Bringing skills and experience to bear ...

Cameroon - October 2015

Sally Miller carried out a five and a half week placement with our partner NGO, SHUMAS between October and December 2015. This is Sally's feedback, in her own words, on her experiences in Cameroon and what she felt about working with an African NGO for the first time.

"I had just finished a Masters in International Relations and wanted to do a short stint of volunteering in Africa before I started job hunting. It was of paramount importance for me to take part in a placement where my skills could be used, having been in the charity sector for 20 years, and not a placement where I would feel I was assisting but not being able to give my all in terms of my skills and abilities.

On speaking with Steve at AidCamps this became a reality more than just an idea as Steve explained that a role could be made for me. I gave him my skills and he approached an NGO in Cameroon who came back with a positive response and provided an outlined role for my five and a half week placement with SHUMAS (Strategic Humanitarian Services) based in the north west of Cameroon.

My aims of working with the NGO in Cameroon were numerous. I wanted direct experience of volunteering with an African NGO and to experience volunteering overseas. I was hoping that by using my skills when volunteering, it would be a useful exercise and experience for both parties. I wanted to also develop new skills and experience living in an African country, albeit for a short while.

The role developed specifically for me was multifaceted. I assisted in the creation of management and monitoring procedures for the day to day management of the rehabilitation centre as well as of financial reporting procedures for the rehabilitation centre. I evaluated the SHUMAS Biofarm systems and issues and presented my report to senior management. I ran two workshops for staff and volunteers. The first focused on capacity building of head office staff and volunteers on management and working systems and the second trained staff and volunteers on researching and writing funding project proposals; both of these followed with an accompanying manual being presented to staff. I worked with colleagues in devising a marketing plan for the rehabilitation centre, Biofarm and SHUMAS generally. Finally, I carried out some foundation research on funding proposals for the settlement of rehabilitation centre trainees and Biofarm trainees and plan to continue this work with the NGO over the next few months, working from the UK on these; of course, the specifics will be different for someone else, but I hope the detail given here give an idea of what is possible.

I had five weeks of constant and rewarding work and went through stages of questioning followed by confidence about what I was doing. The working culture was very different from that to which I was used; it took a while to adapt and dispense with my own habits and patterns of working and adapt to a different environment. I had to consider my recommendations and how easy or difficult it would be for staff and volunteers to work with my suggestions; it was a huge culture change for me and it took a few days to adapt to it in order to be able to work with and support SHUMAS effectively. Once I had got through that phase I was on a roll and loved every minute there. My colleagues were so embracing and accepting of any suggestions I had, observations I made, questions I asked. There were no issues with any ideas and comments I communicated, I didn't have to prove myself, all were so willing to consider different and new ways of working, and this made my experience all the more enjoyable and satisfying.

I was very sad to leave SHUMAS. It was an incredible, wonderful and life affirming experience and the five and a half weeks were immensely enjoyable. This volunteering placement experience exceeded all my expectations, I am so grateful for the experience and knowledge it has given me and I will have memories that last a lifetime and new skills. My thanks go to all staff and volunteers at SHUMAS for making me feel so welcome, for including me as a fully integrated team member and for being wonderful and supportive colleagues."


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