Aurelia Diedisheim, a CIMA qualified management accountant from France working in procurement, had always had an ambition to use her accounting skills to give back to others. She came across the AfID website and was inspired to take a sabbatical from her job in Hamburg, Germany to volunteer abroad. With a background in CIMA, doing ABC and a talent for languages Aurelia was confident she could add enormous value to a small community organisation. She was enthusiastic to experience a new culture and after speaking with the AfID programmes team assignment options were carefully tailored to her experience, skills and personal preferences.
Aurelia decided on a three-month placement with Interdependent Society Surkhet (ISS) in Nepal, a grassroots charity supporting underprivileged communities that face poverty in the region. Around twenty thousand poor and marginalised people are end beneficiaries of ISS's work. AfID caught up with Aurelia to find out more about her volunteering experience…
What motivated you to become a volunteer?
Being a volunteer was something I have always wanted to do without any rational explanation. In France volunteering abroad is not common and not encouraged. Therefore I already had tried to volunteer but always found something or someone in my way. In 2010 I was fed up with my job situation.
I realised that without any mortgage or children to bind me to my monthly pay it was my last opportunity to actually go and volunteer as I had always dreamt of doing.
How transferrable were your skills?
I always respected those who volunteered to teach English to children but I felt it was not my core strength. I therefore believed that my knowledge as an accountant was quite useful so I wanted to put it to good use. Accountancy is a very transferable skill as the same concepts roughly apply to any kind of business.
Did you have worries before you left? And, if so, were they alleviated once you got there?
I had various concerns; leaving you comfort to go alone to the other side of the world is very worrying, and maybe even more when you are a woman on your own. For instance, will there be someone to welcome me? What kind of accommodation will I find? How will I eat? Will people understand me? What will I do during my free time? Etc.
I had a lot of e-mail exchange with the head of the association that was welcoming me and my mind was quickly put to rest regarding logistic between Kathmandu and Surkhet, and regarding accommodation. Beforehand worries are also part of the excitement of volunteering and I choose to go on my own in order to live this experience in full.
What did the assignment entail? And what was achieved?
On assignment I support ISS to develop its reporting in order to increase its funding. I soon noticed that it was all was done manually so the first part of my placement was actually to teach the accounting team to use Excel. Now their reporting is done on a more automatic basic and they can concentrate on explanation and comments.
Have you learnt or built on new skills?
I have improved my communication but on a more general basis I have improved my perception of life. I am proud of my experience and it helps me keeping things in perspective.
What would you say to anyone thinking about volunteering in the future?
Go for it! Leave everything behind and embrace local lifestyle to better integrate. Keep open to all situations.
Has volunteering changed your outlook on what you want to do with you working life?
I still wish to do something more useful for others. I do look, but I now have children and a mortgage so I cannot afford a wild leap. I really enjoy my current job but the most important thing is that it fits the current stage I am in life.