When I applied for the role of Development Coordinator, I was working in human rights and development education. I worked part-time with Amnesty International on resource development and teacher training programmes. I also worked part-time with Link Community Development recruiting schools and teachers for development education programmes, designing teaching materials and running workshops.
I had taken part in the Suas Volunteer Programme twice as a volunteer, both times volunteering with DAS in Kolkata. I loved working in the DAS schools and coaching centres. The DAS staff are incredibly dedicated and you can clearly see how they have fostered a love of education in the children, and the wider impact they have had on the communities they work with, in health, education and empowerment of women and children in particular. Both times I took part in the programme as a volunteer, I had fantastic team coordinators and really admired how they motivated our team to work towards a common aim of supporting the partner organizations and learning more about ourselves and the world. I thought about applying to be a coordinator several times, and last year felt that it was the right time to go for it. Because I had enjoyed the Global Perspectives element of the programme so much when I was a volunteer, and because of my experience of working in development education in Ireland, the role of Development Coordinator appealed to me the most.
There is a significant amount of preparation involved in the programme, which really pays off when you get to India. It wasn’t until we arrived in Kolkata that I realized just how central the coordinator team is in making the summer a success for everyone involved. The coordinator preparation weekends go a long way in supporting the coordinators to become a working team. There is a lot packed into the preparation weekends, as there are so many strands to the programme to cover – logistics, teaching skills, preparation to work in a new culture, team building, global perspectives etc – but the sessions are kept as participatory as possible, which is a great way to get to know the people you’ll be spending ten weeks with.
I loved the whole process of organizing and managing Global Perspectives Week with Colm, my fellow Development Coordinator, and with Mary and Dermot, the Volunteer Programme team. It was challenging to develop a framework for the week that covered a range of learning outcomes and then to put that framework into practice in the form of workshops, talks and field trips that would be accessible and enjoyable for everyone, but for the most part, I think we succeeded! One of the highlights of the week for me was seeing the volunteers get really involved in the Trade Game, a simulation game which demonstrates the inequality of the global trading system – it became very clear who the most competitive people on each team were!! Another highlight was hearing Shubhra, the head of Vikramshila, speak about her involvement in the Right to Education Act (2009) – her passion for education and equality was inspirational.
The most rewarding aspect of the role for me was getting the opportunity to work with so many people who are passionate about making a positive change in the world – the volunteers, the other coordinators, Suas staff and the partner organizations. One of the greatest challenges has been attempting to carry the positivity and energy of Indian life back to Ireland and to find a way to connect Indian and Irish life.
It’s hard to try to explain how much I learned from being a coordinator, and I have the feeling it will take another while to fully comprehend how much I’ve taken from the programme. One of the main things I’ve taken away from the experience is the importance of solidarity, being empathetic, and connecting with people, whether it’s your teammates, the partners, the children and teachers you work with, or someone you encounter once on the street. I’ve seen just how much you can achieve and how much you learn about yourself and the world when you take the time to try to understand another person, another perspective or another culture.
I am currently working on a development education programme for Hibernia College (which I had been doing prior to the programme), and I am looking for further opportunities to work in development overseas. The coordinator role has given me greater confidence in my ability to contribute to equality and positive change in the world, and has given me a greater belief in my ability to cope with new and challenging situations.
The coordinator role is a challenging one, and it will almost definitely challenge you in ways you won’t anticipate, no matter how much preparation you do! But it is also a unique opportunity to work with an inspirational group of people (volunteers, coordinators, partners, teachers and children) who will help you to develop a new perspective on the world and your place in it.