A Volunteer's Experience
by Lucinda Howell - 26/5/2006
Volunteers will stay at the Golden Monkey Guest House. The accommodation is of a very good standard, with hot showers, comfortable beds, mosquito nets and locks for the rooms. If volunteers have any valuables they can keep them safely in the office.
Everyone is very welcoming and friendly. Communal living is important for good communication and understanding, as fear or shyness may exist on both sides! Communal living facilitates a better understanding of each other and thus creates a good working relationship.
The project director will begin with an orientation meeting to discuss the work the volunteer will be doing. Orientation of the project and the surrounding area is a vital part of the work. Without this the volunteer will not fully comprehend the project, and so communicate effectively with the people they will be meeting and working for/with.
A week of orientation is recommended. This time should be spent meeting people and talking about the project. It is important for people in the area to get to know who you are and that you will be involved in the project and working for the project. This is to help develop a higher profile for the project and hopefully generate interest within the community.
Volunteers will also be expected to read and digest the overall ideas and vision of the various projects. A certain flexibility and initiative is important, as well as offering specific skills to the project. The project primarily needs skilled volunteers that can offer energy and enthusiasm to involve themselves and offer any help where needed, or where the volunteer’s skills are best applied.
Following the orientation period. The work will be designated to two sites: Kisoro and Lake Mutanda.
Work at the Lake, depending on skills and project requirements, will be mainly data collection, species identification and behaviour studies of various species. Educational programmes at the Lake with the local school children are particularly important. It is also important to meet the people who work and live in the area.
The initial work in Kisoro is to design a template for recording and updating data. This ongoing data collection will eventually be used as part of the education training programme, giving information about plant and wildlife in and around the lake.
The aim of the projects is to educate and benefit the surrounding community. An important part of this education begins with the children.
I met students at the Kisoro High School, and the Chihe primary school near Lake Mutanda. The secondary school has students of all ages, so the talk was informative and fairly formal but also hoped to capture their interest in the project. Their main concerns were how much access they would have to the project, and how the project would benefit them directly. We explained the economical and educational benefits that would hopefully filter back into the community via the project.
We also explained that the project is just one of many departments that work under the umbrella organization, Mgahinga Community Development Organisation, helping to develop the community and area in many ways. To maintain their interest we returned at the weekend with a variety of conservation videos for them to watch and enjoy.
As an illustrator, I initiated an art project for the Chihe primary school near the Lake.
We asked the students to become involved in the project by helping us draw the things they saw in and around the lake. Involving the local children in this way was seen as a good way of communicating the project, as well educating and creating interest in the project. The students came to the Lake for two days and drew whatever captured their imagination! The best drawings will be displayed at the school, at the Mgahinga community centre, and in Kisoro. The winners will hopefully be able to be seen on the website, as a community link.
Using ones initiative and offering specialist skills and knowledge will be an important part of this volunteering program. This approach will focus the needs of the volunteer project, and thus encourage skilled people to apply for specific work within the project. Ensuring more applications from skilled volunteers. Approaching universities and colleges to offer internships for students may also be the best way of utilizing the international volunteer workforce that is available.
It may be possible to utilize the drawings for fundraising in England for this and other projects. Selling art work through e-bay, is a possibility for a none profit organisation. The drawings can also be used as a focused part of a fundraising event, where people will be informed of the various projects especially the nursery and the sponsorship programme, and bid on the pictures they like.
I asked Phillip the project chairperson to put together a portfolio for the project that I can take to England to possibly help organise a fundraising event that will raise money and awareness of the work in Kisoro. This will include costings for water to be taken to the nursery, from a point approx. 3 km away, buying land, school uniforms and equipment, as well as other areas of the MCDO, such as sponsorship and the volunteer programme for Lake Mutanda.