Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Change of Guard & Some truth behind volunteering (CCS)

So most of the volunteers from the last group left the house this weekend. We got fresh blood on Saturday. The vocational school closed for the holidays last week. Instead of going away for another day trip this weekend, I decided to stay low key and spend a little extra time tutoring Peter's son. The kid has potential, especially if he is interested in IT here in East Africa. We worked on binary numbers and some basic math drills.

I like town. I like meeting random new people. I end up having dinner with Dricia, her colleague and a Kili climber. It was good conversation far away from the house and I stayed out in Moshi town, late into the night.

I like the new group of volunteers a lot. I am definitely a lot more comfortable with this group, and I think its because they are a really proactive, high energy group. They want to do something. They're not here to "pretend" to volunteer time as a PR stunt. Most of them are pretty mentally tough, open minded and have a positive outlook. Plus I am finally not the only non white volunteer in the house. And Andy is not the only guy in the house. There are 3 new guys in this group. I also really like having 3 asian/indian sisters in the house. Not only do I feel more comfortable reaching out, but everyone is also looking at the 4 of us in the house for guidance.

One of the things I learned today at placement was that there are a lot of volunteers that come here without having any expectations or truly understand the challenges behind volunteer work. It's certainly not glorious, and it can be ugly and difficult. A lot of NGOs can get disillusioned because they get volunteers essentially dumped off at their organization who really expect things to be handed to them. It doesn't work this way. Local NGOs are really looking to the volunteers for initiative if there isn't any structure in place. They also may be extremely jaded because they have seen lots of people come and go, and a lot of people aren't really reliable; in fact many of them come here to have fun, and aren't really committed to contributing or trying to make a difference. Some may have the desire to make a difference but they don't have the skills or tools to do that. Others can but they face the jaded attitudes from the NGO leaders or workers that they really aren't sincere and it takes a lot of effort to prove to them that they are really here to do something effective. I think often they give up on what people can do effectively and they resort to asking for money. Or if it is indeed something they can do, they want hard evidence that something is going to work before they're willing to trust you.

Bottom line, my advice is that if you are here for only 3 weeks, you may not be taken seriously, especially if your main goal here is to squeeze in as much fun as you want. I heard that one NGO basically refused to accept a CCS volunteer when they heard that she would be here for only 3 weeks. Their impression is that that the person isn't serious about committing to their cause. Which is sad, because how many people can afford more time than 3 weeks away? The cost of everything is really high these days.

The truth of the matter is that CCS packs in a tremendous number of activities in 3 weeks and makes it almost impossible to work at your placement full time.I was really frustrated with this. I would have liked to make more of these activities optional and drop them so that I could actually do real work. Although it wasn't much time I still feel like I have contributed a significant chunk in under 16 days. I'm ready to say I'm going to leave with more than I had initially expected to accomplish, but it also required me to haul ass and spend almost all of my free time alone and often away from all the social activities up until this week. I really wanted to spend a full day every day working at my placement; I ended up spending some additional time on weekends and some afternoons working on my placement independently so that I could be effective while I was there in the mornings.

I am behind on writing my case studies, but once I get out of here I will be sure to post them and follow up with everything else.

Hakuna Matata (no worries).

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