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Vicki Monkhouse, who works in community development with Dublin’s Northside Partnership and studies at All Hallows College, volunteered on the 2014 summer programme at St. Vincent’s Community Centre, Mekele.
“In July 2014 I had the pleasure of working with Saint Vincent’s Community Centre and Youth Club in Mekele, Northern Ethiopia. My role was to assist in the summer school of children ranging in age from 6 to 15 (and some younger children who snuck in). This was a departure from my work in Dublin where I work one-on-one with families and children aged 0-4. I felt that by not having a background in school teaching I was working with a skills deficit. My awareness of this led me to question what difference, if any, I was making.
The children in Saint Vincent’s were charming, resilient, cheeky, funny and a joy to be around and I came to the conclusion that if my skills as a teacher were lacking, I could offer to be a listener, a source of encouragement for children practising spoken English, and a supportive source of praise for those who were struggling to feel confident.
VLM’s motto: “do one thing, do something” is reassuring for volunteers. It emphasizes the power of small gestures of kindness and reminds us how unreasonable it is to expect to be able to affect change in a short time. It is through our interactions with people that we find meaningful contribution and this can have a powerful effect.
My placement was challenging and inspiring. I know that I received much from the people I met and I feel privileged to have been so warmly included in the lives of the Fathers and Daughters of Charity in Mekele. The work they do to support and improve circumstances for their service users is fantastic. Ethiopia is a far more beautiful country than many people recognize and the Ethiopians I met are friendly, helpful and keen to improve the development of their country.
The reflection of my experiences both of being in Ethiopia and of volunteering is ongoing. At our de-brief session we were asked to choose a reflection card that spoke to us of our experience in Ethiopia. I was drawn to an African proverb:
“If you think you are too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent a night with a mosquito.”
If anything I did added value to the community, or to the life of even one child, then I feel that I have done what VLM trusted me to do.
I now see volunteering as a process of exchanging gifts and I have received many. I encourage anyone considering committing their time and energy in volunteering to trust their capabilities; remember that by being present you are giving of yourself and this is greatly valued by your hosts.”