Sen Seong is an entomologist based in Gurnee, Illinois, and a recurring volunteer with ACDI/VOCA’s Farmer-to-Farmer Program, which is funded by the United States Agency for International Development. Read our Q&A with Sen below and learn more about how to volunteer with ACDI/VOCA.

Where have you volunteered with ACDI/VOCA?
I started volunteering for ACDI/VOCA in June 2017. I have done four assignments in Tajikistan. I did my last Tajikistan assignment in April 2019. I am hoping and want to do similar assignments in Eastern Europe and any other regions or countries that ACDI/VOCA has.

What is your professional and educational background?
I am an entomologist interested in integrated pest management. I have a BS in agriculture and an MS and PhD in entomology.

What motivated you to volunteer your time and expertise?
Throughout my career, I have been blessed with someone giving me a helping hand when I was in a challenging situation or in need. Without the help of these kind people, I would not be in my current status. . . . I decided that volunteering to help those people who are in need is what I should do. The type of work that the Farmer-to-Farmer Program of ACDI/VOCA does is just what I am looking for.

What impact have your volunteer assignments had on host communities?
I hope, with my interest and experience in integrated pest management, I am able to help the hosts and host communities to improve and better manage their crop production system — help them to understand how to better manage and protect the crops from pests, improve productivity, improve income, and, therefore, improve their livelihood. Also, hopefully, it will help to reduce their dependency on highly toxic chemical pesticides to protect their crops, especially against insect pests, by applying the concept of integrated pest management.

What was your favorite part of the assignment?
Interacting with people of a different culture. Learning from them and learning about their life, culture, and challenges. Helping them to better their lives, if I can.

How can volunteers make sure their assignment is successful?

  • Understand the hosts and communities that we work with. Understand their background, their environment, their challenges, their needs, and what they think they are doing well.
  • Always keep in mind that the recommendations must be practical and doable by the hosts and communities. Avoid complex and complicated theoretical concepts or ideas that they have a hard time to understand and practice.
  • Recommend small but important and meaningful practical changes that the hosts and communities can adopt without too many difficulties and financial investment — changes that they can sustain over time after we complete the assignment.
  • Make sure that they understand the pros and cons of the recommended practical crop management strategies that we introduce to them.

How has your perception of Central Asia changed through your experience?
Prior to the assignment in Tajikistan, I knew nothing about Tajikistan and the Taji people. Now, I have a better understanding that they are just like us, mainly kind people who have good values and interesting culture.

What did you gain from your volunteer experiences?
Frankly, by volunteering and doing the assignments, I gain more than I give. I have done similar volunteering assignments in Africa too. . . . The experiences make me better appreciate what I have and realize how lucky I am. . . . The problems and challenges that I have as compared to the challenges these people are facing daily are nothing. Some of these people struggle daily to put food on the table for the family and to have one reasonable meal a day. It makes me thankful for everything I have.

Interested in sharing your skills and expertise with farmers around the world? Browse our volunteer opportunities.