After seriously considering the decision of applying for VSO, it was an interesting journey right from writing an application to VSO to all the way until my placement in Nigeria ended. The interviews, assessment day, ‘preparing for change’ sessions etc. was a unique set of experiences. Based on my expertise and past experience, I was assigned a monitoring and evaluation role in ‘Making Markets Work’ (MMW) project in Nigeria for a period of 3 months.
The first week of my volunteering term was the induction week wherein I was given an overview of all the social areas that VSO Nigeria works in. Immediately after a week of familiarizing myself with the job description, the new office and the objectives of my placement, I held a training meet for other MMW volunteers in Nigeria.
My Work and Nigeria
Planning the research activities, creating budgets, assigning responsibilities and seeking approvals took some time until the research process kicked off. I had to travel from Abuja, the capital of Nigeria to other small towns/villages in three states of Nigeria to conduct and supervise the data collection process. Nigeria doesn’t have a very robust public transport system in place and certainly there are no trains, although it once had a fully functional railway system. Traveling within the states is largely done in shared private cabs and being on the road for more than 2 weeks in the interiors of Nigeria was a delightful experience. Nigeria is a diverse country in terms of scenery and climate; I could at least speak for the places I traveled to. Lafia, one of the towns in Nassarawa state was extremely hot, but Madakiya, one of the small towns in Kaduna state was pleasant and beautiful and Panyam in Plateau state was green, gorgeous and extremely cold
Meeting the MMW partners, meeting research volunteers and staying with them was an extremely insightful and fun experience. Till this day, I am in touch with all the volunteers who I closely worked with for the project and happy to say that I have made some friends for life too.
Over the next few weeks, after returning from the data collection tour, I had to analyse and collate the collected data. Soon after assimilating the data, I had to revisit the partners in the three states for another set of data collection exercise. But this time, the trip was shorter and I had the opportunity to see and learn how my reporting manager, Mr. Opeyemi Ipinnaiye approached the top managers of partner NGOs for collecting some vital information for the assessment. After returning from the second tour, I was engrossed in report creation and recommendation generation for the project.
Last few days in Nigeria
Towards the end of my placement, Sanne, the knowledge manager and I had to plan and host the National data sharing workshop wherein all the representative stakeholders were invited to view the results of the research conducted. The workshop was for two days and was aimed at sharing of results, making recommendations, gathering feedback from participants of the workshop and fostering relationships between the NGOs that worked with VSO for the MMW project. Planning and hosting the national workshop was a great inter-cultural learning experience. The workshop was attended by farmers, national volunteers, international volunteers, VSO staff and the senior management of partner NGOs.
My Volunteering Experience
The whole work experience from the beginning, right from being inducted to the research team to completion of report and conducting the national workshop has been a very enriching experience. Apart from the value addition on my professional side, being able to interact and learn so many things from people from multiple nationalities has been an experience in itself.
When I landed in Nigeria, I was a bit apprehensive of living in an entirely different country that has been regularly in news for various security reasons but eventually, Nigeria started growing on me. The office people were very caring, other volunteers were very supportive and frank and not to mention the warmth shown by all the Nigerians I came across. The day when I had to leave back for India, I never thought I’d be so sad leaving so many good people and great memories behind. I was back at the airport where I arrived in the country and looking back at that day, I felt so silly of myself to be so worried to enter into the same country that was more than home for me for near 3 months.
And now when I look back at the day when I applied to IVO/VSO India for a volunteering position and ask myself the question – was it the right decision? The only answer that comes to my mind is – one of the best decisions I took in my life. Not to exaggerate, but my life has changed in many ways. I can definitely say that it has been a life changing experience. Although 3 months of volunteering may seem less but the amount of activities I carried out, the amount of friends I made, the amount of travel I made, the amount memories I have left behind, it was no short of a whole year or two for me.
To sum up my experience, I’d repeat what David (volunteer) told me in French at my farewell party – “brève mais touchante” meaning – it was “brief but touching”. And that’s how the whole experience has been for me. I read this once on the VSO website – “Volunteering can change lives” and I can relate to it the most for I have seen the kind of work VSO has been doing to impact the lives of beneficiaries and more so the change that it has brought about in me.
Thank you IVO/VSO, thank you very much.