Though volunteering is an excellent and life changing experience, there are always some issues that lead to huge amounts of frustration. I had one of these experiences this week.
I am currently in the initial stages of implementing a duck-farming project within one of the fisheries that I am working with. This week I was meant to be visiting the Self Help Group in the village of Madri, where we are planning on implementing this project in order to get their approval. Initially the plan was for me to go with my reporting officer along with the local SHG coordinator. However, my reporting officer had to cancel the day before due to issues at another project so I ended up traveling to the block office to meet the SHG coordinator by myself.
When I got to the block office (about an hour and a half from Udaipur) the SHG coordinator said that he had too much work to do so wouldn’t be able to go with me after all. Initially, I thought that this would mean the trip would have to be cancelled and I should just return to Udaipur. However, I was told that a jeep was going to a different meeting and if I joined that jeep it could take me to Madri afterwards. After spending two hours in the block office waiting around, we finally left for the first meeting. This meeting lasted almost two hours and was of course conducted entirely in Hindi, meaning that I had no idea what was going on. Eventually though (after a couple of cups of tea) we left and headed for Madri, arriving there at around 3:30pm. We were all ushered into the local office where we were given more tea and everyone else had a long discussion in Hindi. After about half an hour everyone got up to leave. I asked where everyone was going and was told that “all women are away for a festival, come back in May.” We then began the journey back home. In total I spent eight hours travelling around Udaipur district for absolutely no reason at all.
This represents a lack in communication and organisation that is all too common with NGOs in India. It can be incredibly frustrating, especially as it is often so easy to avoid. Why did no one think of calling ahead to confirm that the SHG members would actually be there? Surely someone knew that there was a festival today and therefore a chance that people would not be available? Of all the issues that volunteers have in India, this type of situation is usually near or at the top of the list, especially for volunteers fresh from the structured working environments seen in the West.
There is no easy way of changing this without changing a large part of the working culture. All that can be done is to try your best to make sure that everything has been confirmed and badger everyone involved into making sure that the trip will run smoothly. Even then it’s far from fool proof. In many ways, learning to work within this kind of environment is one of the biggest and most important lessons for an international volunteer to learn from their placement. Knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to accept when it happens to you though.