Finding volunteers intimidating

Posted Thursday October 09, 2014 by Hazel Durbridge


This may sound crazy, but sometimes I find the other volunteers the most intimidating thing of all which makes it a relief in some ways that I am having my induction pretty much alone here and that there are barely 12 volunteers left and all will leave before me.

VSO volunteers fall into 2 categories mainly – post uni and post retirement.  The post uni ones are not just graduates.  They have masters and Phds and MBAs and are often not just bi-lingual, but tri-lingual and come from not only very wealthy and privileged backgrounds, but an elite gene pool.  They arrive with every gadget conceivable, a rock solid sense of their own value which walks a fine line with a sense of entitlement and I found them overwhelming at times in Cameroon.

The retired ones generally are a grown up version.  They have had stellar careers, enormous pensions and come out with their own private fund for charitable giving which was not frowned upon in Cameroon and causes huge problems for volunteers that come after who don’t.  Imagine if you live in a house after such a person.  You have a non-stop trail of people knocking on your door with tales of woe.  These rich retirees rent posher houses or buy somewhere, hire cars, buy motor bikes, get internal flights to avoid arduous journeys and wine and dine in places the Country Director can not afford.  Both young and old, if they are single may marry the local beauty queen or king.  I am not joking and it is not a one off happening.

Couples also come and this can consolidate a relationship.  I am sure if FP had come we would still be together.

Where am I on the volunteer continuum?  I am middle class only by virtue of my education.  I am not financially rich, but my life experience has been very enriching.  For all my gentle demeanour it would be disingenuous to say I am not strong.

I don’t know why more ordinary people do not volunteer, because it is financially possible.  I think it may be that the funding criteria means many roles have ‘academic’ objectives and require a level of consultancy speak rather than practical skills. There are also a small group that do it to run away.  I certainly buried the remnants of my sadness over my marriage failure in Africa which I will be eternally grateful for.

The worst thing is some volunteers, especially the young ones, are mega competitive with each other.  So I am cautious about meeting the Sri Lankan ones.

I went out last night with 3 female volunteers of the retired version.  They were welcoming, and I enjoyed their company, but we ate and drank in two of Colombo’s 5 star hotels – one was a colonial hotel and we had a drink in the garden overlooking the sea and it was like out of a film –  the other was more on the scale & glamour of a Vegas hotel, stunning, but lacking the kitsch element that makes it endearing rather than sterile.  I do like to experience these places, but I don’t need them to be happy.

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