What do you think volunteering looks like?
I am not clear whether there is only one or the right type of volunteering. But what I can say is that EUROSHA in Kenya and EUROSHA in Burundi are as different as chalk and cheese.
In Kenya we were based in a rural area (a town called Molo) with little infrastructure and even fewer amenities. Our day consisted of work, going for lunch, going back to work and going back home after work. We would hardly ever leave the house after dark and our after-work activities were limited to dinners or watching movies together. During the weekends we would travel to surrounding areas (in overloaded minibuses in dire need of repair) or would stay in to have a Skype call with family/ friends back home (hoping there would be no power cut that day).
On the other hand, our location allowed us to gain a glimpse of local life. Since we were only white people in town, we had no choice but to interact with people around us. Starting from our neighbours, our washing ladies, the labourers working on our compound to the local organisation (Network for Ecofarming in Africa) that was hosting us in their office. At NECOFA we met some great people who made us understand the challenges we faced in our work and gave us the chance to accompany them in their work with local communities. These experiences were extremely valuable in shaping our understanding and views of Kenya.
We have been in Bujumbura for almost a month now so it is difficult not to notice the differences between our and the EUROSHA Burundi volunteer’s experiences. One month might well be too short a time to judge but from the outside it looks like that:
It seems that volunteering in an urban area brings with it more freedom of movement. In Bujumbura there are better roads, taxis and minibuses. There are more places to relax and more places to eat out. You can go to the gym or spend your time munching on a delicious cake from a French café. It is still Africa but there is more of what we know from back home in Bujumbura than in Molo. The expat community is also much larger here. There are many western NGOs but also other ‘muzungu’ (white) volunteers working in Buja. It not only gives you the opportunity to socialise with ease but to network for your future.
I can hardly asses EUROSHA Burundi’s work experiences (we will discuss it during our final week in Africa). From the onlookers point of view, it looks quite similar but I am sure there are many hidden differences resulting from the volunteering location.
I am not trying to judge. I am simply trying to make future volunteers aware of the different faces of volunteering.
Just ask yourself.
Do you prefer to experience rural life? To use the same means of transport as the locals (and have babies deposited in your lap from time to time)? To get to places you would never get to without locals taking you along? To be bored and wait for running water/electricity for longer than your European patience allows?
Or do you prefer living in a city and being able to move around wherever you want in safe-looking taxis? To have a social life in the expat community and be able to dress up from time to time (in contrast to wearing grey and worn-out cloths in the small town)? To be less bored but also wait for electricity?