Through the ProFellow network, we were recently introduced to ProFellow Willy Oppenheim, an enterprising Rhodes Scholar who directs the non-profit organization Omprakash. Willy founded Omprakash when he recognized how expensive it was to volunteer abroad. Businesses that facilitate volunteer programs in developing countries often charge hundreds to several thousand dollars in fees for short-term opportunities. Most of these fees go directly to overhead for the third-party facilitators and are high enough to put an opportunity abroad out of reach for many aspiring volunteers. Willy wondered if there might be an alternative to these fee-based programs.
While volunteering as an English teacher at the Louisiana-Himalaya Association (LHA) in northern India in 2004, Willy spoke with several organizations that hosted volunteers. “What I found was that organizations were happy to supply free or very low cost accommodation and food to volunteers as long as volunteers could get themselves there,” said Willy. “I realized these opportunities could be much more affordable for someone seeking to spend several weeks to several months abroad if he or she could make a direct connection to an organization needing volunteers. Then, the largest expense to volunteering is just the flight.”
Thus, Omprakash was born. Omprakash not only provides a free online database of over 160 organizations in more than 30 countries seeking volunteers, they also distribute small grants to volunteers towards the costs of travel and living expenses. Since 2005, Omprakash has distributed over $150,000 in Volunteer Grants and has helped raise more than $1.6 million in funding for their non-profit Partners. The Volunteer Grant program is open to all, regardless of age or nationality.
Unlike many competitive fellowships that require you to apply months to a year in advance of travel, Omprakash Volunteer Grant applications are reviewed on a quarterly basis. If you are seeking a grant for a summer volunteer opportunity abroad, you can apply for a grant as late as May 15th.
Omprakash’s website holds hundreds of stories of volunteers doing something exceptional. Molly Ortiz and Annelise Madison, track teammates at Washington and Lee University, are currently volunteering with Ghana ACT’s education program, where they are teaching English, Math, Science and Computer Skills to students at McColin’s Primary School. You can follow Molly’s blog and other volunteer and partner stories here.
Willy is directing Omprakash virtually from England with a global leadership team bound by a common vision: positive social change must begin with human relationships. We share Omprkash’s vision and look forward to partnering with Omprakash to help more people find funding for educational and service opportunities abroad.
If you are an aspiring or current fellowship recipient seeking a host organization abroad, check out Omprakash’s database of organizations and volunteer opportunities. Likewise, if you are part of an organization seeking volunteers, sign up to become an Omprakash Partner.
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Our step-by-step guide for a competitive fellowship application
1. Create a plan
2. Project proposal ideas
3. Talk to current / former fellows
4. Prepare an effective resumé
5. Find a host institution
6. Write a compelling personal statement
7. Prepare a strong project proposal
8. Get great recommendation letters (P1)
9. Get great recommendation letters (P2)
10. Nail the individual and group interviews