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How volunteering at Unesco changes lives
Contributed by Melinda Sung, The Nation, Thailand   
In international organisations such as Unesco, interns are welcome to work alongside staff on development programmes and special projects. And, fortunately for the agency, many young people are willing to do just that, offering their time in exchange for experience. So, what drives this motivation, and what challenges and lessons are learned along the way?

Unpaid labour makes up a relatively sizeable part of the workforce at Unesco's Bangkok branch. At any one time, there are usually 15 to 30 young people volunteering for anything between a month and a whole year.

Apart from interns, there are other classified volunteers as well. Mostly female, they come in all ages, though most average in their late 20s, with a wide range of experience, educational backgrounds and nationalities, mainly Europe, North America and developed Asian nations like Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong. Unesco's director Sheldon Shaeffer hopes to see more interns from Southeast Asia, especially Thailand.

To be eligible, interns should be enrolled in university and be able to volunteer a maximum of six months. Although they receive no stipend, Unesco internships are well regarded by young people seeking international careers. The process for many begins at www.unescobkk.org/index.php?id=2703.

However, opportunities as great as this come at a price with many volunteers learning unexpected lessons.

For starters, the work can be intense with volunteers investing both passion and energy to contribute to Unesco's mission. Just like paid staff, they find themselves working long hours in order to maximise success. The key motivational factor for volunteers is their sense of achievement and contribution to a great cause.

When asked about the biggest challenges, financial concerns and disappointment rank highly. All agree that longer stays amount to a better, more satisfying experience, as it takes time to get to know a project well. But long stints as a volunteer don't come easy or cheap. Apart from the cost of flying to Thailand, expenses include accommodation, food, a laptop, visas and even transport to and from work-related events, such as meetings and conferences, even when outside of Thailand.

Feeling unappreciated in the rush to get things done also affects motivation, though some volunteers feel more frustrated than others. "We don't expect payment, but more appreciation would be nice," one volunteer said. Being at the bottom of the hierarchy where credit for good work can be overlooked may result in diminishing enthusiasm, and enthusiasm is a volunteer's most essential attribute.

Read the full article: How volunteering at Unesco changes lives

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