I was looking for a way to gain meaningful work experience overseas in education projects within the development sector but struggling to even begin to find the right opportunity. A friend with a background in international development and experience of 2 VSO placements recommended 2Way Development as a flexible alternative. I applied and moved to Bhavnagar, Gujarat, in January 2013. I had the added benefit of 2Way Development’s South Asia Placement Manager being based in my city and also at my organisation, Shaishav, so I had as much support as anyone could need during my first few weeks. That’s not to say it’s been plain sailing! I knew India well before moving here but nothing can truly prepare you for moving to a very provincial city in a very conservative part of India. Being stared at is a way of life here – a very old man nearly fell of his bike he spent so long looking at me in the street last week – and whilst it can get tiring at least it means people are keen to say hello.
Settling in to work in a different environment and different structure with different expectations takes some time. Adjusting to an Indian concept of planning and timing can be utterly perplexing compared to my experience of (mainly) corporate London for the last decade! But learning patience is always a good thing and slowly I am understanding where I can add value to Shaishav’s activities in the field of child rights. I am working on a new project management system at the moment and am beginning to plan a new project monitoring and evaluation system. There are several key research projects taking place in the coming months and it’s an unexpected bonus to have the opportunity to be involved in them as it was not something I’d discussed with my 2Way Development placement advisor as a key aim. Getting additional new skills and experience under my belt will be fantastic.
Getting an opportunity to go out in the field and see Shaishav’s grass roots community work in action has been incredible. It’s one thing learning about micro-finance schemes in the UK and quite another to sit with a group of 6 year olds as they queue patiently to save their 10 rupee notes (about 12p) and sign their initials in their little savings record cards, especially when the ‘bank’ in question is a tiny Hindu shrine out the back of someone’s house in the slums. Whilst I myself am not skilled to work in the field directly (lacking fluent Gujarati for one thing…) it is fantastic to think that my work can help grow capacity at Shaishav to build more and stronger projects which benefit more children across Gujarat.
I look forward to the rest of my placement as this is just the beginning.
Shaishav Volunteer January 2013 – July 2013