My Volunteering Story
on Indian Bells (India), 09/Sep/2010 10:00, 34 days ago
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Personal Case Study written forwww.volunteeringinfo.orgSee the original articlehereI’d been spending my spare time volunteering back home in England for a while, but I wanted more, I wanted to travel, to have a big adventure, to challenge myself and make a difference to the lives of people living in developing countries. I knew I didn’t want to pay alot of money to volunteer for an NGO where I might not have a big impact, I wanted to be supported by a reputable organisation. I did lots of internet research and went to the Volunteering Centre near my house in Bristol and VSO, or Voluntary Services Overseas, was the best I could find. VSO has a strategic alliance with the UK’s Department for International Development and work in over 40 countries, sending volunteers to share their skills rather than money. All placements with VSO are fully funded and each country has its own programme office supporting volunteers.I applied for the Youth for Development Programme which is for 18-25 year olds, and after a long 7 month wait I was invited to an assessment day in London. VSO had been flooded with applications as the recession hit, but luckily, after group exercises and a personal interview I was accepted onto the programme. VSO matched my marketing skills to a placement in India, and once the partner organisation in rural Rajasthan approved my CV, I prepared for my year overseas. That meant leaving my job, raising over£1,000 for VSO through a sponsored abseil, immunisations, health checks, saying goodbye to my family, moving house and leaving my boyfriend behind. All VSO volunteers also attend 7 days of pre-departure training at a residential centre near Birmingham where we talk about our motives for volunteering, expectations, the development context, learn workshop facilitation skills, receive health advice and get a chance to network with volunteers being sent to opposite parts of the globe.I arrived in India in March 2010, along with 14 other VSO volunteers from the UK, Canada, USA and the Philippines where we had a month of training on Indian culture, development issues in the country, Hindi lessons and even Bollywood dancing. I’ve been here over 6 months now, working as a Documentation and Communication Associate for an NGO called GVNML ( who work to enhance the living conditions of rural communities in Rajasthan. They do this by managing natural resources to tackle climate change, providing reproductive health care and fighting for children's rights.Working in a developing country is very different to working back home. At times it can be painful slow to get tasks completed, even though my office is open 7 days a week. Only my boss speaks English in the NGO, so all my work must go through him with him translating from Hindi and the local Rajasthani languages. But eventually things do get finished and the sense of satisfaction is immense. In the 5 months I’ve been in placement, I’ve developed a new website, written all the content and launched it; produced a new logo and slogan for my NGO; been on multiple field visits and collected case studies; written the annual report; produced reports for donor agencies; written a brochure and helped with fundraising. All this work will help raise GVNML’s visibility, spread their good work and attract more funding, ultimately making a difference to the lives of villagers in Rajasthan.My living conditions are also a change from the luxury of British homes. I live with my boss’ family in a 350 year old fort with 30 members of his family. There’s not a huge amount of electricity, or water, there are no showers or western toilets and in the summer it got up to 49 degrees Celsius. But, I’ve gained a new family, new brothers and sisters and parents, I’ve learnt theircustoms and beliefs, I eat their food, wear traditional clothes and have benefited from a new sense of perspective on life, like how much water we use in England, and how reliant we are on electricity.I won’t pretend things aren’t hard. They are, but it’s a challenge and I’ll emerge stronger than ever. I live in a village, I have no social life except for occasional weekends away to see volunteers in other parts of India, the internet is slow but it’s one of the things that keeps me going. I’m looking forward to going home in 2011, I miss my family, friends and boyfriend, I miss normal life and the freedom we take for granted in England, but I wouldn’t have changed this experience. I know it’s one of the defining years of my life.The views expressed in this weblog are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of VSO.