Farewell

It’s been a great year, but sadly, it’s time for me to sign off as Invictus Institute’s blogger. With the new year come new opportunities and commitments, some of which should (hopefully) aid me in my search for full-time employment after I graduate. In 3.5 months. Yikes.

Before I leave I simply wanted to say thank you. Thank you to Invictus Institute for offering such a flexible, interesting volunteer opportunity. I had never blogged before Invictus Institute, so this has been a valuable learning experience.

Also, thank you to the readers for perusing my articles and thereby strengthening Invictus Institute’s online presence. As such a digitally-centered nonprofit, it’s important that we distinguish ourselves from similarly-named websites and organizations. Our readers are imperative in making those efforts.

So goodbye, and good luck to Invictus Institute in making high-quality education a reality throughout the world.

And thank you again.

Beyond the Warm Fuzzies

The nonprofit sector has a way of romanticizing its volunteers and volunteerism in general. Nonprofit leaders, in their urgency to thank volunteers for their work, often paint volunteerism as the noblest of efforts, the sign of a devoted, admirable bleeding heart. One of my own earlier blog posts followed this mindset, focusing on the blessings that arise from the service of Invictus Institute’s volunteers.

While this common portrayal of volunteerism is not incorrect, it fails to do the more pragmatic benefits from volunteering justice. Beyond simply beefing up one’s resume, volunteering can amplify (and even give birth to) valuable skills that are sure to prove useful in one’s professional and personal life. Below are the accounts of two long-time volunteers for Invictus Institute who can attest to such an assurance: Caitlyn Meadows, and Andy Chapman.

Caitlyn

Caitlyn, who was also featured in my previous volunteer-centric blog post, has tutored numerous Bangladeshi girls since October 2016. Though the prospect of assisting children was a major draw, Caitlyn was also attracted by the opportunity to hone her future craft. “I am planning on being teacher and figured this opportunity would give me great experience with teaching,” she recalls.

She has certainly had plenty of practice. Every Wednesday evening she spends “an hour and a half to two hours,” tutoring her group of girls; prior to each session, she devotes another hour and a half to lesson planning. Her lessons tend to focus on chemistry, and she makes it a point to ask many questions to keep the students involved.

“I have always loved teaching,” she professes, “and being able to share knowledge with others and tutoring has helped me improve my teaching skills.” Serving as a tutor has also proven to be a refiner’s fire for two more abstract proficiencies – patience and creativity. While teaching anyone demands a considerable amount of patience, teaching the Bangladeshi girls calls for an extra dose. “You often have to repeat yourself, especially when there is a difference in language,” she admits.

The unavoidable language barrier is where creativity comes in. Caitlyn describes herself as a not-so creative person, but that has not stopped her from fostering the skill to bolster her teaching. “I have to be able to come up with new ways to explain things or answer questions if they don’t understand my original answer. I also try to make each lesson as interesting as possible and I have had to be very creative in how I do that.”

All of her hard work has paid off “in many alternate situations,” she explains. Within her paid work in child care, for instance, her enhanced creativity and patience have made watching over children not only more manageable, but more enjoyable. “Tutoring with Invictus Institute has helped me become a well rounded individual and I really hope to improve in all aspects of my life, especially learning how to become a better teacher.”

Andy

Three years ago, Andy first learned about the volunteering opportunities available at Invictus Institute through a friend on Facebook. Today, he continues to meet with students in Uganda on a weekly basis “to teach English and have fun.”

The fun, along with the chance to make new friends, are some of the things he enjoys most about volunteering. But as with Caitlyn, he is also grateful for the chance to strengthen not only his presentation skills, but his levels of empathy and reliability. As he puts it, “It’s more about forming a bond with a student than simply teaching English.”

Conclusion

As further evidence of how practical and worthwhile volunteering can be, I can verify that this has been my exact experience with Invictus Institute. Since signing on in September 2016, my writing, which was already decent, has definitely improved. As for new skills, my internship has allowed me my first-ever training with both WordPress and Twitter, two resources that are sure to be handy in our increasingly digital world. In short, volunteerism, both with Invictus Institute and otherwise, has a multitude of benefits to offer, not just the warm fuzzies.

 

 

Finding Through Losing: The Volunteer Paradox Alive and Well at Invictus Institute

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

– Mahatma Gandhi

It was her very first week of college. One day, Caitlyn Meadows sat awaiting the beginning of class at Brigham Young University – Idaho. Before the professor could dive into that day’s material, however, an announcement was made, with a sign-up sheet being circulated among the students. The call was for volunteer tutors willing to donate some of their precious time to Invictus Institute, a start-up nonprofit dedicated to helping needy children across the globe to receive a better education. Though she did not understand what would actually be asked of her, as she recalls, “I just knew that I liked to teach and this sounded like it would be a great opportunity.”

She signed up. A few days later, Invictus Institute’s founder, Kasey, emailed her explaining the mission, and where her efforts would be concentrated. She was assigned to a small group of “about six girls,” in Bangladesh (though occasionally, more will join out of curiosity). Currently, Invictus Institute pairs mentors with students in Uganda, Bangladesh, and India, and expects to expand to several other nations in the next few months: Ethiopia, Ghana, Solomon Islands, South Africa, and Vanuatu.

Caitlyn describes a typical tutoring session as follows: “Kasey emailed me a picture dictionary and I find three pages that I want to go over with the girls. I spend about 15 minutes talking with each girl about the pictures and asking them what is happening. The girls that are more advanced with their English skills will tell me stories from their own lives that relate to the pictures we are viewing.” Kasey (who himself mentors students in Bangladesh and India) follows a similar pattern of English instruction, as well as fostering trust by asking them what is going on in their lives, and sharing what is happening in his. They also review the material each student learns in school as a way of solidifying those lessons in their minds.

Though college can be an overwhelmingly hectic time for many, Caitlyn’s commitment to Invictus Institute is quite manageable. “I spend about an hour and a half to two hours every other Friday night talking with the girls,” she informs. This is typical of Invictus Institute, who asks for a mere 1-3 hours per week from its volunteers, making it an ideal, flexible endeavor for even the most stressed out college student.

Despite the short amounts of time, the benefits have proven to be substantial. As Caitlyn fondly reflects, “I have loved my experience so far, I have only been able to do it a few times but I love being able to help them. They are beautiful girls and they have touched my life with their kindness.” It has also brought the contrasts in day-to-day life between countries front and center – a handful of times, she has logged on, ready to see her girls, only to discover that they are unavailable due to blackouts throughout Bangladesh. This enlightenment “has made me want to expand my influence and do more for others,” she confides.

Kasey can also attest to the blessings of mentoring. “Since I’ve been tutoring,” he shares, “I’ve grown quite attached to the kids I’m tutoring. They’re my friends, I love seeing them progress.” For those who have recently enrolled as a mentor, or are considering it, he offers a few pieces of advice: “Talk slowly, especially the first several lessons. Talk about the things you’re up to, the kids love hearing it. Talk about what they want to do in life and how education will help them accomplish it. Try to help them see the bigger picture.”