Why did you decide to volunteer with VIA in Cambodia?
Frank: I chose VIA over a host of other organizations due to its size, non-denominational and non-governmental focus, and its orientation on SE Asia. Seemed like great value, program wise, and terrific support from people who care in an organization small enough to know each other. It turned out to be precisely as billed, which has been a wonderful surprise. VIA seems to attract like-minded individuals with great hearts to complement a high level of energy and commitment to service. Having spent time with numerous VIA vols over the past two years, I've come to appreciate the commonality of shared purpose. Fun, smart people - great to surround oneself with.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Frank: My role as English Resource and Media Advisor has morphed into a more strategic role, as I and our staff of five Cambodians craft strategies to lobby the Cambodian government on oil, gas and mining policy. Cambodia is a country where public comment is neither welcomed nor encouraged (sometimes quite the opposite), so we must carefully toe the line between effective advocacy and making wholesale demands for change. I'm training my CRRT colleagues how to engage productively with senior government officials, the public and the media by creating a consolidated message and training regime that shares information. In the process, we are teaching the tenets of transparency, which is the end game of what we're all about. I write operating strategies and revise and refine with my CRRT colleagues as well as coalition members; I've helped devise a comprehensive media strategy (media contacts, press release templates, protocol for responses to questions from media, etc.) to give my colleagues a game plan to follow after I'm gone.
Some days I write and edit reports to donors; others I write letters to the Prime Minister of Cambodia, the Council of Ministers, the US Securities and Exchange Commission and a host of other agencies and vested-interest parties to build a case for revenue transparency in Cambodia and elsewhere around the world. Other days I'm helping organize programs and conferences to increase knowledge and understanding about the complex oil, gas and mining industries. It's truly a little of everything, and every day is unpredictable and somewhat chaotic, requiring patience and understanding at every step of the way. I also teach rudimentary English (and learn conversational Khmer) by working directly with my Cambodian colleagues, which is a pleasure and a real bonus.
How has this experience helped you grow personally and professionally?
Frank: As a mid-life, semi-retired career media professional, I'm done with working in the US. We came to Cambodia to settle into another life of travel, experiences and volunteerism. What's happened, though, is we've found ourselves in fairly high demand and now have more engagements and offers for work than we can handle. I consult with businesses on marketing, business strategy and public relations, and my wife writes for a number of local and regional publications on subjects ranging from Cambodian culture and food (she wrote a cookbook on Cambodian desserts) to what it takes to move here (she's now writing a chapter for a book on relocating overseas). There's much to do and the environment is incredibly stimulating.