Jai, what did your role as Field Officer involve?
The South Asia Field Officer role involves so many things I couldn’t include them all here. Basically my role as the Field Officer was to be EWB’s eye, ears, mouth and nose (especially pertinent) in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The Field Officer coordinates the on the ground activities of EWB; from the in-country volunteers, to building partnerships and organising initiatives such as Dialogues on Development; a study tour for students and professionals .
What was the most significant change you saw while working in-country?
There were so many significant changes it’s impossible to know how to choose one. One of the best moments for me was at EWB partner, the Sri Lankan School of Prosthetics and Orthotics (SLSPO), when I was sharing a dinner with some staff from Cambodia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, UK and Australia. We were sharing stories, and it turned out that through EWB placements in Cambodia, these colleagues had trained, studied in Australia and were now teaching young Sri Lankans to be prosthetics and orthotists. Their lives had been completely transformed through skill development and the work they are doing is impacting so many others; both those who receive training and those who receive prosthetics and orthotics as a result. I realised how powerful the long term change that EWB volunteers are creating through capacity building and personal connections is.
What is the role of in-country volunteers?
In-country volunteers are integrated into the local organisation they work with, working with a local counterpart (or team) to assist them to do what they do better. The idea is capacity building and a two-way exchange of knowledge and experience. Frequently, the in-country volunteer learns more than their counter parts, but the basis is for a mutual benefit, often in ways we never envisaged.
EWB does not build new infrastructure or implement projects directly, it is always in collaboration with and through the existing operations of partner organisations. This ensures appropriateness to the local context, but more-so, it is about relationships and the power of collaboration. An in-country volunteer will live in the vicinity of the partner organisation, carrying out tasks, much like their local colleagues, operating through the systems and process of their partner organisation, travelling to the sites and interacting with stakeholders. The EWB volunteer will be connecting with the EWB community back in Australia.
What was the best part of volunteering overseas?
All of it! Especially the friendships and gaining an insight into people’s otherwise inconceivable realities – this kept me motivated to be part of the positive change. I also loved sharing the things I have learnt, whilst doing something to improve the lives of others. Volunteering overseas made me realise that there are so many nuances to success; that it comes in all shapes and types, many unforeseen. Volunteering overseas with EWB took me on and adventure of truth and understanding as well as cultures and landscapes.
And the biggest challenge?
The Field Officer was the most challenging role that I have ever undertaken – but I haven’t had any children yet! Being immersed in a context, workplace and a community is a big part of the EWB volunteering experience, however the Field Officer, works across organisations and does not have this connection to one community or project, which was a huge challenge for me. Operating in India in any context is a challenge that outstrips anything I’ve come across in Australia; the daily grind and cultural adjustments needed to get by and achieve outcomes are an ubiquitous trail.
What would you say to someone who wants to be involved but is not quite ready to go overseas?
EWB has an exciting opportunity for people who want to be involved without packing up and leaving home for a year. Volunteer ‘buddies’ are assigned to in-country volunteers for the duration of their position. As the buddy, you would be in consistent (eg. weekly) contact with the placement volunteer, offering any form of support required; from connecting to their local chapter, technical assistance, fundraising, coordinating research to updating the EWB website. The buddy will be a vital link back to the EWB community, with the aim of creating a partnership team to support the field placement as per their requirements.
There are also opportunities for people who are interested to take up the challenge of being a Specialist Technical Officer to lead one of EWB’s Knowledge Hubs. If you have some experience in WASH, energy, ICT, community development or education, this is your chance to put your passion to good use, by building up EWB’s network around one of these fields.
Thanks so much Jai, what are the next steps for someone who likes the sound of getting involved?
To find out more about overseas placements and the Australia based roles head to the volunteer overseas page. And remember applications close this Sunday the th April. Good luck!