My Buddy Mike, an inspiring example of international volunteer

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This write up is about what constitutes for me the best example of international volunteerism. It is about my buddy Mike, a VSO volunteer expert on corporate social responsibilities and partnership. Mike is serving in Nepal for almost a year and he truly made volunteering a way of living.

Do not get me wrong, I have lots of friends among the VSO volunteers and they are all truly amazing and I really mean this because I was fortunate enough to work directly with some of them.

Having myself being an international volunteer in the years after university, I have a strong sympathy for VSO and other organization like Peace Corps and UNV.

Still Mike is kind of special to me and I am not saying this just because we are very good friends. Mike is different because, on the top of his volunteering assignments, he can’t help but keeping offering his time and his skills to help out.

Interestingly, and this is one of the key ingredients of any enriching volunteering experience, Mike is giving his time doing something that he truly, deeply, madly loves: playing basketball or better saying coaching wheelchair basketball.

Yes literally Mike is crazy for basketball, he can’t leave without it, and he literally breathes it.

So basically Mike combined his passion for basketball with the desire to involve physically challenged persons in recreational, leisure activity by coaching them. Every Sunday 7am Mike is ready for a couple of hours session with his team of physically challenged athletes.

Mike developed a strong empathy and understanding of issues related to differently able persons while he was serving, always as VSO Volunteer, in India,

It is no surprise that Mike realized that sport can be a real game changer for physically challenged persons. Sport can help them feel alive; sport can give them a boost and confidence in gaining a new understanding that a “normal” life does not necessarily imply being physically able. Lastly basketball can help them developing team working attitudes.

I am not praising Mike as superman. In fact he is not and this is really the point. To be a champion of volunteerism you do not need to be a hero but look at Mike or other international volunteers who enthusiastically embraced informal, out of office, ways of helping out.

I can’t help loving the fact that Mike really embedded volunteerism in his life. Yes Mike does not only breathe basketball; he does breathe volunteerism too.

This is for me a paramount for fully understanding the power of international volunteerism. Being an international volunteer is not a joke and it is actually a strong choice. If you are at VSO for example, you are highly qualified, you have great work experience, you normally have financially remunerative jobs and you decide to pack up and serve overseas for a long period.

Still the nature of international volunteerism is often not fully understood by local people, the same persons the volunteers are working with and those who the volunteers are supposed to serve.

I sometimes find it tricky to distinguish between an unpaid full time volunteering assignment and a fully paid working position. Somehow there is a thin line between the two in a very blurred “no man’s land” between full time volunteering and working and some people might give for granted the real meaning and contributions of international volunteerism.

There are huge differences, starting from the motivation that drives international volunteers as they are really all idealistically driven and inspired.

After all, VSO’s ambitions are to eradicate poverty through volunteerism, not a small thing and you do not need only technically sound professionals but also dreamers to reach this goal. Positevely all VSO volunteers are fantastic.

Still I believe that all international volunteers should ensure that on the top of their assignments, they can find a way to either informally volunteer or actively promote the spirit of altruism among the communities they serve. I am sure many already do it but maybe this can be better harnessed, recognized and promoted by their own agencies. This would give a terrific boost to the concept of international volunteering, making it more meaningful, broadening it up in a way that goes beyond the service delivery or capacity building models normally promoted.

After all volunteering is not just and exclusively about pursuing indicators and, despite the “pressure”, agencies promoting international volunteerism should not just go crazy with measurement. Impact is paramount but it can be also a wall to experiencing true volunteerism.

I know most of international volunteers are already super busy in achieving their missions and this is itself outstanding but I believe that by getting engaged locally, beyond their “JDs”, maybe doing something they like, the Mike’s way, local people will better get that international volunteers are here only to help and that same kind of generosity can emerge within their own local communities.

After all there are many ways of volunteering and an international volunteerism, while important, should not overshadow other flexible, episodic forms of volunteering already in place.

International volunteers should stimulate and nourish new form of “giving” among the communities, tapping in the already rich social “fabric” existing in countries like Nepal.

If international volunteers sending organizations wants to continue to be truly relevant in the fight against poverty, they need to ensure that their international volunteers are multipliers of volunteering opportunities at local level.

A true “community of light’ would emerge in all the communities if all VSO and other international volunteers were more encouraged to go beyond their formal assignments in a transformative process at local level,  a real way forward for establishing the volunteering inspired society.


Mike is organizing a fantastic training and tournament for wheelchair basketball from 10th to 12th of May. The event will be in cooperation with Wheelchair Athletes Worldwide, a US based charity. You can’t miss it and guess what? Volunteers are wanted. For more information you can write to Mike at

Disclaimer: Mike had no idea whatsoever I would write this piece.

Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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