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My website, Over50andOverseas, is primarily a resource for international volunteer opportunities for persons over 50 years of age. Recently, have noticed many visitors to the site have an interest in obtaining information about international employment. I understand the interest. I have been both an international volunteer and an employee of international non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations.

For me, it all began with international volunteering. Over 50 at the time, I served in the Peace Corps in the early 90s in Guatemala. My Peace Corps service led to service as a United Nations Volunteer (UNV) in Bosnia in 1996. The Bosnia experience led to employment with an intergovernmental organization. And so began a delightful journey.

Volunteering can become an important portal to international work. To an employer seeking to fill a position in international development or relief work, a person with a successful international volunteer background has proven much-needed abilities. The former volunteer has lived in a culture different than one’s own. She/he may have lived in a difficult situation where conveniences considered a given in many societies, such as electricity and running water, were not readily available. Employers have found that many people are attracted to the “romantic” aspects of foreign development work but have a difficult time adjusting to the on-the-ground realities. A former volunteer knows what to expect.

My experience has shown me is that the networking one can do while volunteering internationally can lead to future employment. I mentioned earlier that my Bosnia volunteer experience led to very satisfying work in many parts of the world. Another example. An Italian colleague in Afghanistan read about the dire conditions of the animals in the Kabul Zoo due to the recurring hostilities. She traveled to Kabul to volunteer to help. While volunteering at the zoo she met internationals who were working for development organizations and was offered, and accepted, a very interesting employment opportunity with an intergovernmental organization. I have met many other individuals whose international employment was facilitated by volunteering and networking.

It is important to note that employers are also looking for skills and experience that fit job openings. International volunteering is not the only factor that will secure employment. But, combined with the right background, it can be a deciding factor.

I am including below links to organizations that advertise development and relief work vacancies. You might find something that is of interest to you.

Good luck in your endeavors!

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Building self-reliance doesn't happen overnight. Until now, CEN has primarily focused on creating the tools for building a strong foundation for development by strengthening the basic skills and habits of a small group of participants in three communities in the Brazilian Amazon. We are addressing one of the root causes of poverty and not just the symptoms.

Over the past couple of years, our work has resulted in sustainable change in the communities where work. Here are some examples:

Water faucet with soap With CEN's assistance, the Rural Family Home (CFR) has raised over 82 percent of the cost of the Rural Family Home Artesian Well Project, which has allowed the school to excavate a well and install a pump and a water storage tank. Hopefully the funds we raise through the end of the year will allow the CFR to finish the entire project! We're getting so close. Watch our short video on the artesian well project >>
Meeting about community radio 150 Residents of Suruacá have become increasingly self-reliant in addressing the many daily and long-term challenges they face. For many years, we've combatted the learned helplessness that has affected the community for generations by mentoring residents and strengthening their soft skills. Rather than simply resigning themselves to their fate or holding their hands out to others to fix their problems for them, they’ve learned how to grapple with the challenges themselves.
Larissas Grocery 150 Entrepreneurship throughout the community of Suruacá is also exploding with scores of new microbusinesses taking root where few existed. Read more about the recent progress in Suruacá >>
Banco da Mulher Assembly 150 The regional women’s group, which once provided valuable technical training and microfinancing to hundreds of women entrepreneurs in nearly 50 communities throughout the middle Amazon, has shaken off years of near-paralysis. This is thanks in part to CEN's efforts in helping to hold the first meeting of members of the Banco da Mulher in over five years and presenting our findings and recommendations on the microfinance program. Read more about the Banco da Mulher’s progress >>
Clariss at computer 150x150 Thanks to CEN's ongoing coaching and some limited financial support – as well as a healthy dose of the residents’ own ingenuity – the residents of Suruacá have prevailed in furnishing the electricity required to double the number of laptops available in the community’s school and power a freezer, which enables the school to provide students with lunches that have improved the quality of child nutrition in the area. Through CEN’s strategy of support through mentorship in creative problem-solving, CEN has fostered greater self-reliance and strengthened the community’s capacity to solve problems on its own. Read more about how the school achieved its goals >>


We need your help to maintain our momentum!

CEN needs to raise less than $1,700 by the end of the year to finish the CFR's well – and we can do it!

There are two simple ways to help this holiday season:


Making a donation on our website. Every dollar we raise through the end of the year on the website will go toward completing the well.

donate to Global Challenge


Using endruralpoverty.org/amazon when you shop for gifts on Amazon.com throughout the holiday season and Amazon will pay CEN a percentage of your purchases at no additional cost to you. (please bookmark this link)

CEN Amazon.com Link


With your help, the Rural Family Home will be able to offer thousands of youth in the region a promising future!

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During my latest visit to Brazil a few months ago, I visited Suruacá, one of the first communities where CEN started work over 10 years ago and one of the host communities for the cCLEAR Proof of Concept Project where we developed and tested our signature PRATICAR Learning Approach.

brazil projects tapajos webThe community of approximately 600 residents is located about five hours by boat from the city of Santarém, along the western shore of the Tapajós River. Although it is not as well-known as the Amazon River, the Tapajós is still very impressive. During much of the year it is over 30 kilometers (approximately 18 miles) wide, and even during the dry season when I last visited, it was still about 25 kilometers wide.

On the boat ride to Suruacá, I noticed a number of changes. First, the crew members, who all hailed from Suruacá, were better organized than they had been in the past. I noticed little things such as following a standard process of writing down the names of all the passengers as soon as they arrived, and issuing tickets for lunch. As a result, loading and unloading went more smoothly, and the new system cut down on people not paying for lunch or possibly even for the trip itself. It used to be pretty easy to skip on board without paying. I also noticed differences in the passengers: Most were dressed better and looked better nourished than they had looked in the past, and some children were playing with toys. All this pointed to a rising standard of living, which was confirmed when I arrived in the community.

As I climbed up the path from the river shore and entered the community, I was struck by the number of houses that had extensions. Several years ago, the federal government built basic houses for all residents to replace their substandard wooden houses. Each new house was constructed from bricks and had two bedrooms, a kitchen, an indoor bathroom and a tiled roof. In many ways they are an improvement, but they were not designed for the heat of the forest, so they can become quite hot inside. Many people have either expanded their houses or built on top using more traditional wood and palm thatch, which helps to keep the temperature cooler inside. A lot of the houses have nicely tiled floors now too.

As I roamed around the community catching up with old friends, I learned about other new developments, including numerous new businesses that have sprouted up. For instance, Djalma and his wife, Magarete, both participants in CEN’s projects, continue to build upon the micro-businesses they started. Djalma started selling phone cards after the local cellphone provider put up an antenna in the community. Magarete’s bakery is still doing well. Now they are both dreaming of expanding by building a lunch counter, which would be the community’s first restaurant. Other small businesses that now serve the community include a grocery store – the first true store in the community1, hair salons, as well as those run by artisans who produce handicrafts such as clothes, pillows and baskets. This is a huge development because when I first started visiting the community 12 years ago, there was not a single true business.

As impressive as these developments are, perhaps the most exciting change I witnessed was the residents’ new focus on exploring and addressing their problems, rather than simply resigning themselves to the many limitations they face, as was the case when CEN started visiting the community, and is still prevalent throughout the rest of the region. Today there is a growing awareness and confidence among residents that they do not need to rely on others to solve the problems they face.

For instance, Djalma’s and Magarete’s dream of starting a restaurant has been hampered by a lack of electricity. Instead of depending upon electrical appliances such as toasters, stoves and blenders, which are typically used in restaurants in cities, Djalma built a propane stove and oven out of bricks, which they will be able to use when there is no electricity. When electricity is available, he can use the appliances, which are much cheaper and easier to operate.

Larissa Grocery with caption

Another powerful example is how Larissa Sousa, the owner of the community’s grocery store, met the community’s need for frozen meat and cold beer (and yes, if you ask me it’s a need in the Amazon heat!), despite having no more than a couple of hours of power from the community generator each day, which isn’t enough to keep food and ice frozen. Although community members have lamented for years their inability to store ice or keep things cool, including storing medicines at the community health center, the problem was never solved.

Undeterred, Larissa met with energy specialists in Santarém to discuss her options. Consequently, she decided to install a solar energy system with enough batteries to power just the freezer for several days if the weather becomes overcast. Although the system cost a considerable amount, she recouped her investment in less than six months by selling meat, ice, and cold beverages.

Over the course of my visit, I was pleased to discover that nearly every participant in our proof of concept project continues to create or sell some product, even if it’s not necessarily the same one that they started with during the project. Even more impressive is the number of their family members and neighbors who have learned from them. For example, Rosivania, who produced clothing during the proof of concept project, is now fashioning decorative pillows. Her mother, who had learned to weave baskets years ago but gave up, became inspired by her daughter and has now started again. She has been selling baskets to neighbors as well as in Santarém when she or a family member goes into town. Our participants have become change agents for the community.

While it would be disingenuous for CEN to claim the entire credit for these gains, our focus on strengthening soft skills and continued mentoring in the community have made an important contribution to the transformation of the community. Our work would not be possible without your support, and I truly appreciate it.

There have been a couple of small stands that sold a few groceries in the past, but they rarely had more than a few items – and were rarely open. This is a real store.

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  Photo credit: Paul Downey 

Poverty is mentioned so often in the media that people don't understand the true severity of the situation. How many actually know what it’s like to be in constant survival mode? When I first started reading the article, “Kathryn Edin reveals the lives of people who live on $2 a day” by Dale Keiger in the Winter 2015 of The John Hopkins University Magazine I expected a predictable story about abuse, work ethic, and depression. What I ended up reading was a tale about horrible cycles that never seem to end.

A sociologist and author, Edin delves into the experiences of people facing the insurmountable challenge of living cashless in America. While reading the story of Ashley, the young mother of a newborn, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. How could anybody possibly live on less than $2 a day? Don't they receive any assistance? The answer to those questions are simple, even if the reasons behind them aren’t: They can't and they don't.

According to the article, there are about 1.5 million families just like Ashley’s. Most of them have fallen into extreme poverty and can’t claw their way out. They are living a cyclical existence, unable to find work because they can’t afford the clothing, bus fare, and phone going through a hiring process requires and unable to afford those items because they can’t find work. The situation is so precarious that not even finding a job is a certain solution. The service jobs they are most likely to be hired for simply do not provide the stability needed to consistently afford essential items such as food, shelter, and proper clothing, in part due to variable hours, the lack of sick days, and other factors.

Edin’s research analyzes this vulnerable segment of the population in a variety of cities, including Cleveland, Chicago, and Johnson City, Tennessee, combining data with information gathered from subjects she has actually spoken with in order to learn about their lives. Although she discusses how they’ve reached their current state of poverty, I feel one important factor in the article was not mentioned, and that is education. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which is referenced in the article, did increase employment, and it is important to explore why some people are employed or underemployed to consider how policy may address these problems.

The role of policy is mentioned, as well as some of the attitudes surrounding government assistance. I noticed that far too many people featured in the article were living without adequate assistance -- even when available -- due to their pride. To me, cash assistance doesn’t have to be seen as a handout. It can be utilized responsibly to improve lives and provide much needed support. While further examination of cultural views of welfare policies would be beneficial, Edin's research is essential reading in order to understand a section of the American population that is too often ignored.


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Earlier this week I arrived home after a successful month long visit to Brazil. As I unpack and unwind a bit, I’d like to share some of the highlights from the trip. As you read my report, keep in mind that CEN’s focus isn’t to just give money for the projects, but to help support communities’ own efforts to achieve specific objectives. The initial strategies they come up with don’t always work out because situation changes, there are unforeseen obstacles, inadequate execution, or because of poor planning. CEN’s goal is to help the communities – and their leaders – become more flexible, creative and more self-reliant so they can solve problems on their own. Our goal is to break their dependency on others to solve their problem. Here’s how two current community-led initiatives are faring:

Suruacá School Electrification

EixoForteFeb13tourElise250 520d5f558befbThe original objectives of the project were to double the number of laptops (from 5 to 10) available for students and faculty to use, and power a freezer so the school could store the food needed to provide nutrition lunches to students. The community’s initial strategy was to double the size of the existing solar (photovoltaic) electricity system. Since the project began however, their five batteries failed due to age and harsh environmental conditions. Batteries, which only last about four years in the heat and humidity of the climate, cost about US$1100 – and need to be replaced about every 4 years. This recurring cost significantly increased the financial scope of the project. In the face of these developments, here’s what they’ve done so far:

  • They've purchased a larger power inverter for only about $200, which now allows them to power 9 laptop – at least when the sun is shining. Since teachers and students mostly need to access computers and the internet during the day, this is usually adequate, except on overcast and rainy days when the system isn’t able to generate enough electricity. (During the rainy season, it can remain cloudy for days on end). The community also runs their community generator for 2 hours most evenings now though, which gives the laptops an opportunity to recharge in the evening. This is not a perfect solution, but it is a big improvement.
  • When I arrived on this visit, the teachers and students could only access the Internet by plugging directly into a modem in the office. To allow multiple teachers and staff to access laptops from within classrooms, CEN purchased a new modem and router for the school. Although the router and model will only work when there’s electricity (and hence not on rainy days), the community is exploring other options to address this.
  • As for the freezer, the school secured support from the municipality to provide 50 liters of fuel each month. This amount is enough to power the freezer for three hours in the morning and three in the evening for 3 weeks each month. The fuel keeps the freezer at the perfect temperature so the meat purchased in Santarem doesn't thaw, a requirement to qualify for a grant from the government to purchase the food to provide school lunches. Although they still can’t offer school lunches to students for about 1 ½ weeks each month, it does represent significant progress towards their objective.
  • While at the school, I also sat down with the secretary to explore options for raising money needed to purchase fuel for the rest of the month. One idea discussed involved selling food during the many community held soccer matches. We also tossed around the idea of holding a bake or rummage sale, where the entire community would assume joint responsibility to support the effort.

By encouraging problem solving and resourcefulness through ongoing coaching, as well as strategic use of limited financial support, CEN helped the community accomplish most of their initial objectives - at a far lower cost than initially budgeted.

Rural Family Home Artesian Well

CFR Santarem 131242 2 300x190The primary original objective of this project was to provide water to the school and host community for drinking, and irrigation for the program’s horticulture program. So far:

  • They school dug the well, purchased and installed the pump, and installed some of the piping needed to deliver the water.
  • They still need to build the water tower, purchase a new water tank because the one they had secured was damaged, and to connect the system to a central water main.
  • CEN has provided approximately USD$1165, which enabled the CFR to raise a similar amount of additional resources from other sources. Today they only need about USD$3800 more to finish the project.
  • With the assistance of our partner, Eunice Sena, the CFR has submitted a proposal to a Brazilian government program to make significant improvement to the schools building.

Again, by encouraging problem solving and resourcefulness through ongoing coaching, as well as strategic use of limited financial support, CEN helped the community accomplish most of their initial objectives at a lower cost than initially estimated. These cost reductions were a result of the CFRs staff using CENs financial contributions to secure more local support on their own. The dollar’s appreciation against the Brazilian Real als helped our dollar-based donations go even further.

Banco da Mulher Rotating Savings Fund


Voting at the Banco da Mulher AssemblyThe Banco da Mulher provided critical training and start up capitol to women for a period of several year ending in 2009. Several members are still operating their businesses and countless others continue to apply what they learned from their experience in many other positive ways. As one of the few such programs in the entire region, it offers a powerful model for other community organizations interested in fostering the micro-entrepreneurship of their members. In order to stimulate this, CEN has been evaluating and documenting the program so that other organizations in the region learn from its successes and challenges.

While In Brazil, I helped our partner, Eunice Sena, organize and participate in the first meeting of the fund’s membership since 2008. About 22 members (out of 60 total) attended the meeting, during which I presented a summary our research findings and evaluation of the fund. Members also discussed the future of the program. Camila Hana, another volunteer here at CEN, and I will incorporate participant feedback and new information obtained during the visit to make edits to our latest draft the report. We will try to finish a final report in Portuguese by February, with an English translation approximately 6 weeks later.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to these successes either through their hard work or financial support!

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