As part of the preparation for volunteering, I attended two VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) training courses: the Preparing to Volunteer course, known as P2V and the later Skills for Working in Development course, known as SKWID. I attended the latter in Boxtel in the Netherlands and the former in Harborne Hall in Birmingham. Both courses were inspirational and I came away from each feeling enthusiastic, more confident and less apprehensive than when I had arrived. I also met a lot of very interesting people and made new friends.
The approach used in both courses was very much participatory – in line with VSO’s ethos. Sessions were, on the whole, well-planned, well-facilitated and backed up by relevant course materials and resources. In Harborne Hall there is the added advantage of a good VSO resource centre. As participants we had to work hard. As well as learning about VSO’s approach to development and identifying our roles as volunteers, there were lots of opportunities for self-evaluation. We were also able to practice participatory facilitation, negotiation, communication, networking and conflict management skills in the context of the different roles we would undertake as volunteers and facilitators of change.
I found it interesting that while many of the skills required to work in development seemed at first quite straightforward, in practice there are subtle differences to how these same skills are used and understood in a developing-world work-place (e.g. communication, negotiation, conflict management, etc.). (Past learning from first-year modules on ‘culture’ in Anthropology came flooding back.) Another interesting learning point was the imperative to relax the determined, task-focused approach customary in the developed world in favour of a greater focus on relationship building, at least initially. Only when good personal relationships have been established can the task be considered.
Following this pre-departure training par excellence and constructive feedback from my practical sessions, I felt well-prepared to take on the world and eager to begin my assignment.
[Below are 4 photographs from pre-departure training. The top two are from Harborne Hall in Birmingham and the two underneath are from De Kleine Aarde in Boxtel in the Netherlands.]