Archive for November, 2008

Placement Offers

November 30, 2008

I received two placement offers from my VSO advisor on the Thursday night before my P2V course.

One was 12 months in Nairobi (the capital of Kenya) working with a deaf charity instructing in ICT and setting exams etc. Requirement to learn sign-language.

The other was 6 months (though it was stated to be flexible) in Namibia as an IT Specialist consulting on and setting up WAN/LAN systems as well as computer maintainence at a hospital in the far North of the country.

On the face of it Namibia is a much better job fit (almost ideal in fact) and although I’m willing to train in ICT I have no idea how quickly I could learn sign-language (never given my language experience to date) and to have to instruct in it!

Quick conflab with my advisor and “empowered” by discussions in the bar with fellow volunteers at P2V I put in the application (PAF) but with the proviso that I could only do a 12 month (or ideally 24) placement.

Bam. Emails from advisor – accepted for two years shortly followed by a PDF of a headed letter of acceptance from the Namibia Ministry of Health and Social Services.

Excellent. Namibia here I come.

Now just the small matters of the CRB check, medical, visa, immunisations, legal mumbo and financial pain to come.

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Preparing to Volunteer

November 30, 2008

For all prospective volunteers and accompanying partners VSO have a mandatory course called Preparing to Volunteer (P2V) which is at the VSO training centre Harborne Hall in the suburbs of Birmingham. For most people (myself included) this happens over a weekend during a Friday evening, full Sat/Sun and Monday morning.

Put simply P2V is like a nitrous-fuelled adrenalin-charged one way roller-coaster trip through the history of development, globalisation, aid, AIDS, volunteering, trade, slavery, poverty and much more besides.

Well perhaps I exadgerate ever so slightly but when I naively thought “a whole weekend??!? as a Guardian reader I will know it all already! they’re bound to just string out some lame old content to fill the time” I was soooooo very very wrong.

There were eighteen of us on the course and three trainers. I shall try not to gush but oh what a genuinely nice and interesting bunch of people they were. As always with VSO there was a massive mix of skills, backgrounds, ages, nationalities and motivations. Suffice to say on these kind of things there is usually always at least one a**e and on this course if there was it must have been me, oh, hang on, it was.

Having been “talked in” and found Harborne Hall in the pitch black (an ex-convent now gifted for the use of VSO and, I maintain, deliberately hidden and obscured, ahem) I managed to check in to my room (had to carry my own bags, no room service or en-suite – only two stars, tut).

A sumptuous dinner was spent meeting fellow P2Vers and, as would become a theme, being told and instantly forgetting their names (not on purpose!). Met up with someone from my assessment day which was great. Everyone very keen and very nice (I’ll stop repeating this now… just assume it implicitly from now on).

The Friday evening session was introductions (more names forgotten) and a schedule of the course etc. The three trainers are all returned volunteers who now work back in the UK and train for VSO now and again. Ground rules established; no physical violence etc. Reminded about “continual assessment”; no physical violence etc.

To the bar and discovery that everyone was at totally different stages of the process, some with placements already confirmed. In bed by 11.30 for an early start.

The core two days of the course consist of a series of topic based sessions on a whole range of subjects from personal issues (how will I cope, what would I do, why am I here) to global development issues (the cycle of aid, globalised trade etc).

Endlessly breaking into small groups we would discuss a topic, position post-its, order laminated cards, write on a flip-chart or even… role play. It was actually a lot of fun.

The only unpleasantness came from the long days and some of the subjects covered. The cycle of poverty, the inbalance of power between the “northern” and “southern” countries (VSO/development terms) and how that power is exploited and the HIV/AIDS pandemic being a few that certainly gave me pause for thought.

When it wasn’t raining (briefly) you could wander through the grounds with the mossy statues of the Saviour and little contemplation gardens. Apparently the summer is the time to be there with outdoor sessions and BBQs in the evening.

On Saturday night I walked up to the town with another participant and then completed and emailed my application for a position in Namibia off (my PAF form in VSO-speak). Sunday night was all about the bar and more forgetting of names.

Monday was a wrap-up and some positive stories, encouragement and a bon-voyage. There were tears (mine).

And off we scattered, to various parts of Europe initially and (hopefully) to various weird and wonderful corners of the globe.

For me this meant a long slow drive back to sunny Lowestoft with Radio 4 for company.

Highlighted Learning Point

We’re all b******ds in our comfy northern world (said eating pizza and drinking Diet Coke)

New Goal

Not to be featured as a case study for future volunteers; “Dave was barely two weeks into his placement when he was thrown in the local jail over a language misunderstanding and a farmers favourite goat”

Moral Highlight

The trainers not being drawn into giving stories of volunteers who had been “continually deselected” at these sessions. This did lead us to make up likely scenarios…

  • Having Nazi memrobilia in your room or reading a Daily Mail not for “ironic and anger management purposes” (which are the same thing)
  • Saying “Sssh love, the men are talking, two sugars, now there’s a pet”
  • Fighting during, after, or even before the trade game

Assessment Day

November 30, 2008

Having completed a series of online forms with just the usual difficulties (“now when I did leave there??” and instructions to not use abbreviations – for an IT role! – on forms with short field length limits) I was invited to Putney to attend a VSO assessment day.

Shunning the need to stay overnight in Londinium a 4am start meant I just managed to make it to the offices for nine. Luckily some others were delayed a bit and I had time to regain composure and say a few hellos to a rather pleasant and radically diverse (in terms of specialism and age etc) group.

Following an introduction we were split into two groups – an economist, a primary teacher and a secondary (maths) teacher had to suffer me in their midst.

First off was a “team task” involving a few goes at the actual task with planning/review time in between. I won’t give away any specifics but it did involve two of my most dreaded words “arts” and “crafts”. Given the total muddle these things can become it all went pretty smoothly and everyone was very gracious about my uselessness.

After some preperation for the afternoon and a buffet lunch I was cursing myself for the 4am start and wondering if sneaking off for a kip would break any of the key “volunteer competencies” when I was called in for my one-on-one interview.

As interviews go it was weirdly “nice but intense”. The interviewer was very nice and it wasn’t at all confrontational or competitive but just very in-depth, detailed and thorough. Nothing really about job specifics more personal qualities, reactions, experiences and motivations.

Deep, man, but nothing you could prepare for so that was the previous couple of nights reading up on modem technology (still widely used in the developing world) and binary maths wasted.

Following on and back in our little team came the “dilemma” which we had individually prepared for before (and for the more studious applicants – during) lunch. We had to talk as a group about our own conclusions and see if we could reach a consensus being observed the whole time.

Like the morning task this is a good way of VSO seeing how you reason personally and how touchy-feely open to opinion and debate you are. Luckily we all got on ok and even managed to reach a consensus within the time limit.

After a bit of paperwork that was it. Out the door for a little decompressive drink with a couple of fellow applicants, a few jokes about how badly we’d all no doubt done and then the long trek back to Lowestoft.

T minus 100 days and counting…

November 30, 2008

Welcome to my shiny new wordpress blog. If all goes well in just under 100 days I should be jetting to Namibia to start a 2 year placement with VSO as an IT Specialist in Opuwo. I intend to use this blog to keep interested parties (my mum and maybe a friend or two if I’m lucky) up to date with what’s happening.

The provisional arrival date from VSO is the 8th of March 2009 (so I’m guessing departure date will be the 6th-ish).

Between now and than I must cast away the baggage of my life (all my stuff) and prepare practically and emotionally for a selfless life of chastity, purity and service (hah!). In other words get rid of (at least temporarily) all my belongings to a limit of 25kg, complete a neverending amount of admin, be injected many times over and say goodbye to everyone.

In a rash attempt to quantify just how much is left to be done (lots) I’ve compiled a list of milestones (damn my project management training). These are…

  • C day – get the CRB check back (required for VSO to proceed and for the visa). It’s been over four weeks already and the net is full of horror stories involving lengthy delays and randomly being listed as a member of the Brinks Mat gang.
  • M day – get the medical completed. Simple you might think but alas my GP surgery is currently going through some sort of extended building works (another secret lair no doubt) so appointments are limited and the only one identified so far I couldn’t do.
  • X day – get a chest X-ray (required for Namibian visa) and hopefully find out that I don’t have TB.
  • I day – finish immunisations. I have started the “general” ones (some of which I had already which was good) but I now also need to get a rabies shot (nasty side effects) and some other one I can’t even pronounce.
  • T day – complete my training with VSO. I’ve done Preparing to Volunteer (P2V) and now have to do Skills for Working in Development (SKWID) as well as any other mandatory courses identified by VSO’s training team.
  • V day – get my Namibian visa issued (requires CRB, Medical and X-ray to be completed first).
  • G day – “Go Go Go” day. Commit to the first stage of giving up my life – hand notice in on the flat, tell BT to stuff it etc etc.
  • N day – Point of NO RETURN day. This is when I hand my notice in at work and try not to be too upset by their whoops of delight at my leaving. This should be some time around the 1st of February.
  • D day – Erm I’m not sure what the D in “D Day” stands for (if anything) but it’s, you know, D-Day.

In an ideal world everything would happen seamlessly and one step would follow another. Sadly the world is far from ideal and time is getting short.

Ideally I would have had the CRB back, completed the medical and been on the way to getting the visa before giving up my flat and once again giving my parents the honour of catering for my every whim whilst I save up as much cash as possible. As I want to move in early January though and get two months rent-free I’m going to have to start this (G-day) in the next week or so, probably before everything is in place.

This I can do on faith and blind optimism. After all, if it all falls through all I’ve done is give up a rented flat and maybe sold a few of my more pointless posessions.

The real quandary would come (and I hope it doesn’t) if we’re approaching N-day, the point of no return and handing in of the notice, and the visa or some other necessity is still outstanding. Would I proceed in faith and blind optimism?

Living back at home preparing to jump off on some wild adventure selfless volunteering is one thing. Living back at home as a jobless not-even-wanted-as-a-volunteer is something else.