GoAbroad Interview

Gemma Lay - Placement Manager

Gemma Lay - Placement Manager

Gemma joined the PoD Volunteer team in 2010 after volunteering with Pod in Tanzania in 2008. As placement manager, she manages placements in five different locations, from Peru to Thailand. Additionally, Gemma manages the PoD Volunteer Charity. She has a real passion for travel and always spends her holidays exploring the far corners of the world.

You volunteered in Tanzania through PoD at a community development project, what about this experience motivated you to move from volunteer to staff?

Volunteering in Tanzania with PoD Volunteer was one of the best weeks of my life, it was an incredible experience working with the local community and supporting the charity in the tropical mountains. A year after I returned home a job vacancy came up at Pod and it was my dream job opportunity and I am delighted that I got the role.

Volunteer teaching elementary students

Gemma teaching students in a community school

Working with volunteers is a great job since I can help other volunteers prepare for their volunteer placement using my own experience and more importantly, help volunteers find the right project, a project that can really benefit from having volunteers. I still have vivid memories of my time volunteering in Tanzania, from the welcome drumming party to the villages as we climbed the hill to the village to the stunning sunsets over the surrounding mountains and evening board games by candle light.

You are manage placements for PoD Volunteer projects in several countries (Peru, India, Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam), what does your daily schedule entail?

I have recently launched our new teaching Engish, conservation, community and building projects in Madagascar too!

What I love about my job is that everyday is different. I answer questions from volunteers to help them decide which project they would like to join, interview potential volunteers from around the world on the phone, contact our projects to confirm when a volunteer would like to join, receive photos from volunteers who are overseas, get feedback from volunteers who have just returned, and that’s all before lunch!

Pod Volunteers staff members in new uniforms at the office

Gemma and Becky posing in our new Pod Volunteer t-shirts in our office

How do you ascertain which country and which project are the best fit for each volunteer applicant?

It all depends on what the volunteer would like to gain and experience and what they have to give to a project. Location is important too, since for some people living in the heart of a lively city like Bangkok would be perfect, so I would recommend our teaching project in Bangkok, whereas other volunteers would prefer to live in a remote village with no running water or electricity, which would mean our community projects in Ghana would be ideal. It is great to talk to a volunteer to see if they would prefer to volunteer in a big group or small group, have their own room, prefer hot weather or cooler weather, etc.

What is your screening process for volunteers?

Our volunteers are required to complete an application form, which includes questions on their motivation to join the placement and medical details when applying for a project. All our child care, education, and community volunteers are required to have a phone interview before acceptance, and a character reference and police record check prior to joining the volunteer placement. We give all our volunteers a complete list of the specific project challenges and requirements before volunteers sign up for their chosen project.

You also serve as PoD Volunteer’s Charity manager, what types of fundraising activities have your organized? What has been the most successful? 

It is fantastic to support volunteers who would also like to raise additional funds to help the projects around the world. As a team we have organsied music festivals in our town, charity fun runs, “live below the line” event, and charity auctions. Our volunteers have organised a range of fundraising events from cake sales to marathons and triathlons to church talks. Our most successful recent fundraising challenge was to raise emergency funds for the Nepal earthquake.

Visiting the Taj Mahal

Gemma leading the group India summer camp volunteer placement on a weekend trip to the Taj Mahal

You’ve visited many of PoD’s volunteer projects in various locations, which one haven’t you visited that most piques your interest?

I would love to learn to dive so our Reef Conservation in Belize or Marine Conservation project in Thailand. It is a great experience to learn new skills as well as contribute to ongoing research and conservation. It would be great to explore the oceans as I can spend hours simply snorkelling!

You’ve traveled across much of Asia, how have these experiences aided in your placing volunteers in projects in India, Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam?

Each time you travel to a new country and experience a new culture you gain a greater understanding on how to adapt and settle into your new placement. On my recent trip to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan it highlighted the importance of learning a few words, since English is not spoken locally and it’s great when volunteers are able speak to the local staff when they first arrive at the project!

You lead PoD Summer Camp projects in both India and Thailand, what is a typical day in the life of Summer Camp participants? How does it differ from other volunteer projects?

I am currently writing this blog on my last day of the Summer Camp in India! Each day on the Summer Camps differ, but the aim of the camps is to help increase the confidence of local children in speaking English and we do this by running games and activities. What I love about this project is that each year different volunteers bring different skills; some years we have sessions teaching the children action moves through karate or football while other volunteers bring fantastic artistic ideas or creative games.

We run activity sessions in the local schools during the day and in the evenings the team are involved in cultural activities, which include visiting local temples, learning to cook local dishes, or learning the local language.

Woman feeding a baby calf in India

Gemma feeding a 2 day old calf at the India Animal Rescue project

In India we have been supporting a children’s home, disabled children’s school and home, plus a new community project where children from the neighbouring slum community are encouraged to start engaging with the educational system through games and activities. The majority of the children from the community do not go to school since they work in the street so the team works with them slowly to start gaining their trust and developing their skills.

I love leading the Summer Camps in Thailand and India since it allows first time volunteers who may be nervous travellers to have additional support at the group placement.

You’ve been with PoD just shy of five years, what is your favorite memory so far?

My favorite memory from my time with Pod Volunteer is returning to stay with the rural community in Thailand on the Summer Camp each year. Each year it feels like I am returning home and it’s great to keep in touch with the homestay family throughout the year to help them improve their English skills.

What is the most fulfilling part of your work for PoD Volunteer?

I love being able to support our fantastic projects around the world by sending them lovely volunteers each day!