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MBA graduate Catherine reflects on her time volunteering in Cambodia

"We were able to deliver some incredible changes to the orphanage."

– By MBA student Catherine Sherwin

'Two and half years ago when I started the Deakin MBA, I did not anticipate that I would be visiting New York, Chicago, LA, Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Cambodia and Waurn Ponds (on several occasions) as part of my studies.

People talk about life-changing experiences and this degree certainly has done just that. It has opened the door for me to explore a shift in career towards my passion for travel and international development, provided me with a more rounded view of my current career and fit within my organisation, led to a promotion at work and of course I also developed some great friendships.

The catalyst for my career change came in January this year, when I was lucky enough to spend two weeks in Phnom Penh, Cambodia with 13 other enthusiastic students as part of the Deakin Community Volunteer Program.  Our focus was revitalising a Government-run orphanage, Kolap Boun (Rose Four).  

During our two weeks we divided into two groups and then one large group for the delivery of the construction. I was nominated Project Manager by the other students and this gave me the opportunity to apply the skills I have learned during my studies.  In particular managing group dynamics, high pressure, adversity, cultural differences and time management.

We were able to deliver some incredible changes to the orphanage in such a short space of time. Our main achievements were refurbishing the young boys’ dorm, which previously had a ceiling that was collapsing and poor light and ventilation, providing landscaping and shade structures to areas that the children played in and fixed and built new play equipment.

I’ve always been passionate about international development in terms of community capacity building and social enterprise from an urban planning perspective and this community-based volunteer program has paved the way for me to move into this field in two key ways.

In less than a month’s time I will be embarking on a ten week internship with Agile Development Group in Phnom Penh – a strategic design and international development consultancy based in Cambodia. This opportunity will be invaluable in shifting my career focus and utilising my learning’s in my MBA in a completely different environment compared to my current job.

During our time at the orphanage, I also learnt that children do not get breakfast due to lack of funding. This was quite a shock to the group and brought us back to the reality of where we were, the struggles that are experienced by these children and the vast difference of the basic necessities that we grew up with that these children are not being afforded.

A couple of weeks after returning home this still resonated with me and I thought ‘let’s do something about it’. I contacted Agile Development Group, who facilitated our two week program, and they investigated the cost of breakfast. It worked out to $1 per child, with 50 children residing at the orphanage.  With the support of the other students participating in the program we set up a crowd funding page to raise money for breakfast for a year at the orphanage.

From a long term perspective I am investigating how I can obtain funding to ensure that the children receive breakfast as a regular meal rather than a once off meal for a few weeks or months. This is certainly testing a lot of the skills I have learned during my MBA as I decide on whether to setup a charity, marketing approaches, financial reporting, business plans and so on. It is an exciting time and while I have many questions and barriers ahead of me I know that what I have learned during my course will give me the tools to succeed and find a way forward with my career and charity fundraising goals.'

To help Catherine raise much needed funds, visit her crowd funding page and to keep up-to-date follow her on Facebook

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