Volunteer Raymond Magpantay: Final week at Shikhar Microfinance

My last week at Shikhar was very hectic - I felt the pressure to accomplish everything as much as I can, like last minute meetings with Shikhar’s senior leaders to further validate our recommendations and critical last minute data gathering. I felt emotional at the very end; because I know it will take me a while to be with these wonderful people again that we met along the way. Saying goodbye was very hard and was heartfelt for everyone. The only thing I was thinking at that point was that I know, I will always try my best to reconnect to these people (one way or the other) especially when I get back to the US.

Something worth mentioning that I will always remember was that during my last week they were always serving and passing around different treats (delicacies and desserts) in the office just to give me a sampling array of different Indian flavors and sweets. Everyone was also asking me out to have lunch or dinner with them – knowing that it would be the last time we can be together and to have those meaningful conversations again. That was a very nice gesture from everyone and I was touched by their sincere appreciation and expression of gratitude until the very end.

In retrospect, the volunteer work we have started was very difficult and challenging at first; because we were learning a new subject matter (Microfinance 101) and we were still getting to know the players plus getting acclimated into the new environment. It involved a lot of hard work, focus, enthusiasm and the conviction to complete the project on-time. I was wearing two hats and with my background in Project Management and Strategic Planning, it really helped having a structure in place so that we had a good roadmap to follow from project inception through the drafting of the final deliverables. We have something “tangible” to take back home for the remote team in the US to continue and progress into their own individual workstream assignments.

I can humbly say that I have had quite a few volunteering opportunities. I am used to making significant contributions to various non-profits and making an impactful difference in the process. I have to say that the Shikhar engagement gave me the most gratifying volunteer experience I’ve had by far. I gained a wealth of new knowledge and a network of new professional relationships developed abroad. Also the immediate impacts of the solutions that we were delivering to Shikhar are being implemented right away. I am also thrilled to know that the senior leaders at Shikhar were very happy and excited about the work that we have started and that their “thinking processes” are completely aligned with what we are trying to deliver for them. It was indeed a great validation of insights that we have collaborated and thought of from the “get-go”. I am really impressed with the great talents that they have at Shikhar and their “revolutionary” approach to solving their problems – although very tactical at first due to the nature of their business, but given enough time and resources, I am very hopeful that they can easily shift gears to take on a more strategic thinking approach.

Despite some challenges we overcame like the language, culture shock and cultural differences, none of these concerns affected me, compared to the amalgamation of experiences, feelings, and emotions due to the critical social impact that Shikhar’s project is delivering for the poorest of the poor in India. The time went really fast and my experience in India was undoubtedly meaningful and life-changing, but above all it taught me to expect the unexpected and adapt to life’s continual surprises. I will always remember all the hard work and sacrifices that we put into the project. After arriving home from work and having a light dinner, my normal routine was to lock myself in the hotel and continued working until 4 in the morning sometimes. I was totally immersed in finding solutions to problems presented to us in the project.

My stay in Delhi has been undeniably one of the most significant and extraordinary experiences of my volunteering experience, and I will always remember my infinite memories of awe and endearment when I think of the people that we came across and sightseeing places that we visited. India is an enchanting country, diverse and rich in culture; its peoples are happy, simple, peace loving, and have a unique spiritual dimension to their lives – which I can relate to. Time takes on a different dimension in India. There is no rat race or an urgency to complete a list of tasks. I feel more relaxed and content than I have in a long, long time, and I intend to make it last. I can’t wait to return to India with my family to discover more of its hidden wonders and to stay connected to its way of life and the philosophy of its peoples.

When friends, families and others ask me about my visit and volunteering experience in India, I say that it was an incredible learning experience. I say that after living there for almost 2 months, I became more aware of my social location and how it informs my interpretation of the world which may be radically different from the perspectives of others. I tell them that I am now better able to understand and anticipate cultural differences in worldview. I have also gained a better awareness of what extreme stress is like, how it affects me, and how to recognize and address compassion fatigue in me and others. These are lessons that I continue to use in my daily life and I always feel the visceral need to help the people I encounter the simplest way I can.

By the end of my engagement, I struggled on my own to say goodbyes to the people I had become so close with. On the final day when tears were shed and hugs were dispersed throughout the office, I could only hope that my volunteering made some sort of long-term positive impact within their lives and with Shikhar organization itself.

Finally, I would like to thank Grameen Foundation, Wells Fargo and Shikhar for making my volunteering engagement such a remarkable one.