GoAbroad Interview

Monika Farkas - Volunteer Coordinator

Monika Farkas - Volunteer Coordinator

Monika is originally from Hungary. She has always loved languages and traveling, and enjoys experiencing different cultures and communicating with people from all around the world. In 2014, she went traveling for six months and had the opportunity to visit some of the less fortunate, but beautiful countries in the world, such as India, Nepal, and various countries in Africa. It was following this trip that she realized she wanted to find a job where, besides doing her work, she could also make a difference.

What attracted you to work in the volunteer industry?

After I finished university, I took part in a European volunteer program called the European Volunteer Service (EVS). It was a brilliant experience. I spent six months in Italy, where I worked with kids from a less fortunate social background, and at the same time I learnt a new language, explored a new culture, and a beautiful new country. After this experience I thought that every single person should benefit from volunteering, so I have become an ‘ambassador’ of volunteering to spread the word. I think it changes you so much as a person, and that besides helping the communities in need, you can learn a lot about yourself as well. I have worked in many different office environments, but at the end of the day what makes the difference for me is when I talk to the volunteers who have travelled with us, or read their feedback and I see how much they loved the whole experience.

Volunteer with children in Ghana
Monika in Ghana playing with local children

You’ve been with African Adventures for a year. What is your favorite thing about your job?

In my role, besides a lot of administrative tasks, a lot of customer care is involved because I am in direct touch with our volunteers and their parents. For me, the best part of my job is when we see several months of hard work coming together when the volunteers get to Africa: when we can see how much they are enjoying their time and how much they learn from the experience. I can truly say that most of them come back as different people and it is really nice to see that it is all worthwhile. This year, I got the opportunity to go out to Ghana myself with some of our amazing groups, so I could see with my own eyes how the kids changed day by day, and it was a fantastic experience.

What does a typical day of work look like for you?

My typical day consists of responding to phone calls and emails. Besides the customer service, I look after different groups with my manager. So, once a group is booked, I get in touch with the volunteers, order their T-shirts, arrange their flights, keep them informed about vaccinations, discuss their project work and help them with their visa applications. Usually, we get very busy in the summer because that is the time when most of the schools travel with us, and September-October is another busy time when all the schools come back from the summer break and we are organising presentations.

Tourist with children on a beach in Africa
Monika on a beach in Africa

How do you help ensure volunteers have a fantastic time with African Adventures?

We make sure that we prepare all our volunteers before they travel. We give them advice on what they need to pack, what kind of vaccinations they need, how to get ready for the cultural shock etc. and, in case they have any further questions, we are always there at the end of the phone or via email, and we make sure that we always get back to everyone promptly. Also, once the groups are back, we place great emphasis on learning from the feedback of our volunteers and making sure that we provide an excellent service to everyone.

Looking back on your own experience as a volunteer in Italy, why do you think volunteering abroad leaves such a lasting impact on volunteers?

I believe travelling not only broadens our horizons, but it is crucial for our personal development.

You change so much when visiting a new country/continent and you learn so much about yourself. Besides the fact that you give your time and help to people in need, you come back as a different person and you appreciate little things in life more (for example you do not take for granted having a bed and hot water every day). We tend to complain about so many things in our everyday life, but I do believe when you come back from a volunteering experience, you think twice before complaining about perceived problems.

How do you use your own volunteer experience to continuously improve African Adventures’ volunteer coordination?

Thanks to my experience in volunteering and travelling around places like India and Africa, I know what kind of questions volunteers might have in their mind before their departure, and how daunting it can be before they depart. During the preparation of the trip we make sure that we ease our volunteers’ and their parents’ minds, and help them in every way possible. We have been there and done it: most of our UK staff have been to Africa and we know from our own experience what the projects are like.

Chichester College Freshers Fair
Monika at Chichester College’s Fresher's fair

What sets African Adventures apart from its competitors?

In my opinion, it is definitely our partnerships with the projects that set us apart from our competitors. We are guided by the projects in Kenya, Ghana, and Zanzibar in everything we do, so we know that we are providing help where it is most needed. Also, we make sure that we provide excellent customer service and we support volunteers throughout their journey and manage their expectations.

Why should volunteers choose African Adventures for their volunteer abroad experience?

I believe volunteers should choose to travel with African Adventures because we really care about making a difference. It is our aim to change lives in the UK and Africa through our work, and we have already done that in many cases. African Adventures is a very ethical company and we believe in responsible tourism. We make sure the volunteer is needed, but we do not create the need. We employ local staff for all jobs, giving back to the community.

What does 2016-2017 have in store for African Adventures?

We have a lot to achieve in the coming year and we will work very hard to deliver what we promise in our Our Goals page. We aim to hit our volunteer recruitment target at the end of this year, so that we can have maximum impact in our partner projects. We also aim to grow our programs in Ghana and Zanzibar, and we aim to raise an incredible £125,000 with our charity, which sends 100 percent of donations to Africa.