively engage, such as by reading content and watching videos. Although these activities don’t translate into action at the moment, the Cone study suggests that they may over time. Participation isn’t static, so maintaining variety is key.

Whether geared toward the active or the passive, international development efforts should ensure that their social media initiatives clearly show why their cause — and supporting it — matters. The Cone study found that Americans are most motivated to participate in a social or environmental effort online if they see an urgent need, feel their involvement would make a real impact, and if it is easy. Doing things like laying out everyday steps people can take may help turn good intentions into actions.

While international development activists can’t count on social media activism as a singular solution, it can certainly contribute to their efforts. As it becomes better understood, we will continue to see social media’s power to create connections, empower individuals and communities, and effect change.

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Thinking Away Poverty

Is it really possible to think away poverty? I believe that it is. That's because the mental state of a person has a lot to do with keeping them there. What a person believes about their situation determines their response to that situation.

CEN strives to show people who live in rural poverty that they are able to give themselves a better life, and that they can have a controlling hand in eradicating poverty in their communities. In the past, CEN's done this by organizing programs that focus on building the right mindsets in program participants. They teach participants to be self-reliant so that they do not have to wait or depend too much on the government or any other outside source for help.

The mindset of self-reliance is not enough to solve poverty by itself: However, it is with this mindset that people begin to truly understand that their destinies are in their own hands.

It is with this understanding that the individual needs to choose to say no to poverty. They have to choose whether to accept the help that is given to them. They have to choose to participate in the skill-building and self-development programs CEN organizes. They, essentially, are the ones who have to decide to make good use of the knowledge they have acquired and change their economic situations. Lastly, they have to choose to think and work themselves away from poverty. No government or foreign aid worker can do this for the individual.

CEN focuses on helping rural community members to make the necessary mindset shift from feeling stuck and helpless, to feeling empowered and self-reliant enough to improve their lives and community. This way, communities can tackle whatever problems and challenges they face, whether in the form of health care, education, governance or a myriad of issues that they will inevitably need to address in the future. This way, they can leave a legacy for generations to come: a legacy that says that self-reliance is a sure route out of poverty.

Claire Abdul-AzeezClaire Abdul-Azeez is a freelance writer and blogger with many passions, including helping the less privileged. She is also the founder of OrganizedProductivity.com, where she regularly blogs. Claire is a CEN volunteer originally from Africa who currently lives in the Ukraine.

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