Across The Bridge

The phone calls are still coming in, people want to find out if this is true. I do not want to speak to more people. It is not in my place. My phone agrees with me and crashes. I lose all contacts worth over 4 years. Apparently there is a way to retrieve it, but what do I care? What do I care? Why should I care? When my phone rang pre-crashing, I saw her name flash across my screen, and I hesitated, panicking as I had done for a week now every time I spoke to her. Or visited the hospital. It was something that the doctors expected; like the Ukwa fruit that inevitably fell at its time, an open secret. How can you say that? One never mentions the journey of no return. You keep it in your heart. Till you burst. Her name flashes through my screen again, and I answer, clearing my throat.

Across the Bridge
Across the Bridge

“He’s gone,” She wailed, ululating over and over.

The goose pimples settled on my skin and refused to leave.

Phone calls, words, a blur, a flash, messages, phone crashes. I thought about M lying on that hospital bed for months, eyes closed, or open, depending on when you saw him, struggling with his kidneys. I thought about his poor wife, sitting by him, waiting, praying, hoping. I felt like a fraud, not knowing what to tell her as she wept. Who am I to speak words to the grieving? What do I know about how she feels? She’s stunned, the children are devastated. She shared his life, they shared his life, we came and went; friends, colleagues, at our convenience.

I have known M for about 3 years now. I worked with him. He was gentle and kind, we disagreed, but always with respect. Not only was he a man, he was at least a dozen years older, yet he did not conform to the common ageist and sexist ways of our society; he knew this was work, nothing personal so he got on with it. He put his family and charities first, he cared deeply. He was a good man.

The Tortoise
All photos my own

Death is the Tortoise
“All of you”
But wailing birds sometimes sound the unheard warning
Who knew Opi could be so loud
Now silent
Rest for the wounded must be easy ba?
The tugging from both ends
Now still
Now we try corn and pear
Let’s beat the drums for you
One more time
I hope you sit sprawled
Yogurt na Akunechenyi
Red sand and moonlight
The smell of earth and water
Raindrops on dusty ground
Be happy M

Mea Culpa?

So Easter is in 3 days, this is the holy week and I have been feeling a certain “mea culpa” for missing most of Lent. I have been reflecting quite a bit about everything I believe in. You see, I was raised a catholic and I like being a catholic, I even cried when Pope John Paul II died (yes, he was a good man), expressed my respect for Benedict XVI when he resigned, and screamed at the top of my lungs when “Habemus Papam” was declared a few weeks ago after the conclave sat. Although there are some things I dare not express in the church. I believe that the use of condoms is absolutely essential (don’t get me started on the prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS and what it does to families and those poor children orphaned by AIDS). I also do not see how it is in my place to criticise people’s sexual choices.

Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II
Back to my faith, the catholic way of worship is certainly different from the exuberance of the Pentecostal style, and it is also different from the new age form of worship. In the Catholic Church, the bible forms a tremendous foundation of who we are and our expression of faith. However, the sacraments of the church as well as the pope are very key. The Pope is key to the decisions made in the church; one remembers Vatican II, and the more recent changes to the liturgy of the mass to usher in 2012 by Benedict XVI. The church (and I use the term loosely to mean the followers of Christ) is changing to become relevant to the times we live in. There is a lot of dancing and singing in non-traditional churches, of preaching about prosperity and wealth creation. People especially young people find this relevant to their time. The new age forms are also popular and people use them in whole, or in parts; meditation, yoga, mantra chanting, varying from place to place. I think this form of worship will take over from the traditional forms and the fierce Pentecostal style, eventually. My journey though, has taken me to several different forms and places.

However, I like to think of myself as a catholic although many people may not regard me as a good one. I have missed mass quite a few times and I cannot remember the last time I went to confession! But in all this, I have held the Eucharist very special in my heart. My mother was visiting a couple of weekends ago, and she came with a boxful of catholic prayers for my sister and I; “How to find a life partner” (Ha!More on this next post), “How to avoid mortal sin”, “Prayer to the Saint of the Impossible”, and so many more. She made copies too, so that we each had a copy! “Everything Good Will Come” she kept telling us. I love my mum so much! That Sunday, I attended mass with her (no question of missing it while she was here). I dressed up with a slight irritation in my heart; I had a lot of work to finish off and wasn’t feeling like going because I went to bed late (we were up saying the Rosary with mum).

Surprisingly though, when I got to church, I felt a tremendous peace within my heart, the kind that makes you smile and keep still. I can tell you now that I do not know what it was, but it felt great and I will go back this week. The way I look at it is; as long as you are not causing harm to people, if it makes you happy and you believe, stick to whatever works for you.

Happy Easter to you.

How VSO and Volunteering Changed my Life

In the early years of my career as a young graduate, I honestly was not sure where to begin. I knew that I wanted to work in International Development, I read about the various agencies and NGOs, I picked up some french, but that was all I had. Until I heard about Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO). VSO is an international development charity whose volunteers work with local organisations that serve poor people. VSO also works with young people on different programmes to expand their horizon and encourage them to become active citizens in their communities.

I got involved with VSO primarily because I wanted to do something different. I had spent a very fulfilling year teaching English as a Second Language (ESP) at a Secondary School for most of 2005 as part of the National Youth Service Corps.

However, I felt that I could have spent more time volunteering in a hands-on manner within a host community.

I applied to be part of the Global Xchange; a 6 month long opportunity to volunteer in a different culture and live in cross-cultural pairs, within host communities, was the start really to what I do today.

During the first 3 months of the exchange in Calabar Nigeria, I was placed in a Faith Based Organisation called Justice Development and Peace Commission JDPC. This placement gave me the opportunity to witness community development first hand. I acquired varied skills from community mapping to baseline survey of small communities that needed portable drinking water, access roads and schools for children. The experience has helped me tremendously as I have gone on to work on various community based programs including the United Nations Development Program’s Local Development Project dedicated to alleviating poverty and providing basic infrastructure in the once troubled Niger Delta region of Nigeria.

In the last 3 months of the exchange in Edinburgh Scotland, I volunteered at a wonderful organisation called Shakti Women’s Aid. Shakti offers information & support to black minority ethnic women, children & young people facing domestic abuse, forced marriage & other gender-based abuse.

My First Taste of Haggis tattis
My First Taste of Haggis Tattis
The briefings I received and the insight I got into the management of social and or violent domestic situations have been very useful. I have worked on donor funded Projects which provide palliative care, psychosocial support/counselling to People Living with HIV/AIDS and Income Generating Activities to the affected families.

As an individual, I learnt to work with my initiative and also as part of large and diverse teams, understanding and even appreciating the various cultures and perspectives of the other volunteers and the host communities. During those six months, I learnt so much more than I would have if I had spent that time in a formal classroom. I understood and used my skills while celebrating those of others. On GX, the various activities exposed me to global issues and offered me a platform for positive learning and change, challenging my attitudes and assumptions.

This experience has made me even more appreciative of the foundation and cultural richness of our world and inspired me to celebrate us. But it has also made me aware of the failings and weaknesses of who we are. This is why I would like to be a part of creating that needed change.

I was Fr. Christmas
Yours truly as Fr Christmas at Shakti. Children poked my belly and asked “Did you have a bad year?”
GX inspired me to do a little one day at a time, bit by bit using the network, skills, learning and experiences I acquired on the exchange to create positive change in my immediate community and beyond.

When I was selected to be a part of the global xchange, I didn’t quite know what to expect. The narratives of some returned volunteers and the introductory training courses gave me an idea that it would be demanding yet fun; but it didn’t quite prepare me for the life changing experience that GX was.

During those six months, no day was exactly the same.

There was always something different to see, to explore, to share and to learn. If I had to change my life, GX would remain exactly where and when it happened.

Thanks to it, today I have worked on the Programme and Operations Management of several projects from infrastructure development, capacity building and institutional strengthening, to care and support for children orphaned by AIDS. Today I work on a 5 year malaria prevention and control Project. Malaria prevention through the distribution of long lasting insecticidal nets and intermittent preventive treatment of malaria in pregnancy, Malaria control through appropriate diagnosis and case management using ACTs.

It certainly expanded my horizon and gave me the itch to achieve greater things. Amongst other things, it has made a global citizen of me.

To challenge yourself, make a difference in our world, and/or break into International Development, learn more about the amazing work VSO does and make a decision today to be a young active citizen and volunteer for 6 months, or volunteer abroad for more than one year using your skills to make the much needed difference.

How To Find An International Development Job: Steps To Take

I met two VSO volunteers today, one came from Scotland and the other from Boston and it brought some wonderful memories back. From my undergrad days all those years ago, before VSO, I knew what I wanted to do. It was only a question of how to get in there. I wanted to work in development; I declared and spoke it as often as I could albeit being unprepared at the time. Eventually I realised that if I wanted to get in there, I needed to do my research; and I did. However, I wish I knew what I know now. it would have made the journey smoother and quicker. If you are even the least bit interested in this area, it is truly worthwhile to pursue; there is nothing else I would rather do (except maybe travel writing and photography, which am now exploring).

To follow a career in International Development, it is important that you strategise and do your homework because it hardly happens by chance. These are the pieces of information that every potential development worker needs to have:

  1. Have a clear understanding of Development

You want to read the history, the need, the various schools of thought around development. You want to gain an insight into the various issues plaguing the developing world. That is why this sector exists in the first place; those issues.  

Understand the various kinds of Development

In development work, all organisations and goals are not the same. The work done varies, from ethics and compensation, to rules of engagement and streams of funding. There is relief work which involves a lot of disaster response; and then there is Peace Building which has to do with a lot of post-war reconstruction. Then there is the Development Aid which is more long term and is done by a wide variety of organisations; this involves intervention in a host of different areas in developing countries.

Understand the various kinds of Development Organisations

This sector has a lot of players. There are the Multilaterals which include the UNDP and the World Bank. There are also the Bilaterals which include Aid arms of Governments including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), DFID(or UK AID) Department of International Development, CIDA Canadian International Development Agency. There are Commercial Organisations which are for profit and are involved in some aid development work. Research Institutions are also huge and these include Universities. Last but not the least are Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) which are the commonest and are found everywhere; in the donor countries and in the developing countries where the implementation happens. These include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Save the Children, PLAN and hundreds more.

Start saving

Now that you understand who your potential employees are, it is time to start saving money. It is important to prepare for the possibility of funding your dream, for a while at least. It is possible that you will not find a job immediately you start looking; it is also possible that you may have to fly out to the field just for the added advantage of being on ground. Save everything that you can. It can be difficult with all the debt and student loans that are unpaid still, but a little here and a little there over one year can make a huge difference.  

Familiarise yourself with the needs of the Sector

People always say that they “want to help people” and would like to visit the field and be”hands-on”. While that is a really good goal and thought, it’s time to realise that “more and more of the hands-on work is casual labour “. Even more shocking to some people is the fact that “most development work is office work”.  This is a career path, so just because it is called development aid, or humanitarian work does not mean that it is not run by professionals. It is. The areas of intervention are increasingly requiring specialists. This is no longer about helping orphanages or digging a well for clean water. It is now about systems strengthening for sustainability, capacity building and integrated supportive supervision. There is still the odd distribution of condoms to health facilities and/or most at risk populations, or Long Lasting Insecticidal Nets to household with communities, but those are done by casual labour really, while the experts do the tracking using datasent in from the facilities. Thus find out through “devex”, and “reliefweb”, to start with; what the needs of the sector are.  There are always some people who will have the opportunity to learn on the job, but there are others who will get in the door quicker just for the specific skills set which they possess. You want to be one of those. Just like every other profession, there are so many skills set required; from Public Health, to HR, to Democracy and Governance, Finance and Accounting, Operations, Procurement, Logistics, Communication, IT, Project Management, to Security, etc.

Develop your skills to speak to some of the needs above

For my undergrad degree, I went with English Literature because I was passionate about books and creative writing. That was my passion as a mid-teen. Then I realised what sector I was interested in, and quickly picked up a second language and invested in Project Management skills. Find out what your interests are and how they translate into an International Development job, hopefully it is something that you are already studying (or studied) and it fits into existing development needs. This makes it much easier for you to break in. Remember to develop some “across the board” skills like report writing and public speaking.

Start knocking on those doors

It is time to explore fellowships, internships and volunteering opportunities (in that order). Usually for those opportunities to count as something, in order for you to make an impact and vice-versa, it needs to be at least six months long. Start from your home country and keep at it, give yourself a timeline to break in. You may consider moving to the city that has the highest number of Development Organisations. Sign up for surveys, attend free lectures on Health, War, Social Reform, Aid Effectiveness, anything that you can, in order to put yourself in the same space with Development people. Express your intention to intern or volunteer, read everything that you can on the region in which you are interested. It is likely that someone will see your hunger and give you a break; albeit unpaid, to start with.

Take the Bulls by the Horns: Fly out

Find out more about the developing country and the region that you are most interested in; Asia, Africa, the Middle East, etc. Make contact with a local NGO or an International one and fund your trip out. A lot of organisations will agree to take you in as long as it is at no cost to them and you will be of added value.

Finally, the key is really to read widely, work hard at improving yourself, and network. Attend parties, attend meetings, take notes (if you are already inside as an F, V or I), and offer to work extra, show that you are hungry for it and willing to put in the work. Try not to be too “in-your-face though, nobody wants a hounding job-seeker on their back. Focus on forging lasting friendships and people will be willing to put in a good word for you and opportunities for paid work will turn up.

Most importantly for people going to the field, be aware that your soft-skills are being evaluated, nobody wants conflict or rabble rousers on their team, so try to be amicable (be aware that the locals may  have a problem with you). I have heard local staff say that expatriates come from the “home country” as wet-behind-the-ears-volunteers, those same locals teach them the ropes because they know how it works, have more experience and have been doing the job for a while, and before they know it, the kid takes their jobs or the kid becomes their manager. Be aware of these feelings as you navigate the waters. Also, do not be a people pleaser, take work which you are not interested in, chances are that you will be stuck with that line of work as that is the experience you have garnered. Nobody wants to do work that they are unhappy with.

I have not covered all the steps to getting an international Development job. If you wish to add more, by all means do. Please add a few more, we can have numbers 9 and 10. Or more.