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Diary of a Volunteer

About VSO

     Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) sends
   skilled and experienced volunteers
  to work with communities
  in the developing world,
   and campaigns in Britain to
    change attitudes towards the South

For further information about VSO visit their website...
Links to Voluntary Organisations Links to Development Organisations VSO website

Quotes from VSO

What is it like to be a volunteer?

The VSO volunteer handbook tries to give the prospective volunteer an indication as to what volunteering will be like. It tries to give the volunteer a flavour of the highs and lows that will face a volunteer in-country. There are compulsory (and non-compulsory) weekend training courses that attempt to do the same (Preparing for Change, for instance).

As much as you hear the words of VSO and the return volunteers - 'it was a rewarding experience, but it had its difficulties...' - they don't sink in properly until you actually have the experience yourself (and sometimes return volunteers can be guilty of glossing over any negative experiences they have had).

This section, therefore, is about correlating VSO's cautionary words with some of the challenging times I experienced. It is not about ridiculing these words; it is more about explaining (as best I can) what these words really mean.

Again, it is still someone else's experience and you may still not be able to make a connection, but at least I can explain how a straightforward situation actually affected me. No one can expect to live for two years without experiencing difficulties, wherever you live - but there are difficulties and difficulties.

Again, this are my experiences, and they affected me because of who I am. They may not affect you at all, but then something else might instead. It can take you by surprise.

A real benefit of volunteering, I feel, is this process of self-rediscovery.

So, watch this space!


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Quote From VSO: Accommodation

5.11 Accommodation (p 65 of VSO Handbook 1997/8)

"We ask employers to provide 'simple accommodation with hard furnishings in which the volunteer will have their own bedroom.' When they are unable to do so VSO will. In practice volunteer accommodation will range from one mud-floored, windowless room built of local materials with access to a stream or latrine, to a luxury air-conditioned house. What you get is very much the luck of the draw...

You should be provided with basic hard furnishings: a bed and mattress, a table and chairs, storage space and basic kitchen equipment. Often little more..."


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Quote From VSO: Behaviour, appearance and dress

5.5.1 Behaviour (p 58 of VSO Handbook 1997/8)

"No one can tell you how to behave in a new culture. Different approaches work well for different people. It is a matter for developing sensitivity towards the people around you and working to achieve an acceptable balance between the demands made on your own behaviour and the dictates of your own personality and cultural background...

The written information about your placement will contain guidance about local values and customs. You should think seriously about any implications this may have for your preferred way of life and decide whether they are acceptable before agreeing to take up a placement...

You are likely to be the object of intense scrutiny and your actions and behaviour will be interpreted according to local norms. What you are thought to have done can be far more important than what you have actually done..."


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Quote From VSO: Your Relationship with your Employee

5.2.4 Dealings with your Employer and Colleagues (p 55 of VSO Handbook 1997/8)

"The relationship you establish with your manager and colleagues are the basis on which your placement is ultimately successful or not...

"Two points to be borne in mind are the dangers of impatience and making unreasonable demands on people's time. You will spend two or more years at your placement. The whole period will be one of learning but the first six months are particularly important. Volunteers may bring about change but they should not seek to impose their views and should always be aware that change is an incremental process.

"It is as well, also, to compare your own circumstances with those of your colleagues. For the limited period of your placement you are free of family ties and the whole web of social obligations and responsibilities... Many of your colleagues will not be in this enviable position and it will thus be unreasonable and unrealistic to expect from them the same commitment as you are able to give."

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Quote From VSO: Behaviour, Appearance and Dress

5.5.2 Appearance and Dress (p 58 of VSO Handbook 1997/8)

"In many of the places in which we work the 'hippy syndrome' has done its work. For instance, males with long hair, earrings, studs, tattoos etc are classified 'hippy' and thus undesirable...

"Volunteers, particularly those in formal institutions, can be seen as role models. Parents of school children, for instance, will not be happy if you are a role model whose behaviour they are not happy for their children to imitate."

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Quote From VSO: Volunteer Allowance

5.3 Volunteer Allowance (p 55 of VSO Handbook 1997/8)

"[VSO] is not a 'junior professional' organisation which necessarily provides people with access to a career in development. We do not seek to remunerate volunteers for their service beyond an allowance and the provision of grants at the beginning and end of their service.

"Thus the volunteer allowance is a modest monthly payment intended to cover volunteers' daily needs, without being linked to the type, level or value of the work volunteers do. It is not compensation for the work that volunteers do, but the means to allow them to live a lifestyle in approximate keeping with local practice.

"Volunteers who are based in capital cities should be aware that the allowance is unlikely to be sufficient to take advantage of all the entertainment that a city offers. In a city there are usually more expatriates around and some volunteers have found it difficult to socialize with them quite as much as they might have liked..."


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