Tell us something about yourself and where are you currently volunteering?
I am a medical doctor from India, with one year Post graduation training in Obstetrics & Gynaecology and Master degree in Public Health (Mahidol University, Bangkok). Since July 2012 I have been with VSO as Sexual and Reproductive Health adviser for two local NGOs in Vanuatu namely Vanuatu Family Health Association and Northern Care Youth Clinic. It’s a one year volunteering placement.
What did you before you decided to volunteer?
Since 2003 I have been working in STI/ HIV AIDS projects in local and in International NGOs in different countries such as in India, Myanmar, Srilanka, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh with different organisations on projects related to HIV AIDS and TB. During these jobs I have worked as clinician, capacity building officer, program coordinator etc.
What motivated you to take up volunteering at this stage in life?
It was during 2012 when I was living with my husband in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia that I came to know about VSO. My husband Arun was working in Addis then in a Transportation project. I was looking for opportunities in Ethiopia so that I could be with my husband and the same time, provide my services to people and communities who need it the most. I had visited VSO office in Addis and came to know more about the organization, visited the website and submitted my application to iVolunteer Overseas. For the first time earning a big salary did not matter and I was willing for Volunteering.
How has your experience been as a volunteer and how do you think it had added to your personal and professional growth?
Volunteering in the beginning was a bit challenging, to come to a different level where you are not in a regular job. People asked me questions like ‘With your qualifications and experience why have you decided to go for a volunteering instead of finding a regular job?’ The question did ring in my ears for some days until I found the answer one day “There are not many regular jobs available in places where volunteer organizations are working and providing services to people. Moreover, such organizations probably cannot afford to have a person with technical skills and international experiences to work with them, train and share the experience they have”.
Personally I am happy that I am able to share my experiences with organizations who value my skills and my contribution to volunteer with them. It gives me immense pleasure that my experience is being used to make a difference in the communities that can be reached through the host organisation for whom I am volunteering.
Professionally it’s a different kind of an experience to reach out to needy people without thinking about the bank balance you will acquire at the end of each month. When you work for organizations like VSO where most of the basic costs are taken care I just had to concentrate on my work towards making a difference to people who are very appreciative and thankful to you for volunteering, for contributing in a way to make a difference that you are able to make in their life. At the end of the day, it’s a realization that it’s not the money alone that you take home but something else too.
Working in areas like Vanuatu, where many other volunteer organizations are also working I had an opportunity to work along with other volunteers and learn from their experiences.
Did you have any fears/ apprehensions before you went to volunteer?
Since I have worked in other countries like Myanmar, Bangladesh, Srilanka & Afghanistan I did not have fear of working in a new place, but was very careful in spending my monthly allowance in the beginning. However, soon I realized I have adequate to survive and to even explore the new place a bit.
What are the various aspects of volunteering that excited you throughout the journey?
Understanding the need of the people you are working for before you provide any advice, understanding the local culture and trying not to upset your colleagues and target groups in any action which is not culturally acceptable, being accepted as one of them are aspects I enjoyed. Exploring the new country was also very exciting for me.
Any message that you would like to give?
There are people living in every part of the world. Country borders are created by men, go beyond that and see how people have survived and find the similarities between the community you have lived with so far and the new one. And one good way to do so is through volunteering. There cannot be anything more exciting than that one can do in their life.