John: What inspired you to volunteer overseas?
Michael: I had wanted to live and work overseas, ever since my first trip to India in 2006. I went to Northeastern University in Boston with an Indian guy who became one of my best friends. This was during 1980-81 and was my first connection to India. In 2006 I decided to leave my somewhat comfortable job of some eight years as Director of the Alliance for Living and applied for both the Peace Corps and a job managing a farmers’ market in Pennsylvania. (I had gotten divorced in 1999 and my children were grown so it was time for me to really step into what I thought might make me very happy and to also explore the universe) I took the job in Pennsylvania but after a little over one year it didn’t work out and I researched overseas opportunities and found Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO). It was time for me to live and work overseas and fortunately there was an opportunity in India. I began this process in September 2008 and by March 2009 I was in India. I also felt that I would meet more like minded people if I volunteered overseas and on some level this has happened.
John: I know that you have been working in India for the past few years. What type of work are you doing?
Michael: I was placed with the National Trust, part of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India, working in the field of development disability. Although I had never worked with this population before, National Trust was interested in having a fundraiser to assist them with developing a fundraising system. I knew that because of my breadth of skills I could also do a lot of capacity building in other areas, e.g. strategic planning, human resources development and general organizational development. I went in with a very flexible approach. National Trust works with over 900 NGOs throughout India as we provide funding for a wide variety of programs, housing, vocational training, early intervention, etc. using a life-span approach. One of the first things that I did was to send out a questionnaire to NGOs asking them what they wanted to learn. Based on these results I put together a number of workshops on strategic planning, fundraising planning, human resources development, grant proposal writing, etc. I then worked through NT organisations to set up the workshops and have continued to refine my presentations throughout my 2.5 years. I love doing these workshops and have really found myself. I enjoy teaching, but to also learn from the participants. These workshops have also enabled me to see most of India. I’ve co-facilitated strategic plan development for NT and Voice and Vision, an NGO based out of Mumbai. I have also been facilitating strategic plan development for an NGO called MUSKAAN and facilitated a similar process for the National Trust marketing federation, ARUNIM.
My second major project has been Badhte Kadam, an India wide discoverability awareness campaign. I’ve done this for three years, from the initial BK in 2009. The project had stalled and with the help of staff I was able to not only get this off the ground but to also bring funding from outside sources to the campaign. Please take a look at the BK movie which will give you a better idea about the campaign which is located on the National Trust website, http://www.thenationaltrust.in. Given the various regional languages, different methods of working, this has been a major challenge, but it has been quite successful, garnering National Trust and disability much more awareness throughout the country.
I’ve also done some strategic planning work on my own for the American Embassy School Student Council and have coached basketball at the New Delhi YMCA every Saturday night, that I’m in Delhi, since I arrived in India.
John: Can you talk a bit about the organization for which you are volunteering and the types of programs they offer?
Michael: NT offers a wide variety of programs, including funding, to the 900 NGOs that are registered with us. We work in the field of developmental disability and through our NGOs we implement such programs as early intervention, health care, vocational training, housing, etc.
John: I have read in your blogs (http://michaelrosenkrantz.blogspot.com) how much you enjoy the people you meet on your assignments. Can you elaborate about how these meetings have enriched your experiences?
Michael: The work that I do is very challenging and good. Many times, I’ll ask myself, in a country as large as India, am I really making a difference. Sometimes I answer yes and sometimes no. But it is the people that I’ll remember. As I mentioned above due to my work I’ve been able to travel and to truly experience all of India, which is so different depending on which parts of the country that I’m visiting. I think that in this type of work one needs to be extroverted and open to the possibilities that present themselves, just because one is living in another country. The people of India are truly wonderful and are very positive about their future. Many people are just curious and ask me where I am from. The people are what I’ll take with me when I finally end my assignment. I also live with a joined family and feel very much part of their lives. There are five children ranging in age from 7 months to 12 and seven adults.
John: What has been your biggest challenge in your international work?
Michael: Different styles of work. I’m very assertive in my work and all too often people will shake their head in agreement with me, but the work doesn’t get done. This has been a source of frustration but I know that I just have to keep pushing until the work is finished. I also worry about whether I’m really building capacity, something that I can leave behind. I’ve provided lots of teachings, but I’ve also learned a lot about India and other styles of working.
John: What advice about choosing a program and preparing for service would you give to someone who is thinking about international volunteering?
Michael: One has to really want to open themselves up to the world to do international volunteering. It really changes things, at least for me, in the sense that I’m having trouble picturing myself working in the U.S. again. VSO has been a wonderful program and I recommend it very highly. If someone has an inkling of wanting to work/live overseas I would suggest checking out VSO and at minimum filling out the application on-line. The good thing about VSO is that you are paid a stipend as opposed to having to pay to volunteer, which is typical of many other volunteer programs. People can also check out the Peace Corps, but the thing about VSO is that volunteers come from many different countries, which means that I’m not only learning about Indian culture, but also about cultures from Africa, the Philippines, Europe, Canada, etc.
John: What is next for you?
Michael: I finish my assignment in late Feb/early March 2012 and will come back to the US for a visit and then it will be off to another country to meet up with my Filipino partner Florence, who I met in India, to continue international work, i.e. paid or as a volunteer. The world of possibilities has opened for me and as long as my health holds up I intend to live as a world citizen.
End of Interview