Finding the frontline: why I quit my job to volunteer

Guest blog from Emily Gorton – Volunteer Project Evaluator who is currently completing the Field Evaluation programme in Mexico, Guatemala and Haiti

Just over two months ago you would probably have found me at my desk in Farringdon, staring blankly out the window into the seamless London crowds below. I had an excellent view of the Goldman Sachs offices opposite, and some considerable part of my day would be taken up imagining its inner workings, or watching its employees shout into their phones between cigarette drags on the pavement outside. 

Today I stared out of a very different kind of window, on to the school courtyard of the charity in Guatemala I’m visiting as part of my new summer job. We’re halfway through a maths class, working out the square root of a series of five digit numbers. After the lesson, children surround me, passing my camera between them, taking photographs and laughing uproariously at the results. 

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CEIPA works with child and adolescent street labourers in the city of Quetzaltenango, supporting their education and teaching vocational skills where the state have failed to do so. They also inspire children to political activism and encourage them to fight for their rights. It’s extremely moving and inspiring, and I’m beyond delighted for the change of scenery.

I never hated my job. It was pretty great actually – I used to work in the communications team for an umbrella group supporting charities and their donors in the UK. I was definitely better off than actually being in Goldman Sachs. 

One of my campaigns there stopped a damaging law being passed, saving charities £300m. Another helped donations across the country rise 10% on all VISA cards – in one day. But what I always struggled with was feeling at such a distance from the impact I was creating. 

There was the distance of being a service-providing support body without any beneficiaries; charity always on our lips, but as a general notion, not the nitty gritty of handing a child a piece of bread. Then there’s the geographical distance most UK-based charity workers in the international development sector face on a daily basis.

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Young people at Fundacion Processo in Mexico

Global Giving UK’s Field Evaluation Programme has allowed me to finally get right up close to the action – that is, to meet passionate people running grassroots projects on the ground in developing countries. This for me has meant the chance to spend time with incredible organisations in Mexico, Guatemala and Haiti – but evaluators like me are currently in many different countries around the world, from the Philippines to Zambia.

Not only do I hope the experience will help me move towards a career path focused more on international development, but also to build a deeper knowledge of how charities are run from both ends of the spectrum – from my desk looking out on to a busy London street to the maths teacher giving up his mornings to give Guatemalan child street labourers the right to a normal education.

If you want to find out more about the Field Evaluation Programme you can here

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