Thursday, 9 August 2012

The final post!

So now I've been back home in England for two months I think its time to muster up the courage to write the final post as Camilla is no longer in Rwanda. I will miss writing this blog as it has been my constant companion since I was recruited to do VSO right through to now as a returned volunteer. It has helped me to focus my attention on all of the positive, memorable, funny, strange and wonderful moments doing VSO. Of course there have also been difficult times, times when I just wanted to go home, times when I missed my family and friends and times when I just felt totally frustrated by a culture that was so different from my own. And looking back on my blog I can see from my posts exactly when those moments occurred!

It has been a learning process to try to capture and communicate some of my experiences. It is by no means a complete account of all I have done and experienced and you always have to remember that an internet blog is a very public forum and that is a difficult aspect of using one to write about personal experience. So I am going to finish by thinking about three big questions....

Would I volunteer again?
Yes definitely but not right now. I would love to do it again when I retire as its such an amazing way of sharing your life experience with others while also creating a whole load more life experiences at a time when others are sat at home. I think having lots of life experience is a huge benefit when doing VSO, both for yourself in terms of riding out the tough times and also for others whom you meet in that you have lived such an interesting life and developed so many skills to share. I met a volunteer in Rwanda who had volunteered for the first time when he was about my age and then again when he retired and I think it gives you a really interesting perspective on doing VSO.
Timing is such an important thing when doing VSO. You have got to be at a point in your life when there is no one depending on you back home and when you have the freedom to enjoy the experience without any guilt about leaving for 1-2 years. You have also got to be a point where financially you can cope with it. Although you don't need stacks of money to do VSO, your volunteer allowance certainly doesn't cover mortgage payments on a house, help you save towards a pension or property or pay for you to have any holidays so financially you do still take a hit.

Is volunteering effective?
Certainly it can be on an individual level with some people you work with directly. Also I think that you can have a very small impact on a process of change within a country, for example in my role with changing the curricula for TTCs. While the curricula may well change again or progress might not be sustained, it is a change in thinking that is really important. I certainly think that sending volunteers is more effective than just sending stuff that people don't know what to do with eg. huge inkjet printers, like some of the big NGOs and organisations do.
However I sometimes wonder about the effectiveness of sending a European like myself to work in Rwanda. It is difficult because I am well trained and experienced in all of the child friendly teaching methods etc that they want to introduce in Rwanda and sure, I can adapt them for a different context. However I still think that it is much more powerful to be trained by an African who has been very successful in an African context with limited resources etc than a European person who grew up and worked in Europe, however well they have adapted to the African context. Africans training other Africans is definitely the way forward and at least VSO is trying to achieve that through national volunteering and diaspora programmes.

Has doing VSO changed you and if so, how?
This has been a question that I've wondered about since coming back. It certainly changed me while I was in Rwanda as I had to adapt to a very different way of life, and when I returned there were definitely some things such as shops, public transport etc that took a while to re-adapt to in the UK. As time has gone on I realise it has changed me in many subtle, small ways. For example I am much more interested in what happens in Africa and I seek out the news there, particularly the area around and including Rwanda. I still love listening to East African music back in the UK. I have eaten a brochette recently! In the sale of a clothes shop I bought a top because I loved the colours and african style print. But the most important lesson it has taught me was about having a balance in my life. Having recently worked crazy hours for a few weeks back here it makes me realise I don't want to return to work burnout, no matter what I get paid. It simply isn't worth it. It is important to have time for yourself, your family and friends.
I will always be linked to Rwanda and I have no doubt at all in my mind that I will go back there for a visit in a while.

So thanks for reading my blog, I hope you enjoyed it. I will definitley be writing another blog soon with a different theme so perhaps you haven't heard the last of me yet...

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Culture and the classroom

For the last three weeks I have been doing some work teaching English at a summer school for 9-14 year olds held at a very prestigious boarding school. It has been a bit of a culture shock to say the least. To have students who spend £60 on a school trip on chocolate alone and who drop £50 notes on the floor like they are trash has been a challenge for me after my time in Rwanda where the students had so little that they would take my paperclips! But as the time went on I was reminded again that kids are kids anywhere and of whatever wealth. Most of them are good young people who are just trying to learn how to survive in whatever world they come from be it rich or poor. And in fact some of those children came from homes where the whole world of expectation was on their shoulders and that not easy to live with either. It was great to teach students from so many different countries and to learn a little about all of their cultures.

So life goes on. I have been back for 7 weeks now and although I still miss Rwanda I know I couldn't be a volunteer forever. It was one of the best experiences of my whole life and I'd love to do it again some day, but for now I have to look to the future and think about what it holds. In about a week's time I'm going to do the CELTA course so I'm qualified to teach adults English. I'm starting to look for jobs and to figure things out. I have made a lovely photo book about my time in Rwanda which is nice to look at now and then and which provides a convenient way of trying to show my life in Rwanda at a glimpse to family and friends, although it is hard to capture a year and a half of experiences in just 48 pages....but I have tried!

From teaching here....

To teaching here....