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.


  1. Carrie Rubin

    Good for you for volunteering in these needed areas. I’m sure the experiences you gained were invaluable, and think of all the good you did for others. I admire those of you who put yourselves out there like that.

    1. Anne Chia

      I loved every bit of it. But I think the real heroes are the people who think about these programmes and make them happen, as well as the people who open up their lives and communities to a bunch of learners who come and go 🙂

  2. Chinwe from

    Volunteering must have been a unique experience for you. Interestingly, I have always been an advocate for volunteering after having a wonderful experience volunteering too :-). It is an opportunity that is not only fulfilling but also rewarding. My middle name is almost changing to ‘volunteer’ as a result of how frequent i champion this great course. Keep it up and I hope as days go by, people that are yet to appreciate or consider volunteering will realize and appreciate volunteering for its priceless worth.

    1. Anne Chia

      Hahaha at your middle name 🙂 Volunteering is certainly fulfilling and rewarding,every volunteer comes away with certain skills or improved knowledge about something! It’s great!

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