"Voluntourism": how to make a difference in your retirement

3 min read

When Dr Bryan Humphrey retired, he didn’t stop working. He simply shifted gears, concocting a plan to embark on his long-held dream of an international “voluntouring” adventure.

After a career lecturing at Deakin University on education, criminology, and medicine, Dr Humphrey was ready to ply his many skills in an environment where he would make an immediate difference.

“I had studied sociology and development in my first degree and had also been active with Community Aid Abroad (now Oxfam). And when I retired I was ready and wanting to use my skills to make a contribution overseas,” he says.

An application to Australian Volunteers International landed him the role he’d been looking for. From November 2013 to November 2015, Dr Humphrey lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where according to UNICEF,1 only 26% of children make it to secondary school and nearly 5 million people live on less than US$1 a day.  He was deployed as a learning and development mentor tackling poverty and issues surrounding the protection of women and children.

“I worked with four NGOs. We ran a series of workshops and train-the-trainer sessions with a focus on developing sustainable and transferable skills,” he says.

As the former Director of Workforce Capacity with the Queensland Public Service Commission, Dr Humphrey had plenty to offer.

That said, the project was not without challenges. “When you arrive, you have your kit bag of knowledge but no idea what might be applicable in the new context. And it takes quite a long time to establish trust, get to know the cultural context and build relationships. You need considerable patience and the ability to adapt from work practices that might have been effective in Australia.”

Also crucial to success, he says, was putting a lot of time and energy into learning the Khmer language. By the second year, meetings became easier, and the locals respected his effort to speak in their native tongue.

Since returning to Australia, Dr Humphrey continues to use the freedom enabled by retirement to make a difference, and has made another trip to Cambodia, spending several months evaluating the effectiveness of two NGO programs. He’s also banded together friends and colleagues to raise $29,000 for the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Centre.

Dr Humphrey says that to make the most from your “voluntouring” experience, you need an open mind, a willingness to learn and adjust and a generous attitude towards sharing your skills and knowledge. “If you feel the experience is as much about learning as about sharing your knowledge, then you are likely to be successful,” he says.

So how to go about organising the funding for the process? Australian Volunteers International, funded by the Australian Government, provides help in the form of an allowance but you will also need to draw on some of your own funds. “The government funding was enough for living in Phnom Penh,” he says. “But I also drew on the minimum superannuation allowance, so that I had enough for additional travel and could rent a decent apartment. As I was there on my own the first year before my wife Angela joined me, I thought a good living space was essential to maintaining my wellbeing.”

As for future humanitarian efforts, he is heavily involved in a joint fundraising drive between the Cambodian Organisation for Children and Development, and Rotary International, to bring clean water to remote communities.

Retirement? What retirement?  

1 UNICEF: Cambodia at a glance, accessed 16 August 2016. 

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This Information current as at 29/11/2016.

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