NGOabroad: Frugal, Customized International Volunteering


Life after 50? Gandhi was 61 during the Great Salt March. His most important contributions came thereafter.
Life after 50? Gandhi was 61 during the Great Salt March.
His most important contributions came thereafter.

“NGOabroad is well suited to people over 50. Why? Because NGOabroad places so much emphasis on utilizing the work or life experience that the volunteer brings,” Ann McLaughlin explained to me in a recent interview.

McLaughlin, founder and principal of NGOabroad,  has been involved in providing international volunteer opportunities and international career counseling since 2003. Ann spent ten years prior to the opening NGOabroad “studying everything about everywhere” which informs the assistance that she gives today.  She also spent 27 years in social work as a counselor and psychotherapist. Ann laughs, “People are surprised how I can “drill down” and get to the heart of the matter in Career Consults. I learned these skills in my years of work as a counselor. Over the years of being a psychotherapist, I wanted to shift my focus from talking about problems, to talking about solutions. It is very rewarding work that I do now to help arrange, for example, an Egyptian dentist examine teeth, do extractions and fillings all over Uganda.”

I asked Ann about recent successful placements and she related to me the following:
“When I was traveling in Rwanda this past year I met with the leader of a non-profit that is involved with reconciliation.  While on a tour of the non-profit facilities the leader pointed out to me that they had decided to use one of the two buildings on the property as revenue generating guest house.  This would free them from grant writing and soliciting funds.  I had an Australian architect client at the time and matched him up with the organization in Rwanda.  He was excited about the project and spent a month in Rwanda determining the needs for the guest house.  He then returned home and finished designing the project for the non-profit.”

Ann has combined both her experience and interests in NGO Abroad to help people find their niche in international volunteering and/or international employment.  She has developed unique methods to help NGOabroad evaluate a client’s interests, skills and desires and then pursue the international volunteer or employment assignments best-suited to each individual.

Teaching in Ghana
Teaching in Ghana

NGO Abroad services begin with a potential volunteer or client filling out a questionnaire.  The process takes approximately 15 minutes to complete.  Ann studies the completed questionnaire to determine the applicant’s basic skills and desires.  With this information they are able to form an outline for further consultation and advice.

International volunteering and employment in international development are closely tied.  I know this from my personal experience.  NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and intergovernmental organizations like to know that a potential employee has lived and worked in a developing country   Volunteering is a great way to get that experience   “It is one of a series of steps to get necessary experiences.” said Ann in the interview.

Volunteer opportunities in Morrocco.
Volunteer opportunities in Morrocco.

NGO Abroad has developed  “frugal volunteering” programs.  As stated in the in the organization’s website it is “one-quarter the price” of most volunteer opportunities.  Ann McLaughlin told me, “It has been a lot of work to build partnerships with international grassroots organizations to achieve both frugal volunteering and ethical volunteering programs. It took me getting up at 4 am to talk to East Africa organizations during their business hours prior to my last Africa Whirlwind tour to shake hands with new partners.” She went on to say, “We have enough diversity in our volunteering be able to place a wide variety of skills and experience: nurses, doctors, physical therapists, massage therapists,  health educators, small business and entrepreneurs, accounting, micro-finance, marketing, social workers, psychologists, counselors, water and sanitation, architects, soccer coaches, musicians, conflict prevention; political scientists, refugee rights; women’s rights, lawyers, democracy building, environmental scientists, engineering, non-profit consultants, grant writers, managers (they are now looking for someone to substitute for the director in northern Uganda.), teachers, armies of tutors, librarians, computer and English teachers, farmers, gardeners, bakers, chefs, seamstresses, quilters, fashion merchandisers, construction, and office help.”

Helping to improve quality of life in the yurt slums at in Mongolia!
Helping to improve quality of life in the yurt slums in Mongolia!

Ann pointed out, that while students may prefer to volunteer in June, July and August when they have a break from school; the over 50 crowd often prefers to go in November, December, January and February when they want a get-away from a cold winter and seek sun in the tropics in Africa, Asia or South America.

Regarding international volunteering opportunities for people over 50 years of age Ann said that, “We treasure people that bring decades of work and life experience.”  She also said that, “NGO Abroad matches skills with assignments.”  For those concerned about medical problems Ann said that NGO Abroad takes care to assure that medical facilities are available at the site to which volunteers with such concerns are assigned; and more importantly they evaluate what level of challenge or adventure suits a volunteer. For some people that have never left their home country, they start with an easier or more supportive site. For those that have already dealt with mosquito nets, boiling their water and pit toilets, they can provide more challenge. For those that have bad backs, we make sure that they have a comfy bed.

For clients seeking international employment NGO Abroad has three different career services:
1. Career Consult – this is designed for people that want to enter or advance in international humanitarian work but don’t know how to go about it. The Consult discusses how international work is configured; what employers are looking for; what thread of a person’s skill set is most applicable to an international context. For many people, a Career Consult is all that they need because it answers so many questions. For many people, they have no idea how their skills fit internationally. Many people assume that jobs are much like at home, which they aren’t.  The Career Consult is also well suited for people that want to make a career change domestically.  By the end of the Consult, Ann and the client have mapped out the steps and strategies towards the person’s goals.

2. Some people are ready for the next step, a “Roadmap of Recourses.” The Roadmap shows the aspirant “the lay of the land”: all the NGO’s and consultancies that may be pertinent to their skills; and may show all the current openings and organizations to continue to watch. The Roadmap usually takes Ann 3-4 days to make and is 100+ pages.  The Roadmap is divided into different files: e.g. Beginning Steps – places that the aspirant can get their first experience; Intermediate Steps – places that are going to be more selective; and Advanced Steps for later in their career. For example, for a social worker, there may be files called “Opportunities working with Children and Families”; “Gender-Based Violence”; “Trafficking”; “Refugee Rights”; “Slums & Housing”; “Advocacy & Poverty” with the organizations to watch in each and listing any paid opportunities at present.

3. The third career service that NGOabroad offers is Cover Letter and Resume Overhauls.  Ann says that sometimes this is the only career service that someone needs. She  also gets many people already working in international development work, with 5, 10 or 15 years’ experience.  Ann helps job applicants articulate their skills and experience in a more compelling way that helps them get their foot in the door.

Literacy in Bolivia
Literacy in Bolivia

The end result that NGOAbroad seeks is a satisfied client who has found the job placement or international volunteer opportunity that best-suits their skills, experience and desires.

For more information please visit the website NGOAbroad: For reviews by past clients visit Abroad Reviews. If you are interested in applying for NGOabroad volunteer programs or career services, please send BRIEFLY answered Questionnaire and resume pasted into the body of an email to Ann McLaughlin at [email protected].

Photos supplied by NGOabroad.

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