Blog

Testimonials from two Congés Solidaires® volunteers: “A unique experience I wish everyone could have”

 

As part of the Thales Foundation’s Congés Solidaires® pilot programme, launched in partnership with the Planète Urgence association, five employees have already been sent on two-week solidarity leave assignments during their vacation time. Two of the first volunteers, Mathieu H and Olivier C, share how valuable their assignments were for the associations they worked with and for themselves.

 

Mathieu H, project support engineer in Gennevilliers and volunteer in Togo: “A solidarity leave assignment is a way to travel differently and with a purpose.”

 

What was the objective of your assignment?

I went on an assignment to Lomé, Togo to train 18 members (four men and 14 women) of the association I2DA (Initiative for Sustainable Development in Africa) to use the Microsoft Office suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher). The association is working to reduce unemployment and under-employment among Togolese youth ages 15 to 35, who make up one-third of Togo’s population. It provides training and support to young people in entrepreneurship, accessing credit, and financial literacy so they can start their own income-generating activity.

 

The mission went very smoothly, in a very welcoming and reassuring setting. The association’s managers treated me like a member of the family, arranging all of my travel and meals so I could feel as comfortable as possible. I worked normal workdays. I designed the training materials myself beforehand and had a lot of autonomy in conducting the training.

 

There is a serious need for training in Togo, where students are taught theoretical knowledge but get very little practical experience. My students were actually very surprised at first because they were not expecting me to give them so many practical exercises. The final session of the training covered how to write a CV and get started professionally.

 

After the training, could you see an impact or change for the participants and local partners?

The results were extremely satisfying. The participants were very motivated to learn and practice their skills in a new way. At the start of the training, most of the participants did not know how to use a computer or save a file on a thumb drive. Over the course of the exercises, they made significant progress and achieved excellent results. I gave them over ten hours of training and a final exam to assess their level and make sure they understood all of the exercises.

 

We also organized a closing ceremony to present the participants with certificates, which will be a real asset to them and help them get started professionally. To publicize the project and encourage other initiatives like it, I also gave an interview on a local radio station.

 

In the end, I was very satisfied, because two-thirds of the training participants reached a basic level that will allow them in turn to become trainers in their own community.

 

What did you particularly enjoy about the experience? What advice would you give future volunteers?

The assignment did me a lot of good and made me feel useful. As soon as I arrived, I had no trouble fitting in, because people in Togo are very sociable. They all demonstrated kindness in their professional relationships, mutual respect and extraordinary politeness.

 

I would tell those who would like to have a similar experience to give it a try, because they can have a real impact on the community they visit. For two weeks, you are useful to others, 24 hours a day. On this type of trip, you learn to live more simply and find out what people need, with no filter.

 

It’s a very enriching and culturally amazing experience. I learned a lot about people in Togo and about human relationships.

 

 

Olivier C, security and systems integration specialist in Gennevilliers and volunteer in India: “Congés Solidaires® gives you time to think, allows you to meet wonderful people, and teaches you about management.”

 

Why did you decide to volunteer for a solidarity leave assignment?

I travelled to India five years ago but did not really enjoy the experience. I wanted to go back to change my perception of the country by using my time and skills to help address a local challenge. I hoped the experience would be unique, enriching and useful to the local community. All of my expectations were met.

 

What was the objective of your assignment?

My mission in Thiruvannamalai (in Tamil Nadu), India, working with the People’s Craft Training Centre (PCTC), went very smoothly. The PCTC association provides rehabilitation services to the disabled and also provides support and care for underprivileged women and children through a system of public education for all.

 

My initial mission was to develop an archiving process for the association’s information system. Since I had a lot of autonomy, I was also able to offer easy, effective ways to improve staff management and financial oversight of activities. We also installed a tool to scan the fingerprints of the association’s employees and beneficiaries in order to better identify and track them. Finally, I wrote a summary report of everything I did to ensure sustainability.

 

After the mission, could you see an impact or change for the local organisation?

There was a great deal of enthusiasm about my work. The association’s director and assistant director were very satisfied and quickly took ownership of the different tools I put in place. These tools will make them more effective and free up time that they can now dedicate to their core mission of providing care and assistance to the disabled.

 

What did you particularly enjoy about the experience? What advice would you give future volunteers?

This assignment changed my impression of India. I enjoyed the pace of the work and the autonomy the association’s director gave me, which allowed me to learn about the association quickly and get positive results.

 

A solidarity leave assignment is less challenging than a traditional tourist vacation. You can take the time to adapt to your new environment, and the local people in these areas, which are not typical tourist destinations, have no ulterior motives and simply want to talk to you.

 

I particularly enjoyed my dinners and conversations in the home of the association’s director, with whom I established a strong connection. I felt like a member of the family, and we became friends. I was fortunate to work with such an extraordinary, dynamic person who became a real source of inspiration for me. It was truly a special experience.

 

I can say that this type of assignment is very useful to local partners, which is why I would advise anyone to try a solidarity leave assignment. When you travel to these types of countries, the language barrier and your status as a “tourist” often keep you from really talking to people. On a solidarity leave assignment, your relationships to people are transformed.

 

As part of the Congés Solidaires® pilot programme, launched in October 2018, five Thales employees have already chosen an assignment from over 300 projects focused on two charity objectives:

 

     – Training adults (women’s groups, artisans, cooperatives) in computing, project management, marketing, communications, etc.

 

     – Providing socioeducational support to at-risk youth within local educational networks: academic support, socio-educational activities, thematic activities, etc.

The Foundation covers the cost of the assignment for up to 2,500 euros, which includes the training cost, assignment preparation and management expenses, lodging and other on-site living expenses.

 

In photos :

Awarding certificates to training participants

 

A coffee break before training

 

A visit to the PCTC’s centre for the disabled