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What Not to Expect When You’re Volunteering

Written by CorpsAfrica/Malawi Volunteer Ms. Caroline Luka

When I was selected to become a CorpsAfrica Volunteer in September 2017, I had so many expectations. After completing Pre-Service Training (PST) my expectations kept on increasing. I was days away from being deployed and boy did I have a list full of what I would expect once I got there. You know what excitement plus fear does to you. Your brain automatically switches and all you think about is how you will behave, how the people will look at you, and what projects you intend on doing. You have so many ideas that you smile ridiculously and tell yourself that, “I’ve got this.” Had I known in the beginning what really comes with serving as a Volunteer I may have thought differently. So, here are three things a future CorpsAfrica Volunteer should not expect once they have just been deployed to the site.

1 – Projects to go just as planned.
Do not go into the community with projects already articulated in your brain. Do not expect to tell your community what to do. It’s suicide. Do not have expectations on what projects your community will want to do, but instead go in with a clear mind. Have a clean slate. Do not expect a project to just develop in the first month of deployment either. In fact, just go there with a blank mind and focus on integration first. Build relationships and trust first. Get to know your community and its members. Trust me, once this is done, project ideas will flow on their own from the members themselves.

2 – Your idea of the perfect site.
Have you ever had assumptions in your head about life in a rural community? Those assumptions are probably both true and not true. We think that we have it all figured out about how life in the village will be when we get deployed to our sites. How unbearable it is to live in a house with no electricity, no internet, and no running water. Well it is true. It’s difficult. There is no 3G, no running water, and no electricity….or at least sometimes! To your surprise, for example, network at my site-mate Twambi’s community is terrible, but another Volunteer, Ruth, has the fastest internet at her site! Volunteer Dingaan has no electricity at his house, but Volunteer Ireen has power 24/7. Volunteer Sylvester lives five minutes away from the beautiful Lake Malawi, while my site is surrounded by beautiful mountains. My point is that no one has it easy, but no one suffers terribly either, so do not go thinking you will end up at your perfect site because it may not happen.

3 – An evenly balanced work load.
Once you complete PST your brain is now loaded with a lot of information and all you want to do is put this information to use. Once you arrive at site, do not expect to have things to do every day but don’t expect to be idle either. There are days where you get so busy it’s tiring. When you long for a nap but do not even have the time to close your eyes. Other times your work plan is flexible. You get less busy and can finally get that nap. All you need to do is plan your week or even your month in advance so that you do not choke. Find something in your community that drives you to wake up every morning to do more and lend a hand when needed.

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