GoAbroad Interview

Allie Smith - International Placement Coordinator & Nicaragua Program Coordinator

Allie Smith - International Placement Coordinator & Nicaragua Program Coordinator

Allie’s love for traveling began in 2012 when she traveled to Portugal through WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) before backpacking to Spain and France. Allie joined VFP in December 2012 and volunteered in Haiti with her sister in 2013. She established Nicaragua as a new destination for VFP, and led the first three projects in the Matagalpa region. Allie has also instructed snowboarding at Smuggler’s Notch Resort, coached girls youth lacrosse, and she continues to volunteer at the Burlington City Arts as a clay studio assistant.

You participated in an international experience with WWOOF Portugal in 2012, and also have spent time backpacking through both France and Spain. How did you get connected with Volunteers For Peace and the international work they do?

I first became familiar with VFP as an organization as a journalism student at Saint Michael’s College. I wrote an article on a peer of mine who was an intern at VFP and was preparing for her project in Haiti. The more I learned about VFP and how it operates through partner organizations around the world, the more I saw myself working for a non-profit or NGO that had an international aspect. After returning from my travels in Europe, I connected with Meg Brook about job opportunities. It was the right place at the right time. I was able to snag an entry-level position focusing on social media and data entry among other office tasks that quickly turned into my role as the International Placement Coordinator.

Volunteers in Susuma, Nicaragua

Allie in Susuma, Nicaragua, one of the communities where VFP’s long-term projects take place in January 2015.

What does a typical day look like as the International Placement Coordinator for Volunteers For Peace?

A typical day starts with a mug of tea! However, now that I’m thinking about it, I think that is the only thing that is typical of my days at VFP. That is the beauty of my job. Each day is different and brings its own challenges. A lot of what I do day to day depends on the time of year. Spring is the busiest time of year full of posting volunteer opportunities, talking with prospective volunteers on the phone, answering emails, and accepting volunteers on projects.

Your academic background is in Media Studies, Journalism, and Digital Arts, how do you apply these skills to your work with Volunteers For Peace?

Part of what attracted me to the department of Media Studies, Journalism, and Digital Arts was the versatility of the degree. The skills and knowledge I acquired as a student are applicable to everything I will ever do (I’m sure my collegiate peers would say the same). As a small operation offering volunteer projects all over the globe, I have to know what’s going on in the world especially in locations where we send volunteers. It’s important that I have the ability to extract information from reputable sources to keep volunteers informed. I utilize my communication skills on a daily basis and I have been able to apply my knowledge of digital arts when updating our website, creating newsletters, and designing posters and brochures.

Volunteers For Peace has been around for over 30 years, what sets it apart from other volunteer organizations?

We are different from other volunteer organizations for a lot of reasons, so I’ll try to be concise! We are proud of the amount of support we offer volunteers from the preparation stages through reflecting back on the experience. If you need a certificate for community service hours or a tax receipt, we can provide the necessary documents. If you are trying to earn academic credit, we are happy to work with your school to make that possible. You can call our office and talk to any of us if you have questions!

Finca Esperanza Verde

Allie at Finca Esperanza Verde in January 2015

We do everything we can to meet the needs of our volunteers, whether it’s a couple looking to volunteer for a month long project in Southeast Asia, a group of college students arranging an alternative spring break project in Haiti, a family interested in volunteering at a school in Ecuador, or one volunteer open to anywhere at any time.

VFP is a member of the Coordinating Committee on International Voluntary Service (CCIVS) which sets us apart from similar organizations. The projects that we offer are organized through our partners which are located in the country of the project. In other words, local organizations are identifying the needs of their own communities where our projects take place. On projects, volunteers are within a group of diverse international volunteers and often work alongside the local people. The opportunity for cultural exchange is unmatchable!

You’ve been with Volunteers For Peace since 2012, what has been your biggest accomplishment in the last couple of years?

Wow, it’s hard to pick one thing as my biggest accomplishment. In the last year I have worked with two partners in Nicaragua to develop projects, Finca Esperanza Verde, an eco-lodge and coffee farm, and People Helping People Global, a micro-finance lending organization. Through these connections, I have led three projects in Nicaragua and met with community leaders in the country to conceptualize new projects. This has been really exciting for me and allowed me to contribute to VFP in a new way and to grow personally on so many levels!

What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to a prospective applicant of your volunteer program in Nicaragua?

I would advise prospective volunteers interested in serving in Nicaragua to read a novel or two about America’s history with the country. I think having a deeper understanding of our relationship with Nicaragua as a country will only deepen the connections you make during your service and thus increase the impact that you make. 

Volunteer in Haiti with children

A group of Haitian children and Allie playing a game in Haiti 2013.

You snowboard and coach lacrosse, what would you tell someone involved in sports about the importance of volunteering abroad?

My dad has always taught me to stay balanced mentally, spiritually, and physically in whatever way it made sense for me. I have carried that philosophy with me throughout my life. I would encourage all athletes to have those three pillars of balance in life. I think the physical pillar comes most naturally to an athlete. I can’t emphasize enough how traveling through volunteering touches you mentally and spiritually. You will find yourself questioning all you thought you knew allowing you to grow in ways that can only be experienced through seeing the world as a volunteer!

What is your favorite memory from your time with Volunteers For Peace?

I can’t pick one single memory as a favorite since I have been employed by VFP, there are too many amazing ones! I have been incredibly lucky to be able to travel as a volunteer, to engage with international volunteers on our U.S. projects in New England, to attend the General Assembly of The Alliance of European Voluntary Service Organizations in Italy, to lead three volunteer projects in Nicaragua, and so much more!

A group of volunteers in Matagalpa, Nicaragua

Allie with a group of volunteers in Matagalpa, Nicaragua December 2014.

You volunteered in Haiti and led a group of volunteers to Nicaragua last year, if you had to board a plane tomorrow for another volunteer trip through Volunteers For Peace where would you go and why?

I would hands down go to Iceland! The projects there are notoriously strong and the country continues to remain one of our top five destinations for sending volunteers abroad. Every time I receive a report back from an alumni volunteer who completed a project in Iceland, I am in awe of the photos. The natural beauty and unique ecosystems of the country really attract me. It has always been a dream destination of mine.

What is the most fulfilling part of your job?

It’s the little things. When people convey to me how I have helped make an opportunity possible for them that in turn changed their life, it is the most gratifying feeling. I love people, and having that relationship is really special. I really appreciate the art of handwritten notes. I can probably count on both hands the number of notes I have received from people, but they all hold a place in my heart.