VSO Namibia Volunteer Conference
on Marika VSO-ing in Namibia (Namibia), 19/Sep/2010 16:47, 34 days ago
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I thoroughly enjoyed last week as we had the rare opportunity to gather with all Namibia’s VSO volunteers and staff for a week-long conference just outside Windhoek at Greiters conference centre with a beautiful mountain setting, a cool breeze and a peaceful atmosphere.Preparations began the week before and ended as we hosted Scott’s leaving party on the Friday; a lovely large gathering at the house with music, food dancing and good company. It felt good having a full house and it was lovely hearing a few heartfelt goodbye messages from people he had touched in his time here (roughly 18 months). It seems to make the struggles worthwhile and motivates me to hope that I can touch some people here in my time here in the same way. I doubt I have managed it to the same extent and wonder if there is still room for this or if it’s just something that I haven’t focused on enough. Scott has evidently made good use of his talents and natural gifts for his role here, both professionally and personally.After an entertaining late night, we were up before sunrise to pile in to the Cheshire Home kombi; 8 of us in total used the Saturdays to reach Rundu and join some of the Rundu volunteers for a dinner out overlooking the Kavango River, and Sundays to reach our destinations (Greiters/Katima Mulilo). The 1200km flew by each way compared to other trips as there was a constant bubble of conversation and laughter, making the most of us all being together. We continue to be excited at seeing the range of wildlife on the road including the hippos as we crossed over the Kongola Bridge (roughly an hour from Katima) both ways, an elegant Kudu and multiple warthogs. The 2 John’s (Uganda) and Joseph (Kenya) proved the most entertainment the rest of the way as they resembled 3 grannies talking continuously about anything that came to their heads, from women, to life’s philosophies, to cattle/cows, to interrogations on our future marriage plans. Some funny moments to characterise these 3 when they get together is nicely demonstrated that within the first day of our day trip, as we, the girls, were testing the small cold, green-looking, but refreshing pool in our overnight venue, the boys were to be found ironing their shirts for the evening, opting for the room with 3 beds, rather than splitting across 2 rooms to allow them to continue chatting into the early hours of the morning despite our 6am departures.So the aim of this conference was to involve all volunteers to help the office reflect on VSO’s work here as they successfully fought to be one of only 6 countries in the world to design and pilot their own new country strategic programme. The first half of the week mainly consisted of a lot of informative presentations raising our awareness on hot topics such as Advocacy, Gender Issues,Climate Change and how this can be included in our work here and to what extent these themes need to be part of the new country strategic plan. As these topics provoked many thoughts and opinions, we had to hold back a little for the second half of the week where we were allowed more time for discussion and debate whilst looking more closely at our programmes (i.e. Education in my case), and at VSO’s work in Namibia overall and analyse how effective (or not), successful (or not) it has been. What needs changing? What do we need to focus on? What are our main challenges, things we need to consider? And so on. It was most helpful in allowing us to step out of our experiences and try to critically analyse the bigger picture of our/VSO’s work here as a whole. Inserted were a few skills-based sessions of things like Leadership, Management, Team building and such like that were rich with helpful discussions. With pretty intensive days on average from 8am to 6pm, despite interactive sessions, there was a lot of sitting and eating compared to my usual standards but balanced out with social evenings. Over the week, I made a higher than I expected amount of contributions, including debating issues, several feedback sessions, presenting what was complimented and thought to be a an honest description of my volunteer experience (upon request amongst a selection of volunteers) and involvement in the organising parts of the entertainment in the evenings including team games, pub quiz (without the pub) and even a very amusing Greek dancing lesson for the volunteers and staff. As well as the value in getting to know other volunteers better and sharing our experiences, it was equally fruitful meeting many new people especially visiting staff from the London office. We hope VSO arranges event like this more often. Recharged and easily pleased with a stop to the en route SuperSpa for treats such as nice cheeses and other little food goodies we don’t find in Katima, we’ve returned to Katima now, back to reality to say our real goodbyes to Scott who is on his way to take a scholarship for a PhD in Science Education in Development in Melbourne; an interesting and intelligent mind here that will be missed greatly.