VolunTravel Blog – Vittana Fellows Program

Travel with a purpose for the Vittana Fellows Program

by 2H7C Guest Blogger Kathryn Jacoby

Last September (2012), I traveled to the Philippines and volunteered for the Vittana Fellows Program. Vittana is a Seattle-based educational nonprofit. Vittana seeks out “skilled, highly committed and passionate volunteers to work on-the-ground” with their microfinance institutions. The volunteer position is called Fellow. In short, a fellow helps underprivileged students in developing countries obtain student loans who want an education, but can’t afford it.

Setting up college loans

Vittana partners with microfinance institutions (MFIs) all over the world. Vittana Fellows travel to other countries to help local MFIs create college micro-loan programs. Then, interested students in developing countries apply for the micro-loans. The loans provide educational opportunities to individuals who otherwise could not afford a college education. Several student success stories are featured on the Vittana website.

Guest Blogger Kathryn Jacoby and an agricultural science student  trip at the Vittana Fellows Program.

Vittana Fellow Kathryn Jacoby and an agricultural science student

Students who are in need of college loans put their profile information on Vittana’s website. It only costs $25 to help provide a loan for a student. The money you lend goes directly (with minimal interest of approximately 4%) to the student for tuition expenses. Students get the education, pay back the loan, and the lender gets the money back. Students can earn triple their daily wages with a college education.

My personal journey as a Vittana Fellow

I came upon the opportunity quite through happenstance/networking. I met someone who worked at Vittana, we chatted about his job, and I thought it sounded incredibly interesting.  I did some research about Vittana and I learned about their Fellows program on their website. I applied immediately and was offered the position based on my international experience. It also helped that I had previously worked with microfinance while in Peace Corps.

Living and learning within another culture

I was given the opportunity to spend five months in the Philippines. I had a full-time job at a Filipino MFI. I had the chance to engage every day with local people.  There’s no better way to learn about the intricacies of another culture than by settling down and actually living and working with them.

Vittana student and mother at the Vittana Fellows Program.

An educational student and her mother

Helping those in need

Vittana exists because, in many places, student loans do not. Even when there is a demand for skilled workers, millions of students in the developing world find it impossible to save for higher education. In many cases, they are kept from their dreams by only a few hundred dollars. Because of Vittana, its supporters, its lenders, and its fellows, over 1000 students in developing countries have been able to earn a college degree, and triple their earning potential.

Working as a Vittana Fellow

The most enjoyable part of my job was to interview student beneficiaries of Vittana loans. I was able to understand their goals, the obstacles they face in their home country, their culture and family structure. Moreover, I learned how the value of an educational loan goes far beyond the monetary value.

Vittana Fellows having fun on the beach at the Vittana Fellows Program.

Having some fun with other Vittana Fellows in Dingalan.

The students were very impressive. I was able to interact with them on a level that most people, while traveling, are not privy to. Speaking to them in such depth was a privilege and it reaffirmed my commitment to Vittana, and to ASKI my partnering MFI.

Hands-on work experience

By partnering with Vittana, I gained technical skills and a hands-on understanding about microlending.  I learned every day about the microfinance industry and about the education system in the Philippines. Additionally, I gained friends and connections from around the world: Germany, Taiwan, India, Philippines.

Conclusion

This was not my first time working abroad. However, it challenged my expectations and understanding of issues in the Philippines. It opened my eyes to the struggles of the students. It has guided me to the next steps in pursuing my own career goals and further education. I encourage everyone to open their eyes, minds, and hearts by giving their time, or expertise, and help change a young and aspiring student’s life.

Volunteer for the Vittana Fellows Program or help financially 

If you are interested in volunteering for the Vittana Fellows Program, you can find more information on qualifications and how to apply here.

Not everyone has the time, or the resources, to travel halfway around the world. You can lend $25 to a student (www.vittana.org/students) and get them closer to having the resources to attain a college degree.

Take it one step further, and try to learn something about the country they live in. You’ll learn something new, and make the world a better place.

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