Just before Christmas I was contacted by VSO asking if they could use my blog to help recruit more IT volunteers. Little did I know that this blog would be the main focus of this campaign! You can find the homepage for the campaign at http://www.vso.org.uk/itroles.
If you’ve arrived here from the VSO website, then I hope you find my blog useful and I hope the postings of my experiences here encourage you to apply to be an IT volunteer too :-). If you’re thinking of applying and would like to know more about my experience as VSO volunteer, please feel free to contact me, by either posting a comment below or emailing me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over the last few weeks I’ve found (or they’ve found me) a number of people who are going to be heading out to Ethiopia on IT VSO placements in September, plus a guy from US Peace Corps who’s already over in Gondar. This set me thinking about how we’d keep in touch/discuss things once we’re all on placement (we’ll be spread all over Ethiopia), and how we’d introduce new contacts to each other.
Using the VSO forums site didn’t really seem appropriate, as it’s only accessible to VSO volunteers, so people from other NGOs wouldn’t be able to join in. So… I’ve set up a new Google Group ‘IT Volunteers in Ethiopia’ that we can all join to keep in touch – anyone else is free to join too!
Not sure if this is the best way to achieve this, but have a discussion area like this seemed to be the most appropriate. Will also have to see if we get internet connections reliable enough to actually check for new messages!
Over the last few days I’ve been having an email conversation with a US Peace Corps volunteer who’s based in the University Hospital in Gondar, Ethiopia, doing similar IT work that I’ll be doing when I get to Mekelle. He’s sent me some long emails with loads and loads of excellent advice and info about what to take with me, the state of their IT infrastructure, and other general advice about living in Ethiopia. It’s exactly the types of thing that I needed to know, quite odd things like the general dress code at work (do I take a suit with me?) and other similarly random (but also useful) stuff like that. Another example… learn how to make cheese from powdered milk and vinegar :-/ I never ever knew you could make cheese this way, though I’m not sure how the end result would compare to a nice bit of cheddar!
One thing he did mention, which I knew a little about anyway, was the fact that computer viruses are completely rampant throughout Ethiopia, mainly due to the low bandwidth meaning that virus checkers aren’t reliably kept up to date, plus the use of flash disks spreading the viruses around. His advice was not to let on that you know how to clean viruses off a computer, as if you do, you’ll end up spending the whole time doing just that. Much better would be to teach a group of people how to do it themselves and show them how to keep their machines virus free in the first place- this, of course, is exactly the sort of thing we (as volunteers from overseas) should be doing, training people how do to these types of jobs for themselves.
Another comment he made about the state of the internet bandwidth was that it’s usually quicker to have someone back home download them for you, burn onto CDs/DVDs and post them.
When I get chance I’ll try to post up a summary of all his advice in case it’s useful for others too.
I had some very sad news today from Irene (the lady in Mekelle who I’ll be taking over from). One of the VSO volunteers currently in Ethiopia, David Evans, was killed in a traffic accident a few days ago (news story) and I pass on my condolences to his family.
Many of you probably now know that I’ve been accepted a placement with VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) to go and work at Mekelle University (http://www.mu.edu.et/ – though the website availability seems a little erratic!) in Northern Ethiopia, starting Aug/Sept ’08, initially for a year. I’ll be working as an IT advisor, trainer and web developer, helping to train teachers in IT, support their IT infrastructure and developing their elearning programme.
This weekend I’ve just been on my first VSO training course ‘Preparing to Volunteer’, which was excellent fun, though extremely mentally exhausting – very long days, with loads of information about the reasons for development work, why it matters and how it can best be achieved, plus how to prepare ourselves for the culture shock that all VSO volunteers will inevitably suffer!! Loads of group work exploring our reasons for volunteering and coping strategies. Played some fun games, including the ‘trading game’, where the 20 of us were split into 5 different countries (UK, US, Thailand, Bangladesh and Tanzania – I was in Tanzania), each given different resources and tools (paper, scissors, compass, rulers etc) to make paper shapes to sell to the bank. We’d set up a deal with the US so we could use their tools (compass & scissors) to make the shapes with our resources (paper), though we had to give a ridiculous percentage of our output as payment for use of their tools. In the end we thought we’d done pretty well, especially with how skewed the rules and bank were in favour of UK & US, though admittedly we did use some underhand tactics – stealing another pair of scissors and not declaring much of our actual output – the US team wasn’t watching us closely enough!