5th December-International Volunteers Day : Reflections of volunteering done in Sieraa Leone

Tomorrow is international volunteer’s day. I wanted to use this day as a excuse to reflect about my journey in iVolunteer and my journey as a volunteer.

Since 2001 when we started volunteering was one of the things that we were doing as an organisation. Young and very fresh from college we wanted to do many things- We dabbled at creating websites for non-profits to selling handicrafts online for artisans to setting up a development news portal in India. Timely advice ( the narrower you focus the bigger you become)  from Mr Sivakumar ( ITC) who happend to be senior from IRMA made us drop everything and focus on volunteering.

And very soon we were in love with it- hence everything else was dropped and our volunteering work which was called India Calls was re-christened as iVolunteer.

Since then we have come a long way. We have many programs that can engage a young person to someone who has lots of skills to share. We have a website where you can read about our programs www.ivolunteer.in.

For me one of the most memorable journeys in iVolunteer has been  of creating india’s first overseas volunteering program and finally volunteering through the same. And we call it iVolunteer Overseas www.ivoindia.org

Simply put in a developing country like India international volunteers from other developed countries. This is how it is. However  In 1999 VSO , world’s leading development charity decided to challenge this by recruiting volunteers from developing countries too. The argument was simple- developing countries can learn a lot from each other and quite often because of the similar situations there is a lot that can be exchanged and quicker.

So in 2004 when VSO came to India to recruit volunteers from here we raised our hand. We became their partners in India to help them find volunteers who will give 2 years of their life for social sector. Since then we have send more than 200 volunteers to various developing countries from India.

I was one such volunteer. And I went to Sierra Leone.

My guess is that If you have heard about Sierra leone then you have probably heard about the war which ended long time back or the illegal diamond trade which was shown in De Caprio’s “Blood Diamond”. What a lot of people don’t know is that it is also the country where Dr Ronald Ross discovered the cause of Malaria- Figured out anopheles mosquito that causes it.

A lot of people told me that I was brave to go to Sierra Leone.  I smile and nod my head 🙂 because the reality is quite the opposite. Sierra Leone is probably one of the most safest countries- safer the india and definitely safer then Delhi. To be honest when I landed in Sierre Leone I was worried if I will be able to adjust. But I told myself I better cause I’m sending other people to volunteer without blinking an eyelid.  I met the driver who came to pick me up and I learned the first few words of the language.  “How dy body,I tell god thenki”

My volunteering experience was amazing- I got completely absorbed in Sierra Leone’s culture,  working with my colleagues and going to villages in rural areas, trying local food, visiting pristine beaches. The work was cool- I was setting up admin and finance systems for an Agricultural Society that was working to rehabilitate farmers effected by the civil war. So it required working with the small team on basic office system, a mission vision values workshop, meeting INGO’s for funding etc etc. A typical day/work in the life of a volunteer.

Unlike many volunteers who wanted to make a big difference I wanted to experience everything in Sierra leone. So I did my assignments, travelled around, mixed with locals and got invited to interesting places and events. At my accommodation I had no running water or electricity, a few pots and pans, some books and lovely neighbors. The food was same every day- rice and some veggies or fish. And there were mangoes. Nice Juicy plump mangoes everywhere. I was in heaven.

Looking back I think it was really a cool experience- I had very litte but I was quite happy. I met people from at least a dozen countries, learned a new language ( which I have forgotten now), hopefully helped an organisation, made a few friends and got lots of time to read books, run and reflect on my life back in India.

Not a bad deal right keeping in mind that VSO paid for everything.

So on the eve of international volunteering day I want to say this with my hand on my heart. Volunteering makes a difference but it is not all boring, sacrificing etc et. It can be fun, rewarding and an experience of a life time.  And guess what it might change your life too.

 

 

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