VSO Namibia Volunteer Conference 2010

Last week nearly all VSO Namibia volunteers and staff descended en-masse to the Greiter’s conference center in the hills north of Windhoek for the 2010 Namibia VSO Conference.

The idea of the conference was to, as a group, consider various aspects of VSO Namibia not least the future strategic direction.

VSO NamVolCon 2010 Session

Timetable (in brief)

Sunday

  • Welcome

Monday

  • Introduction
  • Programme Area Reviews and Sessions
  • Introduction to Climate Change

Tuesday

  • Technical Session – Climate Change
  • Skills Building Sessions – ICT in Development / Leadership and Development
  • Technical Session – Gender
  • Gender Programming and Climate Proofing

Wednesday

  • Advocacy
  • Technical Session – Marginalised Groups
  • Volunteer Experiences

Thursday

  • Pilot Programme Planning
  • Country Context Analysis
  • Skills Building Sessions – Teamwork / Business and Enterprise Skills
  • Volunteer Experiences
  • Regional Working

Friday

  • The Volunteer Experience
  • Volunteer Engagement
  • Knowledge Management and Brokering
  • Learning and Evaluation
  • Summaries

Welcome to VSO NamVolCon 2010

The Long and the Short of It

VSO Namibia applied for and has been chosen as one of 6 pilot countries to try out a new way of working.

Following the last strategic review (called I think Focus for Change) it was decided to concentrate efforts in one of six programme areas; health, disability, HIV&AIDS, education, secure livelihoods and participation & governance (of these VSO Namibia has programmes in four – disability, HIV&AIDS, education and secure livelihoods).

The pilot is to look at moving away from this so that individual countries can focus their efforts in a way to address issues within the local context more easily. So there are some serious questions to be asked (and maybe even answered) about what the key issues are in Namibia that VSO can tackle in a meaningful way.

Of course life also has to go on so most of the first day was given over to working within our programme areas and considering how effective they are or might be made more so.

Technical Sessions

Throughout the week a number of guest speakers came to talk to us in “technical sessions” looking at different areas, mainly on Climate Change and Gender.

These were then discussed in terms of what we could do to support efforts in these areas more and if VSO Namibia should consider changing its primary focus purely to one or both of them.

Lively discussion ensued. For myself I was in the camp supporting the idea of integrating some focus on these areas into our planning but not as a primary focus, not at the cost of current programmes dealing with real hard-hitting issues on the ground right now. Of course I am famously short-termed in my thinking and given that Climate Change will probably lead to the extinction of humanity maybe we should all get aboard with a massive Ark building project or similar in the Namib.

As luck would have it an expert from VSO UK was in Windhoek at another conference and was able to run a well received advocacy workshop exploring issues and tools to help advocate on behalf of the most marginalised and/or vulnerable groups.

Skill Sharing

Hoping that the volunteer base lived up to its name of “skilled professionals” a number of skill sharing sessions were run throughout the week including one co-hosted by yours truly on ICT in Development.

Much was made of these people volunteering for a session. In my case it was more a case of seeing my name on the agenda rather than volunteering for anything.

However on Tuesday morning myself and Joel (an IT trainer) led a session. In typical ICT style we had a projector/laptop SNAFU causing much amusement within the assembled masses. Luckily part of my section was on disadvantages of ICT including it going wrong, at the worst possible time. I wish I didn’t have to prove my point so successfully though.

I was in my usual not-in-MoHSS-office attire of shorts, t-shirt and sandals when Joel appeared in a suit including a waistcoat and tie.

In the end though it went off ok with my confused and non-sensical sections (“Volunteers using and abusing ICT in their placements” and “Kunene MoHSS ICT Case Study”) glossed over by Joel’s smooth delivery and content. We even had someone introduce us and everything (thanks Joseph).

Volunteer Experiences

Another vol-led bit was the Volunteer Experiences. Eight volunteers were asked (well actually more were asked and said no but it would be impolitic to mention which ones) to present on their experiences. Unsurprisingly I wasn’t asked.

These brave souls discussed various things; what they had achieved, the challenges, amusing anecdotes etc and one even had a music-backed photo presentation.

Other Stuff

Other sessions included things like Volunteer Engagement (interesting range of scores for “how involved are we now….”) and how best to manage knowledge (always a prickly one). I say burn it. All. Who needs knowledge?

Wrap Up

As a high-powered Volunteer Regional Representative (of the VSO Namibia North-West Region: VSO population 1) I also took part in the rep-led wrapup session on the last day. In true VSO style we made people get up and present through the medium of mime etc. Surprisingly not lynched.

Also my idea we should just do the entire thing through the medium of inappropriately close dancing was also shot down in flames.

In the end it all worked out ok (I think) with the patience and skills of the other reps making up in part for me and my narcissistic personality disorder.

Social Stuff

Of course it wasn’t all work work work. It turned out I actually knew most of the volunteers there (benefits of travelling around a lot) but also met some new people.

It was great to see everyone especially good friends whose paths I don’t often cross. There are so few of us left now from the March 2009 intake and hardly any who haven’t gone slightly mad, lost a limb or are wearing an eyepatch.

Needless to say Tafel lager was drunk. Aah Tafel.

Amazingly the barstaff seemed to trust me with a tab whereas some others were told cash only (maybe this was just down to a quantity decision?) which led to some incredulity “you trust him?”.

A volunteer committee arranged entertainment including Greek Dancing (had to leave after 30 seconds and a near coronary) and a pub quiz (which, ahem, our team won) amongst other things.

In Summation

I think a good and useful time was had by all. Extra credit goes, as always, to the hard-working VSO staff (brown nose) who arranged everything and were always working late trying to pull the flipcharts with postit notes we had created into some semblance of order.

Getting useful input from that many people, especially VSO volunteers who (me included) have a tendency to wax lyrical about not very much is a skill.

If you were to ask 60 VSO volunteers to jump: 3 would ask “how high”, 10 would argue amongst themselves about the definition of “jump”, 5 would be unable to jump owing to placement-induced injuries, 25 would just start randomly jumping in different directions, 7 would take offense to being told to jump at all, 5 would be asleep at the back and the last 5 would be nowhere to be found.

So in final summary: Cross-regional synergistic working with a focus on Climate Change and blue-sky mainstreamed advocacy programming challenging Gender norms within marginalised groups.

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