So you’ve decided to join an international development charity working in Tanzania. First of all, congratulations! You’re going to do wonderful work collaborating with partners in Dar es Salaam to improve the lives of those in local communities through one of the Education, Health, Entrepreneurship and WaSH projects. However the next thoughts that enter your mind, despite your skills and knowledge that will contribute to a successful summer of work, may be ‘I’ve never worked in Tanzania before’, ‘I’ve never worked on a Development project before’ or more generally… ‘What have I really just signed myself up to?’
This is why our volunteer training program is important. Before project work begins, our training program aims to provide volunteers with knowledge and skills that will prepare them for the summer ahead. This year’s training consisted of 5 x 2 hour sessions during Lent Term, including additional sessions for MLE (Monitoring, Learning and Evaluation) officers.
Our first session introduced volunteers to the CDI committee, the different projects (their goals and current work), the day-to-day life of a volunteer, the advantages and disadvantages of being a student led organisation, and also some Swahili! This is an important first step to managing expectations of the 2 months of work, providing volunteers with a clearer image of what to expect.
Our second session, presented by two past volunteers, provided insights into Tanzanian ‘culture’ and some key differences that are important for working with Tanzanian student counterparts from our sister organisation KITE Dar es Salaam and our development partners.
Being cognisant and sensitive towards local ‘culture’ is something that is not only important for providing clearer expectations of what volunteers will experience daily, but also fundamental for good working relationships with our Tanzanian counterparts. Instead of building ‘cultural competence’, we hope to instill a sense of cultural humility. Our volunteers must be open to learning from our Tanzanian counterparts, and we must be aware of potential unwanted power dynamics. This could be between CDI and KITE volunteers, or between our volunteers and those we are trying to help.
Our third session, presented by Ian Ellison from the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, provided insights into what sustainable development is, how we achieve this, and how we can best leverage our efforts to provide scalable, sustainable impact. Whether you had previous development project experience or not, everyone had something to gain from this session. Ian’s knowledge of the area and clear communication of the issues facing any development organisation, as well as the ways a student organisation can best leverage their efforts to achieve positive impact, provided a grounding of ideas that should be in the back of every volunteer’s mind when working on their project.
Our fourth and fifth sessions, presented by our Volunteer Training Officers, focused on skills that facilitate problem solving and teamwork skills. These skills are important for promoting creativity and efficient practices within project teams, for example providing tools for analysing and disaggregating issues for better targeting where projects operate.
Every year the training program adapts, in line with volunteer feedback, to address new areas that allow CDI volunteers to work even more effectively. Next year, we will keep working to prepare volunteers for the eventful summers they face and allow them to do their best work.
By Tadeusz Ciecierski-Holmes, Volunteer Training Officer 2018/19
Tads is a second-year student studying Economics at St. John’s College.