Going and coming

4 04 2009

This week saw changes in the occupants of my house, with one short term volunteer departing while another arrived. It seems odd to see the coming and going of the short term volunteers, they’re here for such a relatively small amount of time. I had got to know and like Vicky though, she’s a primary school headteacher from Godalming in Surrey who spent 3 months here working with local headteachers. It’s been fun and interesting sharing a house with her and hearing her take on the local schools. I think she was slightly shocked to see the reality of primary schools with 80 children in a class being taught by an untrained teacher, no water or toilet facilities and sometimes not even doors to keep the local livestock out.

The “newbie” is part of a scheme organised by the Welsh Assembly with VSO to give their employees a chance to volunteer. She’s only here for 6 weeks and is working with a local NGO which is trying to organise local volunteering. She’s taking over from the previous Welsh assembly placement person who shared our house for 6 weeks over January and February. The new arrival is a lot longer than our previous Welsh house guest and is an agricultural advisor in Wales so Fred is able to talk Agri-Geek to her.

I’m not sure what I think of short term projects, they can be successful especially if the right person is put into a well planned placement. The danger is that without the time to get a feel for the people you’re working with and for them to get an idea of your capabilities, and without time to adjust to the climate and culture the volunteer will end up either as little more than frustrated cheap labour or a sightseer. Mind you those dangers are true for long term placements too.

It’s odd too to be welcoming someone who’s excitedly experiencing all the new aspects of the role while I’m getting ready to leave, especially when she’ll actually be leaving before me. I’ve mentioned it before but one aspect of volunteering I don’t think I was ready for the the constant turnover of friends and colleagues. I’ll admit I’m getting to the point where I don’t feel I have much emotional energy left to invest in getting to know people who’ll be gone again (or I will) in just a few weeks. All the wonderful people I’ve met has been a great aspect of my time here but like a good meal you can get to the point where enough is enough, the next fine morsel may well be delicious but it’s too much effort to eat. I do have to say that “newbie” seems extremely nice and I’m glad she’s here.

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One response

17 04 2009
Nina Prichard

I can completely understand Tim’s point of view in relation to short term volunteers. It must be quite frustrating as a long term volunteer (who has taken the committed decision of dedicating two years to overseas volunteering whilst potentially sacrificing job security and a dramatic change in living conditions and social environment) to have to accommodate (and mentor to some extent) an influx of short term volunteers.

However, I would argue that the decision to undertake overseas volunteering irrespective of timescale is still one that requires serious thought, dedication and focus. In one sense, the challenge is exacerbated by the limited timescale.

Yes, it is true that there will not be enough time to properly adapt to cultural differences and become fully integrated into the local environment, whilst the expectations of work deliverables of short term volunteers need to be realistic in order to ensure that some progress can be made.

I am aware that I am fortunate to have been selected for the Wales for Africa scheme and my personal reasons for pursuing this short term placement are as follows:-

1) I want to do something that has meaning and value and I want to share my skills and expeiences to support the progress of development in Ghana.
2) I am proud that the Welsh Assembly Government has established the Wales for Africa scheme and I want to use this opportunity to gain further knowledge on developing issues and challenges so I can raise awareness and initiate debate with colleagues who are involved with policy development.
3) I want to see and experience more of the world.
4) I wanted a personal challenge.
5) I never thought I would pass the interview process (and I don’t think my line manager did either when he initially agreed to a 7 week placement away from the office!)
6) I don’t want to look back on my life and think “if only…” or “I wish I had …”. I have always had a keen interest in developing issues and I agree it is morally wrong to do nothing to try to correct it.

Funnily enough, the reasons for undertaking my short term placement closely match those of Tim’s long term placement, but can they be achieved?

Well like Tim, I will have tried and when I get back to Wales I will have an entire political arena to communicate with and hopefully influence with first hand experience.

By the way I am the ‘newbie’ and I am sure that during my time here in Ghana Tim will indeed seek out some more morsels of good food as:-
a) we soon become hungry again as part of the daily human cycle; and
b) it is always worth sampling good food even if you feel full as you may discover a new ingredient!

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