My friend and colleague Jean Pudlo asked me how I got started in my international work, and it dawned on me that others might want the same information. Here's what I told her:
It's pretty simple. I emailed the wife of one of my very old friends here in Nepal and told her I had just finished a set of IT support courses and was there anything I might be able to do for her. She said, Come to Nepal and we'll see. It took me three years to get the money together for the airplane ticket.
That contract lasted a couple of years. I custom-designed a database for Lajana's NGO and made some suggestions about other tech improvements they could make. But they weren't really open to thinking strategically about technology. They persisted with the idea that I provide some kind of standalone product that they wouldn't do anything about except somehow "have" it.
I met my current clients while visiting the various members of my Peace & Travel organization, Servas. I came over to Bhaktapur just to meet them, the same way I had the orthopedic equipment salesman earlier that week. Surya, the executive director of RCRD, is a really forward-looking guy, very quick to see possibilities and immediately he peppered me with questions about his database dreams.
The following year, I worked directly on a database design for him, and this year, five years later, he proudly showed me the nationwide database of disabled persons that has been the result.
In 2006, my husband Jean-Francois had a sabbatical and so we spent 10 months going around the world-- a dream of his since our far-flung traveling days 30 years ago. Wherever we went, I tried to contact NGOs to offer my Worlds Touch services.
I stress that I don't work for nothing, that I am not a volunteer. I request each organization I work for to provide me with room and board. In Cambodia, that meant actually paying me for my hotel room. In New Caledonia, the executive director (like many NGOs in developing countries with foreign visitors and volunteers and interns and fellows, etc.) had an extra apartment in town and offered it to us to stay in while I worked on research for their web site.
In Darjeeling, the Rotarians suggested the Jesuit-run charity that I am involved with.
I'm somewhat dismayed to see these agencies spring up that purport to do all the work of connecting volunteers with organizations. All you really need to do is walk in the door and make them an offer, the same way we do it in the States! I understand American parents' fears and trepidations and desires to have insurance and medical evacuation coverage and all that. I've thought Worlds Touch should get some of that business-- it's quite lucrative. People pay plenty of money to go wash their clothes in a bucket and eat rice and lentils and sleep on thin mattresses these days. It could be a good income stream.
And then I think...Naaah...That is not what we do. And it's not what I believe in, either. I believe in reaching across the barriers that divide us, even to the problem of finding clients who want what I have to offer. I've been quite fortunate that the places I work with are pretty ethical and honest and diligent and mission-centered.