Archive for the ‘VSO’ Category

VSO Just Got More *A*W*E*S*O*M*E*

June 9, 2011

Breaking news from the world of international development: Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) is forming a strategic partnership with the Peace Corps (PC), announced by President Obama and David Cameron during Obama’s recent visit to the UK.

Peace Corps for those who don’t know is a US Government agency that also does international volunteering.

So what might this mean for VSO?

Simple; we may become a damn sight more *A*W*E*S*O*M*E*.

VSO was actually the inspiration for JFK to form Peace Corps, sending plucky young folk around the world to far-flung inhospitable lands to fight the good fight against poverty and all that stuff.

There are of course some major differences between VSO and PC which I will now attempt to summarise.

Organisation

Peace Corps is actually a branch of the US Government whereas VSO is an NGO (albeit largely funded from various governments such as the UK, Dutch and Canadian).

This explains why Obama made the announcement but it remains unclear how Cameron was on the bandwagon (but since he’s being very good about overseas development at the moment I will let him off).

The difference can easily be seen in flags and pictures. The PC office is adorned with flags (USA, Peace Corps, Nam…) and pictures of the president and various government officials (all carefully ordered in terms of prominence). VSO has a sign.

(I speak from experience – the other week I managed to get past the layers of security and right into the belly of the beast i.e. Peace Corps Namibia office. I was there man. I have seen the endless flaggage and pictures. Huuh-rah!)

Volunteers

PCVs are all American and often quite proud of it. Nowadays VSOs are quite diverse and come from all over the world (a big VSO focus is south-south volunteering, volunteers from a developing country to a developing country).

PCVs are generally younger (though not always, but the median age is mid-twenties for sure). The typical PCV is a year or two from university (or college to use the US term). The typical VSO is older, until our Youth for Development programme volunteers were usually at the very least 25 to have the experience. The mean age remains mid-40s for VSO.

A lot of VSO volunteers are older, often retired and looking to travel and do interesting things. VSO like older volunteers because they tend to be more stable and less drunk. And have lots of work experience of course.

PCVs are sometimes disgustingly keen and genuine. Some are so genuine and caring it can make my heart bleed out of my bottom. Often they want to be in a hut in the middle of nowhere without running water which is the opposite of VSOs who often want to be anywhere but a hut in the middle of nowhere and demand running hot water as a minimum.

VSOs are often more jaded and in some cases (speaking personally of course) travelling as a result of some deep personality defect and the need to get away from a life of drudgery.

A Peace Corps friend summarised it thus; “Peace Corps volunteers are usually running towards something whereas VSO volunteers are often running away from something”. True that.

Of course the Peace Corps are brave (or stupid – a fine line). At that age I wouldn’t have had the cohunes to do VSO let alone Peace Corps where the chances of being stuck in the middle of nowhere are very high (and they don’t know even where they’re going or what they’ll be doing).

Money

When in-country the Peace Corps are usually poorer than VSO. Not only do they get less (on average a PCV gets half what a VSO gets in Namibia) but of course being younger recent graduates in most cases they don’t have any money back home to bring over.

But before you feel sorry for them remember they have a very generous resettlement bonus, many thousands of these American dollars. When you consider the cash they get on return the PCV package is actually better than the VSO deal.

That doesn’t stop VSOs from lording it over PCVs when in-country though; “oh yes another Strawberry Dachary for me and, yes, a tap water for my PCV colleague”.

Rules

Peace Corps have a massive rulebook. Seriously. In print form it would be enough to beat an elephant to death with if you could even lift it.

Every time another one of them dies in an impressively foolish display of drunken abandon another few pages of rules are added.

PCVs are not allowed to drive, travel away from their site without letting PC know, travel away from their site for more than two weekends a month, travel internationally without specific approval in triplicate or a whole bunch of other things.

That is not to say VSO don’t have a rulebook. We have a “Terms and Conditions” package and various things we sign, but you would struggle to beat a mouse [edit 10/06/2011 *1] to death with it. You can however often hear conversations similar to this in the VSO office: “What do you mean no? Where in the rules does it say I cannot insist on being referred to as ‘the Great White God of Kamanjab’?… Oh, page 4, I see, thanks.”

Work

PCVs work for the Peace Corps. They are paid from US Government coffers and cost their ‘host organisations’ nothing other than housing.

VSOs work for their ’employer’ (a VSO partner organisation). Usually (unless on some specifically-funded project) they are paid by the employer.

As a VSO you work for this organisation and are viewed as any other employee. You agree day-to-day (even month-to-month and year-to-year) things with your line manager and things like holiday, overtime, TOIL and working conditions are between you and them. VSO are rarely involved apart from regular reviews to make sure you’re still alive and all is going well or if things go very badly wrong.

To get leave approval a PCV must gain the permission of their ‘supervisor’ at their host organisation and then also from Peace Corps (who they actually work for). VSOs will (usually and if they remember) tell VSO when they’re on leave and where they’re going but the permission bit is from the employer (unless you go internationally in which case you need VSO permission to check you are still covered by their medical insurance and so on).

Training

PCVs get two months of up-front training when they first arrive in-country. This compares to VSO (Namibia anyway) at four days.

Prior to departure though prospective VSO volunteers must do two courses on ‘Preparing to Volunteer’ and ‘Skills for Working in Development’. There’s also a lot of stuff available online including language courses if this will be required for your placement.

PCVs get none of this, they only meet up the night before they fly and then it’s off to wherever. They also only get their vaccinations when they arrive which can make for some interesting first few days in-country. In their training they are made to sing lots of songs such as the US and Namibian anthems every day. I can’t imagine VSO doing this or the look of horror on faces were it even to be suggested.

VSOs look at PCVs language skills with envy. PCVs look at VSOs lack of two months of indoctrination and just getting on with it with envy. The grass is always greener.

Getting Along

Of course being fellow international volunteers VSOs and PCVs have always interacted and partied down together.

Personally I’ve had (and continue to have) some very good PCV friends. Right now in Opuwo the rest of the VSO contingent is Dutch and I don’t care how friendly they appear to be what with their smiles, nice words and invitations – I know they are secretly drawing their plans against me whereas I think (hope) the PCVs are more benign.

The Future

So what will the future hold? Will VSOs start spending months singing songs before leaving to their placements? Will they start tearing up at the US national anthem as some PCVs do (seriously)?

Will VSOs start ‘wooing’ at random intervals? Take pictures of themselves jumping up and down? Become more loving of freedom? Talk about ‘merica with tears in their eyes? Become more *A*W*E*S*O*M*E*?

Probably not but time will tell.

Woo!

P.S. Please note there are some actual important differences between how VSO and PC work, their aims and how/where they send their volunteers. Those are outside the scope of this post as they are dangerously close to serious considerations.

Footnote *1: This section originally stated you would struggle to beat to death a housefly with the VSO T&Cs. It has been pointed out that only I would struggle due to natural weakness but others would find it easy. Therefore after extensive experiements in which many animals were harmed it has been settled you would stuggle to beat to death a mouse (though this is not impossible).

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Two Years in the Nam

May 8, 2011

Tuesday the 8th of March marked my second Namiversary, the completion of my two year service with VSO and if I hadn’t extended my date for packing up and going home.

Of the group I arrived with a lifetime ago in March 2009 very few are left. Two of my good friends are now finished at work and have flights booked for a glorious return to the homeland in time for the Royal Wedding* (gawd bless ‘em).

It’s freaky to think that if I hadn’t made the move to put off a return to the world for another six months it would be me packing, disposing of empty beer bottles, deciding what to do with the cat and my Himba wives. All with the added pressure of not knowing what I would be returning to or what I would do next. Luckily though I’ve postponed that. Phew.

So; two years. Long time. Have I achieved my goals of becoming a more balanced, caring, compassionate and soulful individual? How about finding new meaning and spiritual redemption through manual labours and living in the developing world?

No. None of that.

How about doing good works ™ and helping the orphans achieve advocacy for their climate-gender-change programmes?

Not so much.

I have collected a nice range of oozing wounds and various styles of scabs from the numerous bites, scratches and presumed egg-laying sites on my body.

I have, selfishly, had a jolly good time. Serious. This Namibia lark is a good crack.

In between I’ve managed to train a few people on computer-whatsits, install some cables (give facebook to the masses in other words), procure some new kit, offer pointless and usually incorrect advice on finance or statistics and almost kill a Himba woman through the power of dance.

I’ve also lost a large part of what little English ability I ever had, have lower hygiene standards than ever and if certain people are to be believed (which they’re not) lost most of my social filter as a benefit of nobody here ever understanding a word I’m saying (of course others would say my social filter was faulty to begin with – they can go and **** ****** **** with a ***** and a rusty *****).

This blog post was going to be a introspective analysis of my time to date or something. You know, deep like all those other posts I keep meaning to write. I seem to have failed. Again. La-de-dah.

As always I plead the Larium.

* Whoops – post written a while ago and for some reason not posted. So there you go.

Last One to Leave Please Turn Out the Lights

May 2, 2011

Well it’s official now, following a few in-country reshuffles and a recent global strategic review VSO are pulling out of running away from retreating from exiting Namibia. We’ve (vols) known for a little while but asked to keep it to ourselves while our in-country partners were informed and everything sorted out.

This will be no Saigon moment and involve winding down over the next 12 to 24 months rather than a mass rush to helicopters on the roof of the VSO office (well so VSO staff tell us anyway).

So why, after nearly 20 years in country are we leaving Namibia to fend for itself without the massive subsidy of the drinks industry (if nothing else) that VSO volunteers provide throughout the country?

VSO internationally want to concentrate on “fragile states” which by any stretch of the imagination Namibia can’t really be considered. They have a strong government, solid infrastructure and as a final nail in the coffin are now classed as a “middle income state”.

This “middle income” status has probably come as a bit of a curse for Namibia as although it does show clearly the achievements made post-independence it is also just a single indicator (and a much too broad one at that) and has directly led to a large number of NGOs and development organisations upping sticks and disappearing to more impoverished parts of the globe.

So what does this mean? Mission Accomplished? Can our Country Director stand up in front of the press and say “Ladies and Gentlemen, we got ’em!” (meaning we got the orphans, out of poverty)?

No.

What the “middle income” status clearly fails to recognise is the vast inequality that exists in Namibia, in fact making it (by another measure, the Gini coefficient) the most inequitable country in the world.

Namibia does have resources, it has a strong and growing economy and it has a growing middle-class of affluent government employees and businesspeople. But it also has a large number of people living on or below the poverty line, often subsistence farmers or casual labourers struggling to feed their families in the face of pressure through climate problems (recent flooding shows how vulnerable Namibia is to unforeseen natural events) or economic migration.

That is not to say that the future for most Namibians is not brighter than for their parents and the chances for their children in turn are not higher than ever; they are.

Before continuing I should make clear I can only offer a jaundiced, one-sided and totally biased view of the situation having only ever worked with VSO or in development in Namibia (and of course had a grand old time doing so).

While I can understand in many respects more traditional “aid agencies” moving elsewhere to work where there are starving masses or large numbers of refugees I can’t quite see how VSO should also follow this model.

VSO aren’t an “aid agency”, one of their USPs (“unique selling points” – see my retail experience here) is that they work to “build capacity” rather than “deliver services” (obviously I may be a few years out of date or perhaps misunderstood it all in the first place).

In real terms this means that they don’t send teachers to schools (as say Peace Corps do now and VSO used to do in decades past) but rather we would send “advisory teachers” to work over a district or region with all the teachers of a subject or “management advisors” to work with head-teachers in multiple schools and improve their skills in school management.

Naturally the lines blur and sometimes you do the job, especially where it builds capacity rather than training someone to do it for you. In my role this would include putting in network links and cabling, I did it myself with able assistance, doing some training but mainly concentrating on getting the job done. This I was happy to do as in many respects it’s a “one off” job and also builds organisational capacity.

This brings us back to the idea of fragile states. I am able to do my job and able to successfully cover a wide area (Kunene Region is larger than England) for the simple reason that resources are available.

When I need equipment I can order it (braving the somewhat convoluted procurement process but ultimately there is money there). When I need to go 300 miles to another hospital I can because there are vehicles available, money to pay for fuel, and good roads to get there on.

I know of other IT people, sent to more fragile states that spend a lot more time than I ever have sitting on their hands, waiting for a meagre budget allocation or simply unable to get to where their skills can be used for lack of transport.

I’m such most VSO IT people have cobbled together solutions using paperclips or staples but I do it for expediency rather than complete necessity and when a paperclip just can’t cut it the actual proper cable can be acquired and delivered to my office for installation.

When I have a problem I can usually actually fix it not because of any skills on my part (god knows they’re lacking) but because I can easily access google on the office broadband or via decent GRPS coverage through my phone. Likewise I can download drivers for fresh installations and updates for anti-virus software which absolutely makes the world of difference between something almost working and actually working.

If VSO want to have an impact at a “higher level”, if they want to impact wide areas and large numbers, then surely it’s a requirement for good systems, resources and stability?

Sadly then I’m forced to conclude (in my blinkered and no doubt naive way) that VSO are making a mistake by exiting Namibia.

We’ve been here almost 20 years, have good visibility in the country and some excellent relationships with partner organisations.

It could be said this may be a reason in itself to leave. If after 20 years we’re still needed here then what have we accomplished?

The truth is though that VSOs work in Namibia has changed throughout the time, moving more from teachers to advisors from service delivery to capacity building as has VSO globally.

If we are still doing the dreaded service delivery then that’s not the fault of Namibia and the placement process could just as easily be to blame.

Myself in the last two years have seen a change in focus, comparing my placement description against one I helped to create recently for a placement in Opuwo you can see a marked shift in level of detail, focus on the strategic and level of consideration given to questions like “is this going to be an effective placement” and “if so, how effective”.

These changes are all for the good but if anything reflect previous shortcomings in some parts of the VSO processes not in Namibian partner organisations most of whom will gladly take a volunteer to do a job such is their need for support and professional assistance.

Namibia is a great country, only 20 years independent and suffering from the same post-apartheid legacy of inequitable distribution of land and resources and other states such as South Africa but coping with it well and making real progress. The “middle income status” should be celebrated as a sign of how far things have come but for massive numbers of people there is still a long way to go.

If we did stay in Namibia I could see a world of possibilities for working at all levels, including the strategic, and using our resources to help further develop a country with great potential and opportunity.

Unfortunately the decision has been made.

VSO will continue to bring in volunteers to Namibia but as we work towards exiting and I hope the impact of VSO volunteers (excluding me of course, all I’ve done is break stuff) will be a long-lasting legacy.

Mission accomplished? No. Mission fairly successful? Yes, I believe so.

So all that’s left to say is; will the last one to leave please turn out the lights?

Grovelling pre-emptive note: I am sure that VSO internationally are making such decisions for all the right reasons and are able, unlike me, to see the big picture and know, unlike me, what the best use of VSO resources are. In summary I’m an idiot and you probably shouldn’t be listening to my opinion at all.

Timely example of inequality: This morning I started writing this at the Opuwo Country Hotel sipping N$20 (about 2 pound) Apple Tizers before remembering the news embargo and emailing our Country Director to find out if the news was public. Having heard back that is was I’ve just been interrupted at home by two small children dressed almost in rags begging for empty bottles. One day, two Namibias.

New Strategy, New Brand

May 1, 2011

VSO International have recently released a new strategy and a new brand including a new logo.

It’s out with:

And in with:

A kind of dynamic ribbon (well it would be a dynamic ribbon if that wasn’t the Coca-Cola trademark description of their logo).

VSO are going through a “soft launch” of the new brand. Word on the street (well gossip in Nam) is this is linked to austerity Britain and didn’t want to look like a massive expensive PR excercise at a time when we’re having to let go some of the in-office massage assistants and comfort goats owing to cost savings.

In fact I think the new logo is excellent value with the exercise costing well under £12 million*.

The new VSO strategy is called “People First”. This replaces our old strategy of “People Third” (Money, then Bling and then People).

The money/bling/people strategy came out of the disasterous misadventure when VSO went into West-coast rapping before being driven out in a bloody feud with Dr. Dre’s aunt.

I was pimpin’ one day in ma SLK,
and I thought “hey we should do development in a different way”

Lyric from “Develop My 9mm At’cha”, VSO Records 2006

As part of this we’re also trying to find a new “strapline” to replace “Sharing Skills, Changing Lives” (though that is still one of the contenders). From what I remember of the online survey options include:

  • Beyond Aid (though as has been pointed out, mentioning no names, it does sound a bit like “Beyond Help”)
  • Doing Development Differently

My suggestions included:

  • What the hell is going on?
  • Who are you and where am I?
  • Developing the Beer Industry Worldwide
  • Send Help!

But as usual nobody listened.

Anyhow the strategy is full of good stuff and the logo is all swishy and purple so it’s all good.

* Note: Of course I know nothing about the costs or anything of the re-brand. Word round the back of the VSO office is that the chances are we blagged one of our strategic partners to do it on the cheap or perhaps used one of our overseas sweatshops.

We Need a Bigger Boat

April 1, 2011

Road Near Oshakati (source: namibian.com.na)

In response to the literally single email I have received asking about my wellbeing as Namibia declares a state of emergency because of flooding: I’m fine thanks.

The heaviest rainy season in 15 years has caused severe flooding throughout much of the north of the country with rivers bursting their banks, roads washed away and many villages and homesteads cut off.

The Government has declared a state of emergency and is mobilising to help those affected. From our point-of-view in the Kunene Region the Kunene River has burst its banks along large stretches and we face the ever-present risk of another Cholera outbreak.

Peace Corps have evacuated a number of their volunteers from placements and VSO are thinking about putting their disaster plan (plan GLGB *) into action.

More information:

I myself managed to get stuck in a river in the capital Windhoek after someone had helpfully removed all the road closed signs but am pretty insulated from the worst of it being in Opuwo which is a long way from any rivers.

With the rains predicted to continue now into May it’s likely to get a lot worse before things start to get better.

This does somewhat vindicate that vol who went mad and was last seen building an Ark in the hills near Angola. Doesn’t excuse the eating of their own feces though.

* Plan GLGB:

GLGB is, or rather was, the official VSO disaster response plan. It stands for “Good Luck, God Bless” and is famously the last phrase usually said to volunteers by VSO staff as they’re evacuated by helicopter from the floods/fires/civil wars kicking wildly at the hands of volunteers clinging desperately to the landing skids.

This has evolved over the years from “Don’t let them take you alive!” and “Wait until you see the whites of their eyes!“.

Technically following a diversity review the phrase is now “Good Luck, God Bless if you believe in such things, or Deity bless, or Deities bless, or not, or Richard Dawkins bless or indeed no blessings, whatever” but that’s a bit of a mouthful.

 

Whoopdie Do!

December 16, 2010

A few months after getting the ball rolling and following a site visit from VSO and my extension (from ending mid-March to end of September 2011) has been finalised. Happy Days.

We had a big long meeting with the Ministry of Health about VSO generally and then me and my placement specifically. I was able to say how excellent the Kunene Team are (entirely honestly) and they that they didn’t mind me hanging around too much (substantial bribes needed).

Not only was it good to get that sorted out and meet up with my wonderful VSO programme team but we also had meetings with the Regional Council/RACOC and IRDNC. It was interesting to see the “other side” of VSO – the discussions with potential partners and the process of developing programmes.

I was even asked to take part and explain the idea of volunteer assessment and selection (to go with a bit entitled “volunteer quality”). I did try to make clear that I only made it through by mistake and most vols are much more personable and skilled than me.

So I think it’s just the medical to get through and as nothing much has fallen off since I arrived let’s hope we’re good (also it’ll probably be the same doctor who passed me fit [ha!] for Fish River Canyon).

Now just to finish paying the complex series of bribes and “tributes” needed to get the Ministry team to play ball on the extension…

All Change – All The Time

November 9, 2010

Briefly, and mainly just to get a certain someone’s name into a post who asked on Facebook, I want to mention the ever-changing nature of people you work and socialise with in development.

Owing to the nature of the positions themselves (mainly fixed term contracts, far from home and sometimes in very adverse working conditions) there is always a fair turnover of volunteers and owing to recent big changes at VSO Namibia the continuous trickle away may not be replaced.

When I arrived in the Kunene Region there were 10 VSO volunteers (2 in Outjo, 4 in Khorixas and 4 in Opuwo). Within six months we were down to 5, six months after that 4 and then 3. Opuwo went from 4 to 1 (me).

Of my cohort of March 2009 arrivals barely a handful remain the rest having gone home, gone mad or simply disappeared (presumed gone home or dead).

So a brief list of my good friends who have departed Namibia for distant (usually colder) shores. Apologies if you’re not in this list but it either means I am absent minded or I hate you.

In no particular order then…

From Opuwo: Penny, Harrison and Leslie

From Elsewhere: Anne, Andy, Siew Wee, Mark, Alice, Scott *, Rashmi and Margaret

Gone and completely but not forgotten.

* who’s name appearing in blogprint is the only reason for this post

Of course before this turns into too much of a sobfest remember that the Larium gives me friends right in my own head to talk to, Mr Cat is my friend and we even have a new VSO in Opuwo now.

Update

And of course I definitely didn’t forget: Jo, Alan, Cameron and Eilidh.

Not at all. Oh no.

VSO Namibia Volunteer Conference 2010

September 22, 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.

A Conferencing I Will Go

September 9, 2010

Tomorrow I’m off down to Windhoek to the VSO Namibia Volunteer Conference.

This will be an opportunity for all us volunteers to meet up along with all VSO country staff and some big cheeses from UK HQ.

It’s a full week of discussions about the strategic direction of VSO in Namibia and a whole load of other topics about volunteering in the local context and our specific program areas.

In addition to the serious highbrow discussion there may be, I dare to suggest, a modicum of socialising and rampant partying.

The highlight of the week for nobody will be on Tuesday when I (and an equally press-ganged IT vol I’ve never met) run a session on ICT in Development. Fiddlesticks.

I was thinking of talking about how IT nerds here are slightly less derided, abused and socially shunned because they aren’t as prevalent and everyone wants their Spider Solitaire to run smoothly. We’ll probably have to come up with something boring though about the potential positive impact of ICT. Or something. Perhaps I’ll just do the Monkey Dance.

My only real objective for the week (well apart from finding out all about what’s going on with VSO and maybe trying to make a few inputs that sound slightly coherent and vaguely clever at least until anyone analyses them) is to not get sent home for any highly inappropriate japery.

I would live blog the event (spew endless blog posts about who has said what, who has cried, who has been sent home and who drank the last Tafel) but I probably am too slack and internet coverage may be dodgy.

It should be a good crack though with nearly all of my intake who are left in the country (scant few of us now though), all my other VSO friends and an opportunity to meet more volunteers from far-flung corners and exchange horrific stories. And also maybe I’ll finally learn about some of this development stuff people keep talking about whilst I’ve just got my head stuck inside a computer case (though in the end it was fine as butter and a donkey-harness managed to get my head out).

High Ho to the Conference….

Blog Neglect

September 2, 2010

As one of my two semi-regular readers might have noticed I have been neglecting my blog of late. I reached the epic 100th post milestone with a post about the joys of urinating on ice in February, posted once in March and have been silent ever since.

Various other VSO bloggers have talked about the fact that to them life becomes more normal after a time and so they have less bizzare or seemingly unusual stuff to write about. Not in my case; life continues to be a bizzare mix of the seemingly unusual as I lurch from disaster to cultural misunderstanding, back briefly to disaster and then onwards to failure.

My lack of posts is probably due to one or more of the following potential reasons:

  1. I’m just too busy being generally awesome, saving orphans and puppies, solving the poverty problems of the world and addressing inequality in my spare time.
  2. I have been too caught up in various sagas such as the saga of the keys (see below).
  3. My spare time has been filled developing further features nobody wants or uses in my range of cackware FOSS.
  4. I was actually kidnapped by the Angolans and forced to escape with only a spoon and a loin cloth. Lived wild in da bush for several months surviving on my wits, bushman skills and takeaway from the Opuwo coffee shop.
  5. General slackness.

Hint: It’s not 1. Or really 2, 3 or 4.

What Has Actually Been Going On

Ok well some stuff that has actually happened is…

  1. The Great Network Project ™ Phases IV and V completed – yeah and verily. Basically all the offices in our regional office slated for network access now have it, we also have a link to our head office and new computers for our finance and HR people to run their applications without having to travel to Windhoek one week in two (good news for efficiency and our budget; bad news for their per-diems and the guesthouse business in Windhoek). We also have a proper half-height rack, a fibre link to our district office, a proper server, some proper switches and all that good stuff (probably deserves a post in its own right if I don’t fall back into blog-apathy).
  2. Some new VSO volunteers arrived in-country. I happened to be in Windhoek the week they came so gatecrashed their welcome lunch and as many meals out as possible. Meeting new volunteers is great as not only are they all clean, shiny and keen but also think (for two minutes at least) that you’re interesting with your hardcore knowledge of the country (hah). So I filled their heads with half-truths and outright lies.
  3. In an election worthy of North Korea I won the much sought after position of VSO Regional Representative. It was a landslide victory and I would like to thank my electoral team for their support as well as the electorate for their loyalty. It hasn’t changed me much, I just now wish to be called “Blessed Leader” or “Sainta Davida”. Between you and me though I think the fact I am the only person in the VSO North-West (Opuwo) region might have had something to do with it. Nonetheless I attended the Regional Reps meeting in Windhoek and only made one highly inappropriate “joke” (that I can remember). It was probably bad enough to get me sent home but luckily, and amazingly, people laughed rather than shouted.
  4. Various other stuff such as trainings, computer repairs, travelling, holidays, meetings and all that good stuff.

Additionally a few months ago we received a reminder from VSO to make sure we state that these are our views and not necessarily those of VSO on our blogs. Whenever we get the reminder I always (perhaps wrongly) assume some poor demented malaria-prophylaxis-crazed heat-stroked VSO volunteer out there has vented their spleen online.

So – just to reiterate: The views expressed are my own and not necessarily those of VSO.

For example; I don’t think we should drown all kittens at birth or torture monkeys for fun on a Friday afternoon. It’s not a religious objection or anything – just ethical.

In fact I go further in my full disclaimer in which I explain that these views might not even be my own let alone those of VSO or the MoHSS.  Assume it’s all a work of fiction (in other words lies). You can see my brief disclaimer at the top right of the main page or in full on its very own page.

The Saga of the Keys

So then, as promised, for those still awake who have made it this far the saga of the keys.

Background: We have a digital video conferencing (DVC) room which has burglar bars on it and hence has been chosen as the main point for any network equipment to go into. A while ago we lost the padlock (seriously) and we only had one key to the main door.

Until recently this didn’t really matter as the “networking equipment” in the room consisted of an ADSL modem/router, a wireless access point, a switch and (recently) an unimportant little Linux desktop acting as a backup DNS server. I only needed to go in maybe once every couple of weeks and even then it didn’t matter if I couldn’t get in straight away.

Developments: Because this room had been chosen as the site for our new shiny network equipment and server I decided that we should (a) replace the padlock and secure the room better and (b) get some more copies of the keys so enough people held them immediate access could be gained. Luckily I had a spare padlock and was also able to get more door keys cut in Otjiwarongo.

Cabling: So… Some cabling contractors turn up who are to put in a fibre-optic link down the length of the hospital and some additional local network points. To do this they need access to the DVC room. For the first couple of days they were there I simply opened up and locked up for them (advantage of living close by) but then I had to go to Windhoek so, foolishly in hindsight, gave them my keys.

To be fair they also had numerous other keys for offices and blocks in the hospital so were to give all the keys back to someone (they had a few contact numbers) and all would be well.

My Return: When I returned from Windhoek I tried to locate my keys to no immediate avail. This didn’t worry me too much as a couple of the nominated key holders were not around. I messaged the cabling guys who assured me they had handed my keys over.

Saga: Over the next few days the saga unfolded as follows…

Cabling guy (CG) said he had given my keys to A. A said she had given them to R. R had received keys from A, just not mine. CG now said he had given them to M. M denied all knowledge.

At this point CG told me he had given them to “that girl”. On further questioning this turned into “you know, that girl”. Sadly no, I did not know “that girl”. I could understand if there was one particular girl maybe standing around juggling tiger cubs or breathing fire, you know, that girl. But no.

So I started randomly canvassing around the hospital. R said she had heard that R2 had received some keys but R2 was now on holiday. CR said that he thought R2 had given the keys to Sr. M.

Sr. M did indeed get keys from R2. Many keys. But not mine.

(This is a much condensed version – by now several days had gone by).

Disaster: Then the next installment of IT people, this time consultants for the MoHSS and a couple of MoHSS head office IT people turned up to install the server, some new computers and commission the network link. The link inside the DVC room.

As I still didn’t have my keys I went to see the other DVC key holder. It turned out the day before she had lent her keys to another lady in the office who had taken the home and was now on leave “back in the village”. With no cellphone coverage. Or indeed any clear idea about which village she was in.

So with our guests standing around looking at a locked gate shielding a locked door I began yet another quest for my keys, this time with more urgency.

R2 had now returned from holiday (woo hoo) and confirmed she had been given keys by CG (woo double hoo) just not mine (boo hoo).

Then as I was standing around talking to R2, R and C about this a passing nurse butted in “are you looking for keys?”. “Yes, yes I am”.

And she produced my keys from a pocket. She was, you know, that girl.

Apparently on night duty some days before some guy (CG we presume) had insisted she take the set of keys.

Success: So I was now able to return to the office and open up the DVC room providing access after only about an hours delay (so pretty good by normal Opuwo standards).

Of course it then turned out some of the cabling hadn’t been done to where they wanted and some more that had, it seemed, been agreed to be done already by the Regional IT Advisor (some cowboy) also hadn’t been done (ahem) so a crazy 48 hour wall drilling and cabling fest then took place.

Blog Apathy No More…

So I will now try and overcome my natural apathy, award-winning slackness and general uselessness and post more often. Seriously recently I have been doing all sorts of fun stuff including playing with One-Laptop-Per-Childs, driving through swamps, making Linux based wireless access points and I have even found a coffee club in the regional office that have taken pity on me and let me join.