Posts Tagged ‘VSO’

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.

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.

 

Adaptability to Diverse Tasks

January 4, 2011

One of the things VSO drum into you pre-departure is the need to be adaptable and probably deal with a very diverse range of tasks. True that.

I’ve been back from the Christmas Fiasco for a day and a half (well when you consider the first half day was enquiring about people’s holidays, regaling them with my story of woe and greeting people with increasingly elaborate handshakes I’ve been back “working” for only a day).

In that time amongst other things I have:

– Had an hour-long discussion with the Chief Health Program Administrator for Special Programmes about analysing data on ARV patient adherence and outcome rates touching on statistical meaningfulness, relative comparison, data reduction/elimination of extremes, trend prediction, types of average and deviation/variance. Of course I was just sitting beside her trying not to dribble too much and nod at the right moments but at least I was part of the discussion!

– Spent 90 minutes or so crawling around under desks after when relocating the Private Secretary’s desk someone had knocked the fax line socket which was held together only by the grace of god and some twisted cables. In the end with nothing more than a pair of scissors, a nail clipper and my falling apart backup multimeter (all good tools stranded in car) we bodged it using an old modem cable, an unused extension box, masking tape, twist-tied connections (well if they’re good enough for Telecom!) and the grace of god.

In fact while crawling around I was even able to instruct a little bit about how the telephone wiring works even showing the voltage change when ringing (and of course that the standard voltage even when not “open” is around 50V DC so worth being careful around). If we’d had an oscilloscope it would have been actual proper science like.

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…

Party in Osh

November 8, 2010

This weekend was Matt’s, erm, 21st (?) birthday in Oshakati and most of the northern VSO volunteers with a fair smattering of Peace Corps descended on the big city.

After arriving in dribs and drabs Friday night was a braii (BBQ) with people still up and around when I went off to my tent around 2 (Matt went to bed around 8.30 it’s worth noting).

On Saturday there was some leisurely shopping and lazing by the pool in the morning. Me and John then popped over with Joel to the Oshakati library to have a look at their computer problems.

Using my ace skills I diagnosed a “broken switch”. We tried power-cycling it without luck. In the end, having proved this conclusively as the cause of the fault (and rewired the network to provide internet to two terminals), John fixed it through the laying on of hands (though he actually says when he shook it he could hear the internets rattling around loose inside and just rolled them around until they were pointing the right way).

Switch fixed and a few reconfigurations on the server and all was well in the world of Oshakati library. We left triumphantly with the librarian grinning ear-to-ear and loading facebook.

For both me and John this (fixing anything) was a rare occurrence so we were in jolly spirits.

We then went to some lodge/pub and watched the rugby with England versus New Zealand. As Matt’s a Kiwi he was on the side of the enemy. The sadly victorious enemy.

Pizza saturday night (Oshakati is great) in a big group, back to Matt’s and then a final night camping in his garden.

Sunday as the last survivors we hung around annoying Matt by walking on the floors he was up and bleaching clean at 7.30am (come on man!) and generally getting in his way. Post lunch and having recollected Erwin who had abandoned us Saturday night for Ondangwa we came home. Found Emily’s homestead, dropped her off and found our way back to Outapi in the daylight without the need for the neverending drama that happened last time.

Even made it back to Opuwo in daylight. Which was nice.

Conversational Highlights

In addition to many other deep discussions on things such as the meaning of life, the essence of spirit, the definition of cognition and determination versus free will I remember discussing:

  • The Crickets. It turns out Emily is Queen of the Crickets and, we deduced, working to provide them with nuclear arms. Which other insect race we should in turn give thermonuclear weapons to as a counter-balance was hotly debated. We almost went with the cockroaches until realised they would turn against us. Butterflies are the front runner now but we are still unconvinced of their focus on the mission.
  • Stripmonks. Thanks to a misunderstanding in the car the idea of Stripmonks was born. This is genius. Some of us thought it referred to the Chipmonks after hours and others to Benedictine holy fathers grinding away. Either way a dead-cert winner and something we should work on.
  • VSO. Yes some brief passing mention was made of the massive VSO shake-up going on. Most people knew about it (from Peace Corps gossip) at least a day before the email from VSO. Opinions were pretty unanimous. Maybe more on this another time.
  • The Trees. They’re out to get us. Seriously. Be afraid. Though you don’t need to run, or even walk, just shuffle away an inch or so a day and you are probably safe.

Dilemma

I am also now in a bit of a dilemma over Christmas. A group are heading to Mozambique and Malawi for three weeks of fun and frollicks. I’d been invited on this ages ago but said no at the time and since made plans for Christmas at Swakopmund (I know, woo me).

However hearing to them making plans and talking of the wonders ahead I found my resolve and all sense failing me. Arr. Practically it would be near impossible and I know that.

But still, I am now looking at maps and thinking “well, I maybe just could…”. Decision to be made this week.

Choices, choices, choices. Sensible and known or crazy, foolish, expensive, certainly doomed mapcap adventure?

Nigeria

January 24, 2010

As you may be aware there has been some significant trouble recently in and around the city of Jos in Nigeria.

Although thankfully it seems that peace is being restored stories like this show that the cost in lives is still being counted.

This was of particular concern and interest to me as I know that some of my VSO colleagues are based in the country.

Cicely who is a VSO blogger based in the neighbouring city of Kafanchan has written a powerful and poignant post about the rioting and how it has affected her friends in Jos.

When you are in such a peaceful country as Namibia it is easy to forget that there are other countries where this cannot simply be taken for granted.

I’m sure the thoughts of the entire VSO community are with Cicely, her colleagues and her friends and wishing for a swift return to peace and normality.

For a list of some other VSO Nigeria bloggers see either the unofficial VSO Journals site or the official VSO blog directory.

A Week in the Life of an IT Specialist

January 22, 2010

VSO are currently doing a recruitment drive for IT volunteers (full details here). Although my blog is more of a useless collection of incoherent mutterings rather than anything useful I thought I would post about my working week to give any IT people out there an idea of what I do.

First off (and I know it’s a cliché but it is true) there isn’t really anything like a “normal” week and each week is usually very different from the last.

Secondly it’s worth pointing out that generally VSO recruit people to either a “IT Trainer” or “IT Specialist” role. I am an “IT Specialist” (how people laugh) and so in theory am concentrating more on the technical side rather than training but just to mix things up spend quite a bit of time training as well (as I’m sure the trainers spend time “specialising”).

Monday

As I am the only VSO IT person for, well, the entire of Namibia at the moment I sometimes get called to assist other ministries and NGOs around the place. On the Sunday I had driven down to Khorixas (about 400km south of Opuwo) to assist the Ministry of Education (the Ministry of Health were more than happy to let me go – worryingly happy to get rid of me for a few days).

The main reason for me to be at the MoE was to fix their internet connection. Their network was setup by a previous VSO volunteer and I had been to their site once before to find the problem was the Telecom engineer had come and deleted all their firewall settings.

This time their ADSL modem had blown up and (after 12 weeks) telecom had replaced it but their network was still not working.

So in no particular order on Monday I;

  • Plugged the cables in correctly that telecom (even with the aid of the excellent documentation the previous vol had put in place) had managed to mess up
  • Tested the Kerio WinRoute setup, resolved a WGA issue on their server/router/proxy PC (it was actually genuine with a sticker and all)
  • Made sure the server would now survive a reboot and all the services would start (WGA previously knackering that)
  • Went around many many clients fixing their internet settings (which the users had changed at random hoping to fix their internet link)
  • Reset numerous proxy passwords for users who had forgotten theirs
  • Reconnected a PC that had moved from one side of the office to the other
  • Created a firewall user and rule so that services on the server/proxy system (such as logmein and dyndns updates) would work without authentication (they used to in the past but don’t now, weird)
  • Created some new users for new members of staff and instructed them on how to access the internet
  • Installed the OpenDNS dynamic IP updater on the server
  • Removed various viruses from PCs and identified one that was “proper creamed” (technical term) with all sorts of nasties

Monday night two VSO friends, a Peace Corps lady and me went out for a drink at the Khorixas Rest Camp which was nice and only slightly interrupted by my friend being called back to the hospital because some inconsiderate tourist had a heart attack (all was well in the end).

Tuesday

Still in Khorixas and back at the Ministry of Education I;

  • Setup port-forwarding for RDP (to allow remote assistance as well as logmein to hopefully avoid unnecessary trips for simple jobs in future). This is actually no easy task on the Huawei router (well it’s simple once you figure out what the options are talking about). Tested this via GPRS.
  • Reinstalled a Windows machine (the “creamed” one from Monday)
  • Removed some other viruses from machines
  • Had a couple of meetings to explain what I did to fix the internet (there was a theory around that someone had broken into the server room which had caused the problems, I was able to explain it was a “cable in wrong port” issue instead) and also to see about some cabling work
  • Found the CAT5 cable, network sockets and patch cables required for additional network points. Also checked the patch panel to find the room
  • Discovered that the only person with a Krone/punch tool had gone back to China (like an idiot that was about the only tool I didn’t bring from Opuwo not knowing cabling would be required)
  • Had another meeting discussing future plans for cabling and also the outlying offices (this I knew about but ADSL is still not provisioned)
  • Visited the Teachers Resource Centre (TRC) which has an amazing computer lab to check for cabling options (all good). Fixed a couple of minor little problems there
  • Agreed I could come back soon to do the cabling
  • Wandered around ensuring the last few PCs were working properly

Then went to the hospital to see about an internet problem reported on the Health Information System (HIS) computer. Found that the phone/modem cable (RJ11) was plugged into the LAN (RJ45) socket. Fixed.

Had a discussion with the HIS nurse who I know quite well about issues they’d been having with people using the HIS computer for general internet use (tying it up and also infecting it with viruses). Password protected the PC.

Went back to the Ministry of Education as they wanted me to take a “few small items” back to Opuwo. Turned out to be 200 desktops (wooden desktops, not PC desktops) amongst other stuff which a couple of us loaded in the sweltering heat into the bakkie.

By this time it was gone 4.30pm and I decided to stay in Khorixas for the night rather than drive in the dark so back to my friends for some Tafel lager and a film.

Wednesday

After wandering around sorting myself out in the morning (and finding a scorpion under my shorts – which I chased and squashed with only a bit of shrieking) I dropped back into the hospital offices to have a look at a laptop and do a bit of software installing and anti-virus updating.

Wishing a fond farewell to Khorixas I was on the road back to Opuwo by mid-morning.

After a leisurely drive listening to Radio 4 podcasts and contesting with only a few newly created streams crossing the road (thanks rainy season) I was back in Opuwo by 2pm and back in the office (having handed back the Ministry of Education car along with the six tonnes of wood in the back) by 2.30.

While I had been away the Minister of Health and Prime Minister had been in Opuwo to support us during the ongoing measles outbreak. They were now off touring the north with most of our senior management so the office was quite quiet.

For some reason we’ve had double-NAT (ADSL NAT router to DSL/Cable NAT WiFi router to LAN) since I’ve been in Opuwo which I was happy enough to leave alone while it worked ok (I had some vague plans to setup a DMZ for remote access at a later stage) but the D-Link WiFi router has been playing up on a few occasions recently so I took the opportunity to turn it into an access point on the LAN so that if it has problems only WiFi clients are affected.

One of the staff at an NGO I help to support (Medicos del Mundo) then dropped in for some assistance with an Excel problem so I spent the remainder of the afternoon playing with IFSUMS formulas in Excel 2007 and managed to get his calculations working (a rare occurrence given my Excel skills you can be sure).

Apparently there was to be a press conference at 6pm which I was invited to but having missed all of the previous fun and feeling more than a bit knackered I went home instead.

Thursday

In the morning I had the fun job of soldering a power cable into a laptop. This is a re-repair of a job done by someone else after the laptop had been dropped. Though they had soldered the power connections in they were free to touch and had done so resulting in sparks and smoke coming out the back.

The job had been outstanding for five weeks or so whilst we hunted high and low for a soldering iron which was eventually borrowed from a Telecom engineer (thanks!). Managed to remove the old connections and solder new contacts only burning myself once in the process (a personal best).

I then returned the soldering iron. Wandering into the back of the telecom shop (where the engineers work) I found it totally deserted and ended up in the main distribution frame (MDF) room which was just open (none of BT’s paranoia here). Eventually I found a security guard who, seeing the soldering iron, said I should just feel free to get on with whatever work I needed to do as the engineers were out.

Turning him down on his kind offer to re-route the Opuwo phone system I left the soldering iron and my thanks with him.

After than I went over the Red Cross office (another NGO I sort of support) and spent a happy hour pulling LAN cables and playing with printer DHCP settings. Whilst there I also moved some RAM from a broken PC into a working one and failed to move a PCI WiFi card (the destination PC only had two types of PCI Express slots, the horror).

Thursday afternoon found me doing a little training with one of the more promising “I want to be a PC engineer” students. Previously we had covered IP addresses (with my insistence on showing him how binary worked so he understood the “dotted quad” and netmasks) and are now on to some PC/Windows repair stuff.

I spent quite a bit of time trying and failing to restore a Dell laptop which wouldn’t start (get the startup error menu; startup repair loops straight back and normal start hangs as does safe mode). According to Dell there should be a restore option in the repair options (I mean seriously put the repair windows option in a windows menu why don’t you, what could go wrong with that?). It’s not there. I think because the “windows failed startup” flag is set so only showing the repair startup options rather than the general ones. Pmpf.

Setup a new laptop with Office, AV and switched the keyboard from or to (I forget which) US layout.

Friday

Woo! Friday! The office was still quiet.

Spent the morning doing a few pottering jobs; another locale setting, more Dell research (to no avail), prodding the WiFi router a bit and trying to get CentOS 5.4 to install on a PC older than I am (and failing).

At 10am I went along to my first meeting of the week (this is unusual and only because I was away early on and then everyone else was away later on – normally I would have clocked up three to five non-IT meetings by this time) which was to be a feedback session from the national level people regarding their investigations into border crossings (and the associated disease crossings).

At 10 I was in the conference room, alone. By 10.15 other people from my office had joined me, we were all having a chat and I was catching up on the goings on. Eventually by 10.30 it was realised that nobody was coming to present (we think a miscommunication about the times) so we wandered away in dribs and drabs.

After a trip to the bank and lunch I popped down to the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture (I think that’s what it’s called anyway) to see a Peace Corps friend of mine (also IT) and exchange some software and other bits and bobs.

The rest of the afternoon was spent starting to write up my report to the Ministry of Education about what I did and what we need to do next as well as trying to help create an Access database for Condom distribution (turns out 2007 is very different from previous versions especially with table relationships – or at least so it seems to me). Ended up saying I would have to have a decent play with Access over the weekend and see what I could come up with.

Gave up and went home at about 5.30.

At home I read up on ICMP packets and played around with some code to make my network tester hopefully handle errors more gracefully. Oh the glamour and intrigue.

There You Go

So there it is – in unnecessary detail my week at work.

Maybe coming soon: why I did VSO (wanted to go somewhere hot), why you should consider VSO (don’t you want to go somewhere hot?) and a diatribe about service delivery versus capacity building and how one can in fact be the other in the IT field (what?).

In the meantime if you are an IT bod considering VSO then you might like to check out these (infinitely superior) blogs as well:

VSO Journals Growth

January 22, 2010

As you may have noticed a while back I threw together a quick-and-dirty project called VSO Journals as an attempt to have a central directory of VSO blogs indexed by country and take a feed of the latest posts.

Since then I’ve had a few contacts with VSO head office about it and they have also been working on a similar directory (though no doubt using proper coding techniques, good web design and with a planned outcome – unlike my site).

Their site (of which I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at pre-launch) is now live at: http://www.vsointernational.org/life-changing-stories/blogs.asp

They have also kindly let me take an XML feed of their directory which allows me to integrate their “master list” into VSO Journals. As a result VSO Journals now has over 180 blogs listed.

In addition you can now get an RSS feed from the site either globally or by country (thus completing the web-RSS-web-RSS circle). This allows people to see latest posts in a “feed reader” or even display them automatically on their own blogs (like I have on the right).

My hope is that one day I can take the VSO Journals site outside and end it’s suffering humanely just pointing visitors to the official VSO resource but until that day any suggestions or comments on the Journals site are much appreciated (and may even get implemented – all things are possible).