Hello there and welcome back. Thanks for joining us. We had a little bit of break here at Inspired Careers and Land Your Dream Job podcast but we are back with a wonderful guest today, the inspiring Leyla Isin-Xiong, Program Manager, GVI, Luang Prabang ,Lao. Still in her early 20s Leyla holds a senior role for a leading global volunteers organisation, GVI International. Leyla is living proof that if you combine a winning attitude with a little tenacity, you can follow your passion and have a successful and meaningful career. If you’d like to understand how you can combine career aspirations, a love of travel, a desire to help others and create a positive global impact to forge a meaningful career in leadership this is a must listen podcast for you. Leyla kicked off her career volunteering teaching English in Kenya, and now she’s a senior manager for the same organisation, based in Laos in South East Asia, running some incredibly impactful programs. Not only has she kicked off an incredible career for herself but she managed to snag a lovely local husband along the way. If you’re interested in casually volunteering, volunteering to kick-off your career or a career within non-profit then listen in as Leyla shares with us all the secrets to launching a meaningful career.

 

Kyle:

So we have Leyla on the line right now direct from Luang Prabang so Leyla, welcome to the show, such a pleasure to have you in here.

Leyla:

Hi, Kylie thanks for having me it's really exciting the be talking to someone half-way across the world. Last time we spoke you were here in Luang Prabang.

Kylie:

I'm really excited to share with all our listeners today the amazing volunteer and permanent work that you have done for a volunteer organization. I am really excited to get to that point, but before we rush ahead, I would like for you to start from the beginning, your early days, and I’ll ask you how you got to where you are right now.

Leyla:

When I was at the high school I was really into playing soccer and music, I didn't really know where I was headed but I was passionate about a lot of things and I remember being in college in Canberra at around college age and everybody was asking “Where are you headed? What’s your career going to be?” and I remember that I was unsure and anxious. I ended up taking a gap year from college before I went to university. I knew I wanted to study at university, but I didn’t know what exactly. I knew that if I went and studied something that I was not passionate about I would never be successful with it and it would cost me more stress than joy. I worked for six months then a travelled to Europe and UK on my own. I was travelling at the young age solo, that's what I decided to get a degree in International relations.

Kylie:

That's a greater level of awareness and clarity at the age of 18. Putting things in perspective at a very young age, I applaud you for that.

Leyla:

I worked in a local supermarket from the age of 15 until I graduated from the university. I learnt a lot from that experience from being an employee, how to be a manager, how to be a boss, how to multitask and how to communicate with customers and other partners. I became interested in the impact of globalization and development and that is sort of the pathway that I choose. Over the summer holidays, I went over to Kenya and that was my first time working with GVI to volunteer. I did six weeks teaching everything English, Maths and other workshops. I had a very enriching experience. But I went back and finished my degree even after I was offered a job with a GVI. But something I didn't expect in Kenya is I discovered that I love teaching. A lot of people told me I was born to teach. After my degree, I took the TESOL certification in Sydney and other certification in other areas. So after I returned to Australia I finished my degree, I had all of my certifications and I was thinking, ok what's next I’m still here working in the supermarket.

Kylie:

It is true jobs in the non-profit sector can be hard to get.

Leyla:

Right, so I had all this energy, all of this passion but nowhere to go. I applied for a lot of different positions, even for the government sector. I had a lot of theoretical knowledge but it's wasn’t enough I thought I may have an edge because of my volunteer work but 9 years in the supermarket is not quite what they were looking for.

Kylie: 

What you did is amazing because you got out there and gained experience, which enhances your applications.

Leyla:

So I decided to go and search online to find English teaching jobs abroad although I already had my mind on going back to GVI. Even though the position that they had was already filled I still tried to reach out to them, expressed my interest and surprisingly they responded the next day and gave me all the contact information of the manager. And now here I am, after a couple of weeks I got the job and I saw myself packing my things and heading to Luang Prabang.

Kylie:

How long ago was that now?

Leyla:

I started here in July 2015. My initial contract was for 6 months. It was an unpaid position but my visa, food and accommodation were taken cared off. My role was a combination of mentoring the volunteers in their lesson planning processes, I was in charge of the curriculum for a different group of students, volunteer management, temple training, teaching the volunteers different teaching techniques also Partner Liaison as well. All of which are centered in community development. Access to quality education is a challenge in Lao.

Kylie:

It is hard work.

Leyla:

It is hard work, but I knew pretty early on that this project was going to be very special to me and I wanted to get as much experience as I could with every project for multiple reasons. One reason is I wanted to develop a career that I am truly passionate about more so than anything else, and I also wanted to develop a career that will not just make me a foreigner in a different country I wanted to make a difference, I wanted to immerse myself in that culture and worked together with local community and empower them. It has been two and a half years now. After my first contract I got promoted to a Senior field position for a couple of months and then I was promoted to the Program Manager. Now I can do a little bit of everything behind the scenes, reporting, making preparations for short and long-term objectives and every day I can still go to class and continue teaching. And also meet with variety of volunteers across the world and engage with them. And now I am also married to a Local here in Lao. We got married in Australia and we also had a Mong ceremony here in his village. He now works as one of our local Community Liaisons.

Kylie:

I was just thinking to myself this is going to be an amazing podcast, we can promote it as how to find a career and a husband, tick all the boxes. *laughs… There are so many things that I can take away from you and this is just the first stage of your career and you are already flourishing. In terms of the Women's Empowerment project could you share more about that project and how it works?

Leyla:

This project is my baby, back in 2015 the Women's Empowerment program did not exist. Due to the culture in Lao, and the existing gender roles, there is a significant imbalance between female and male students even in regular schools. I noticed the gap and so together with the Country Director we decided to conduct community consultation research processes, we started with young females and women in the community from different socio-economic backgrounds and developed a proposal to have approved by GVI and then from there it started in January 2016. We had our first Women's Empowerment volunteers arrive in that same year. We started with one English class with 10 girls, and then it grew bigger, and we introduced more to the program we now have over 50 students learning not just English but also soft skills or life skills like sewing, CV writing, interview practices, computer skills. We also have a Women’s Health program with the focus on menstrual health and how to manage it. We introduced workshops within the community with coordination with the village chiefs. There is significant lack of information on menstrual health in Lao during our community research and consultation, and so we partnered with an organization called “Days for Girls” we teamed up with them and we now go out to rural areas to conduct menstrual health workshops and distribute sustainable menstrual health kits that are sewn from natural materials, and we are slowly developing now a Women’s microenterprise. We educate them on how to manufacture these kits. The aim is to develop and start businesses for the local women, teaching them the skills in sewing and producing these kits and so they can start selling these kits independently. We already have three of our local students become the first ever Lao ambassadors for our Women’s Health program, they will be certified through our online course and later become eligible to deliver and continue these women workshops and continue expanding the program. By next week we will continue reaching out to remote areas in the mountain where we will have 500 women to join the workshops with us together with training on how to develop the kits.

Kylie:

Wow! I am aware of the time but there is just one more thing I’d really love to ask you. You are making such an amazing impact on the world and at a very young age you already figured out the thing that your passionate about, which a lot of people do not get until much later on, but can you tell us a little about how you manage to continue working in a role while addressing the day to day adversaries you are facing being a volunteer in a foreign country, dealing with unique culture and their government? How do you stay positive in the face of the challenges?

Leyla:

I can honestly say that doing the volunteer work with GVI changed my own perspective. It gave me the practical experience that I needed for my CV, but it also gave me the practical experience that helped me secure and identify where my spark was. It was beneficial for me working as a volunteer as it showed me skills that I did not know I had. At first, I just wanted to gain experience for my degree, I was not thinking too far ahead back then. What I saw with GVI is enthusiasm to work with young people and see their potential, not a lot of organizations would accept someone as young as me to come out as part of small team and take on an international project, but I was so lucky that GVI invested in me and my development and it does so in all of their volunteers and all their interns, always looking different ways to impact each local community and at the same time providing skills development to all our volunteers and interns and helping us through their continuous training programs. So, with all the adversity along the way we have here in Lao, I am fortunate to find an organization that really believed in me and where I could go starting back when I was in Kenya up until where I am now.

If you’d like to follow Leyla or would like more information on GVI and the Lao Projects, please follow the below links.

Leylaisin can be followed on FB and Insta:

insta: @leylaisin

FB: https://www.facebook.com/leyla.isin.7?ref=bookmarks

Or contacted directly on luangprabang@gviworld.com

 

 

GVI can be followed:

Laos: https://www.facebook.com/GVILaosLuangPrabang/

Main: https://www.facebook.com/GVIfans/?ref=br_tf

Insta: @gvitravel

Twitter: https://twitter.com/GVIWORLD

Laos Blog

 

Offical Aus website:

https://www.gviaustralia.com.au/

 

Laos programs:

https://www.gviaustralia.com.au/volunteer-in-laos/

 

Article:
https://www.gvi.co.uk/blog/menstrual-health-in-rural-laos/