Thank you for the opportunity to interview you today. You have been working for Sols 24/7 in Malaysia for 12 months and in East Timor for 3 months. We are really interested to hear about your experiences. Before we talk about you time in Southeast Asia, could you please introduce yourself and explain your way how you get involved into the project?
My name is George Marsden aged 23. I am studying for an economics degree at Newcastle University. During my summer break I decided to follow my dream to join a top educational NGO in East Timor for 3 months. I found SOLS 24/7 to be such an incredible organization that I deferred my studies at University to gain an extra 12 months experience in the SOLS HQ in Malaysia. The application process was really simple. I sent my CV & cover letter and applied for an education & teaching internship in East Timor.
There are a lot of possibilities for volunteering in Latin America and Africa as well.
Why did you choose to volunteer in Southeast Asia? And why did you choose this particular project?
Asia’s rapid economic growth has led to more demand for educated workers. English, being the international language, is a key skill for people to improve their confidence and ability to acquire higher paid jobs.
SOLS 24/7 – Science Of Life Studies 24/7 is the largest provider of free English, IT and life skills education in South East Asia. They run over 125 community centers in countries including: East Timor, Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos and India. I was longing to find an organization where I could channel my desire to do something beneficial for society. I realize that there is only so much I can achieve alone so I searched for an NGO I could apply to.
Graduate jobs are massively oversubscribed now and I can see that there are not many opportunities to be exposed to big projects and be put in interesting positions or given high level responsibilities at a young age.
SOLS is not a normal graduate job, they have the philosophy that ‘youth can move the world’, so the senior managers there are more than happy to train the new volunteers and interns giving them stronger capacities to serve.
The organization’s founder: Dr Professor Madenjit Singh, affectionately known as ‘Big Teacher’, has spent over 25 years researching and applying an effective English teaching system and a motivation program that applies spiritual concepts to help people to realize their innate human potential.
He has always been driven to bring these programs to the world free of charge. After some training and observation of how these programs were presented, I was able to pick up the skill to implement them myself.
Malaysia is known as an exciting and impressive country. How was your first impression of the country at your day of arrival?
I love the late night culture in Malaysia. It is quite normal to hangout until morning drinking tea and eating all kinds of Asian food.
There is a unique blend of different cultures living amongst each other which creates an exciting atmosphere in the country.
Kuala Lumpur is fast paced and full of energy. All the western comforts are available from the many modern shopping malls. Malaysia also has beautiful tropical rural areas which create a more relaxed feel than in Kuala Lumpur.
What were your fields of work and your tasks at the project. And how did you handle the challenge to work in new fields and in a different culture?
A typical weekday for me in SOLS included: 4 hours of teaching English, an hour of giving basic IT training, motivation and life skills group work, team-building, socializing with students, dancing until late during the Friday social night, watching/ taking part in performance night.
While there is a lively social scene, plenty of friends to be made and late night discussions to be had – SOLS operates and rapid pace. There is constant progression, development and improvements to be made on a personal as well as team dynamic level. For me it was hard to keep my mind focused on one project or responsibility at the beginning of my time in Malaysia. I was so excited at what was happening in SOLS that I wanted to get involved with everything without doing one job to a higher standard!
However, after 15 months of adjusting to the SOLS environment and getting close guidance from my seniors there – I feel that I have developed a committed spirit, and have clear long-term goals to work for SOLS in the future.
I was over – confident before coming to Malaysia. From working in team projects I found out that integrating into a team was quite a challenge initially. There was much room for character development, which could allow me to contribute more to the progression of projects. Consolidation, patience, humility and open – mindedness were some of the traits I found to be important in team work.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Striving to learn more about myself and my place in the team has been beneficial to my learning process. From the exposure I have experienced in Malaysia I feel very motivated to learn more about life and further hone my leadership skills and capacity for service.
I feel now that rather than travel the world and take knowledge and experiences from what the world has to offer for my own benefit, I feel more of a global social responsibility to give back to society and be more of a value to humanity.
Of course, it is all well and good to have this vision – what I have learned the most from SOLS is the importance of developing skills to turn holistic visions into realities.
I have made bonds with students and teachers alike which I will strive to maintain and develop further. I want to learn from and be of guidance to others around me. I realize the importance of a global social network in providing a platform for passionate people to get involved with social work around the globe. If this can expand then it increases the scope for more oneness of the global civilization we live in.
What were for you the biggest differences between volunteering in Malaysia and in East Timor?
In East Timor I was one of only a couple of Western volunteers. I was staying in a full-time (boarding) centre with over 600 students and 50 teachers (Cambodian & Timorese). The atmosphere was lively and social. There was so much opportunity to mix around with students and build strong bonds with all of my teammates there.
Most of the teachers there were once students of SOLS education programs. They had come through the whole process of: student- trainee- volunteer- exchange teacher. As this is a full-time school – It was an opportunity to get involved with activities morning till night. It is a very busy schedule and high intensity – the rewards are phenomenal if you are up for getting stuck in!
Malaysia is a completely different vibe to East Timor but equally as awesome in its own way! Although SOLS schools have not been running as long as in East Timor, expansion is taking place at a rapid rate!
There is a fascinating system being put into place by Teacher Raj Ridvan Singh, “Education Revolutionist” (International Director) with the help of the dynamic team out there. They are in the process of setting up 100 schools in Malaysia with the backing of Better Malaysia Foundation.
The centres there are mostly part-time (day classes). They have just moved into new massive HQ where regular training takes place for a diverse mix of Western and Asian volunteers. After training volunteers then get sent out into the communities to implement the programs. The systems in Malaysia are more modern than in East Timor and the country is more developed than East Timor.
South East Asia is full of adventures and an impressive nature. Could you use your free-time to discover some of it?
East Timor has some of the most stunning landscapes in the world. I had free time on Sundays to explore the beaches and mountains. I went scuba diving once too! It was especially fun to borrow the school bicycles and cycle around Dili (the capital city). I also took a 1 week holiday to go for a motorbike trip around the country which is quite a memory. Long winding roads, with plenty of pot-holes!
Malaysia has so many national holidays due to the large number of different religious groups living there.
There was plenty of time to go mountain trekking and site seeing Kuala Lumpur. The CEO also took us for a team building retreat in a jungle cabin for a weekend. Lots of fun!
Why would you recommend volunteering at Sols 24/7? And what would you advise to future volunteers?
I ended every day with a buzz that I had achieved something of value and couldn’t wait to get involved with more the next day! From what I have seen, SOLS has a powerful model of social enterprise. This combines a close family environment with top-quality training on a large scale. What is so unique and special is having the privilege to gain an insight into the operations of an organization founded on principles of unity through diversity, and universal education.
Not only does SOLS have the vision, but they also have the abilities to transform their goals into action.It is humbling to hear countless stories first hand students from poor families, who through gaining confidence, belief in themselves and academic skills in English language – have made drastic changes to their potential and will likely get top jobs upon graduation of the SOLS education program.
I would advise future volunteers to come with an open mind to soak in the many stories and experiences from the people around them and be ready to improve their understanding of life from a global perspective.
I would recommend applying for a year to really get the most benefit from serving with SOLS 24/7. Also remember that while there is a wealth of opportunities and good times awaiting volunteers out there, the sole aim is to be of value and help the communities you are based in.