Grant Thornton employee Matt Gerkens was looking to do something different and more meaningful with his vacation time. He came across an article about an accountant who volunteered through AfID and decided to get in touch.
AfID worked with Matt to create an assignment in Guatemala, where he spent 2 weeks supporting Amigos de Santa Cruz who work to improve the lives of indigenous people through education and sustainable economic empowerment.
“I had read an article about an accountant who volunteered with AfID and I looked more into the organisation. A part of my core values is using the skills that I have been given and being able to give back to others, and I thought the mission of AfID fit in well with what I was looking to do with my time off.
“I had never travelled to Guatemala, so I was concerned about being able to get around and get to where I was placed. Also, I didn’t really know what to expect in regards to what I was going to be doing specifically with my partner but these concerns were alleviated prior to leaving.
“The combination of having phone calls with the AfID employees who helped to place me (particularly Daniela) really helped to allow me to understand some of the specific duties to focus in on and what to expect, combined with the phone calls prior to heading out with the organisation and how they were working out the logistics for my arrival and stay. Having these discussions really helped me to get more familiar with the specific objectives that the organization was looking for during the time I was going to be there and helped me better understand what I needed to accomplish.
“As I was the first AfID volunteer at Amigos de Santa Cruz, there were many different objectives that we undertook. I first examined their internal processes around their cash management to ensure they had the proper policies, procedures and controls in place to prevent or detect significant misappropriation of the cash. I then looked at some more specific policies, for example their revised travel and expense policy which was going to be rolled out to all employees at the organisation.
“Near the end of my placement, I was able to review the budgets for the program coordinators. Seeing that they understood what they needed to do, by utilizing the tools and templates I provided, was one of the most rewarding aspect of my assignment.
“It showed that not only the time to develop the tools and templates, but the time to train up the local program coordinators (who had never filled out a budget) was well worthwhile and should help with efficiencies with the organisation going forward.
“It was a great experience outside of work too. During the first week, Guatemala celebrated its 194th Independence Day and we went out to one of the schools and nutrition centers that were supported by Amigos de Santa Cruz. We got to not only participate in the parade that the school put on, but got to sit down with the local people of that village and enjoy an Independence Day Feast with them. It was a really cool experience to see the kids in the school doing the parade and the events they had and it was good to see how the food that we had was heavily influenced by the nutrition lessons given by Amigos de Santa Cruz.
“While I do enjoy having down times during my vacation times, this experience really allowed me to make a difference with an organisation that was in need of someone with my skillset. Being able to talk to my colleagues and clients about the experience and what I was able to accomplish has been great. I think knowing that there are opportunities like this out there are helpful to plan out what my vacations will look like in the future.”