Four months into Sweet Salone
It has been just over four months in Freetown now and it has been an engaging and challenging time. Even the preparations and training time leading to my departure for Sierra Leone were an eye opener. I will start with my motivations to volunteer.
There were a number of reasons why I choose to volunteer. First was the desire to travel, live and work in a new country, experience a new culture and meet and interact with new people. In a nutshell, change! Most volunteering opportunities require the volunteer to pay out of their pocket. VSO is a rare opportunity for people who want to volunteer and who cannot fund the volunteering themselves. This was ideal for me. Second, was the desire to move away from the standard corporate dog, cat and rat race that I was mentally tired of. The end result of my work in corporate, was more profit to already very profitable concerns and this ceased to motivate me. Third, the desire to give something back.
I have long been aware that it was a roll of the dice that I was born in a family that could educate me and give me a comfortable life. Millions around the world are not that fortunate and I wanted to do my bit to make their lives better in any small way directly or indirectly. Finally, there were/are certain personal traits and characteristics that I wanted to eliminate or improve upon. I believed that the challenges and the adaptability forced upon you by the volunteering experience would help me work on some of these personal improvement areas.
Learning a different culture
The preparations and training phase was engaging and informative. Both the IVO organised training and my own research of Volzone and the Internet yielded insights and information that was not earth shaking but nevertheless crucial to my mental readiness for the volunteering experience. More than the direct input and information received during the phase, it is the insights gained by analysis of this information that helped prepare my mind, and mental readiness is everything!
My four months in Sierra Leone have been totally worth the effort. No two ways about that! The work has been interesting and there have been learning in terms of patience and working in a different work culture. As an example, communication styles and timelines are much more relaxed here. Certain job requirements involve aspects or tasks I have never done in my work before and this is taking adaptability and innovativeness on my part. An example of this is designing training modules for business coaches targeted at the same sector. In terms of the living experience there have been two key challenges cum learning areas. One is loneliness and the other is lower level of material comforts.
Personal growth and insight
With respect to the loneliness, it is necessary to clarify that Sierra Leoneans are warm and friendly and the co-volunteers are very supportive and united also. Despite this you miss having close family and friends that you are used to from home. This loneliness makes you stronger and more independent. The lower level of material comforts leads to you becoming more adaptable, less demanding and again a stronger individual all-round. Many things I could take for granted back home, are unavailable here and this also has the effect of truly appreciating what I had back home and this is again a positive thing.
In summary, there have already been insights both work and personal and I am confident there will be more before I am done. I have also been able to add value professionally to my organisation and colleagues but it is still early days for this and I shall throw more light on this once I have spent some more time here. Assuming family and financial situation allow it, I strongly recommend overseas volunteering to all! I am of the opinion there will be considerable personal growth as well as professionally learning and I believe the personal outweighs the professional. And in the long run in life, your attitude determines your altitude and overseas volunteering forges and shapes attitude!