Sunday, November 02, 2014

Like everything else, international volunteering gets easier with experience

Home sweet home for the next four months
  Meet new boss: Check. Open Nicaraguan bank account: Check. Find place to live in Managua for the next four months: Check.
    And so we are ready, Paul and I, for whatever comes next.
As we had expected, we are settling into our Cuso International positions much quicker this time around, having been able to draw on our last experience in Honduras and get things done in a much more efficient fashion. There will be unexpected bumps and frustrations to come; there always are. But how different it feels to be a more seasoned Central American volunteer, not to mention being relatively fluent in Spanish, as compared to the rather stunned and stumbling first-timers we were three years ago.
     House-hunting was a breeze this time, what with us knowing that the only way to make it happen is to hit the bricks and ask anyone who passes by whether they know of a place to rent.
    We had a free afternoon on Thursday during our Cuso in-country training and seized upon it to walk around the neighbourhood near our offices seeking out for-rent signs. When a security guard in the 'hood spotted us looking uncertain and asked if he could help us with anything, we knew enough to just fess up that we were looking for a place to rent, and then follow him without hesitation as he walked us to a big shared house nearby with five habitaciones for rent. Within a couple of hours, we'd met the landlady, brought a Cuso staff member around to check the place out, and were set to move in (which we did today).
     What was even more different than last time was the meeting that same day with my contraparte, the vice-president of the Nicaraguan NGO where I'll be working, I had such little Spanish last time around that I could only sit like a silent lump last time around, saying a few sentences I'd rehearsed in my head but nothing more. Happily, two-plus years working in an all-Spanish environment in Honduras meant that this time out I could actually have a discussion with my new boss at the Federacion Agropecuaria de Cooperatives de Mujeres Productores del Campo de Nicaragua (FEMUPROCAN), and develop a work plan with her for the next four months.
    I think I accomplished a lot in my last placement in Honduras by the time almost two and a half years had passed, and never mind that I had such poor Spanish initially. But a four-month placement this time around means I have to be on it right from the start. I am grateful for the language skills acquired in Honduras that are going to let me do that.
     In the last posting, I was primarily working in communications. This time, I'll be helping FEMUPROCAN develop a database to improve their collection and reporting of statistics from the almost 2,000 women they work with in the country, and reviewing manuals that FEMUPROCAN believes are very important but under-utilized. Once again, I'm grateful for all the lessons I learned in Honduras around such things, the most vital being that in countries where literacy is a challenge for much of the population and oral communications are the norm, any written information has to be put together with all of that in mind if there's any hope of it being utilized.
    It'll be a challenge. But that's what I love about working with Cuso in developing countries. Can't wait to learn more.

1 comment:

e.a.f. said...

Great to read you found a place to live. Sounds like the project will be very worth while. enjoy