Name: Fernando Russo
Hometown: Paris, France
Languages spoken: Portuguese, English (fluent), Spanish (fluent), French (beginner)
School: INSEAD Business School
Past travel experience: Avid
Volunteer Abroad: Microfinance and Income Generation in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Duration: 6 weeks
Start month: August 2016
Claim to fame: Fernando has traveled to over 85 countries, and has his own travel blog. Amazing work, Fernando!
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I was looking for a volunteer opportunity where I could use my business skills to help a good cause. After a very long search UBELONG had the best proposal in terms of cost, reliability and professionalism. I also watched some of the videos and read lots of comments online that matched my expectations in terms of cultural immersion and project experience. Doing a volunteer program abroad was for a long time something I wanted to do and I’m very happy I chose UBELONG for my first experience.
What did you find most rewarding from you volunteer experience?
The most rewarding for me was the possibility of really making an impact by introducing a sustainable model to release the NGO I worked for from the dependence of international grant. It was very rewarding to see the team build confidence that they could find a solution to help 1100 poor farmers in the program increase their income, and also make enough revenues to sustain their operation. It was also great to be on the field spending time with farmers and looking at how we could help them make a decent living out of agriculture. During my 6 weeks I was able to run a project pilot with one of the farmers in Takeo province and latter travel to the most remote province in Cambodia to meet with community leaders and present the new model we were going to implement. I also learned my biggest life lesson on resilience from Cambodian people.
What three pieces of advice would you give to a future UBELONG Volunteer?
Pick a country with a very different culture from your own and dive in the experience knowing you are not going to be the solution to their problems, but you can make a great impact on people’s life just by listening to their struggle and supporting them. I’ve seen in Cambodia that one of the most impactful contributions foreign volunteers can make is helping locals build confidence on their work so they can lead the change themselves. In my project, I realized on my second week it was not the best strategy to create a complex solution to maximize impact. Its important to have something simple enough that the local communities felt confident on implementing, making the change possible one step at a time. Exercise your ability to listen and adjust to the country speed, Phnom Penh runs in a very different clock than New York. Stay at least one month to really experience the culture.The learning is never about technical stuff, but the possibility of looking at life from a totally different perspective.