Having volunteered for 3 months with Suas with Kenya in 2007, I thought long and hard about returning to the programme, albeit in a different role. The culmination of my professional exams and the natural break in my career offered a window to immerse myself in a completely different environment to the big corporation where I had worked in for the three and a half years since taking part in the Volunteer Programme in Kenya.
I saw the Coordinator role at first hand in 2007, and from this I garnered a good understanding of what it entailed. I wanted to challenge myself, support others in their development and see life in India at first hand.
I’d be lying if I said that the idea of having six weekends in five months fully dedicated to Suas preparation filled me with glee. However, all of them were uplifting. The Coordinator weekends, of which there are three, are necessary to understand the different viewpoints of those who you will be working with and the importance of presenting a united front. The level of specialist skills which we were taught over the weekends was hugely impressive and of great assistance while overseas. If I was to select one skill which I learnt there and tried to implement during the Programme and beyond and, actually, every day of my life since then, it is the art of active listening.
My team of 11 Volunteers were an awesome and inspiring group. The great challenge is trying to offer each team member the same level of support and interest. The best bits were the simple things like the buzz in the house as everyone came home on a high exchanging stories about what had happened at school and their plans for the next day. As a leader you feel pride in being central to orchestrating this ‘can-do’ attitude. The camaraderie between 12 people living in close proximity cannot be overestimated, I recall many an evening rolling around the floor laughing!
It was a pleasure to work with Suas’ partner Sabuj Sangha. The bond created by the volunteers and their respective teachers despite huge language barriers was very helpful. I consulted with my point of contact on a daily basis and, despite cultural barriers, fostered an excellent working relationship.
I’m now working in a Startup Private Equity venture in London. On initial inspection my daily life could not be much more different to my time with Sabuj Sangha, whether the daily train journeys, visiting the Volunteers at the schools or having the craic in the house.
As a Coordinator, I set out to learn about myself, India and what I wanted to do with my life post professional qualification. While all these have not been answered, the 3 months in India were perhaps the most intensive learning period of my life. There were many mini-crises during the summer and my response to these and success in remaining calm in adverse circumstances was something which I have no doubt will stand to me into the future.
I’d recommend the Coordinator role wholeheartedly. It is difficult to avoid clichés when trying to sum the role up but I’ll try; stressful, inspiring and the most fantastic perspective changer.