Well, this was unexpected. Can’t say, really, what was, but the last year has been nothing if not filled with expectation. As the school year was drawing to a close circa April, I took the dive. I’m no English teacher, said I to me, and, This ship needs some new horizons, said we to us (we being C and I, of course). We do still deeply dig on Le Puy, and this is our point de chute, but there is a lot more world to see than we’ve had the chance to see thus far, and point de chute means landing pad after all, and one needs to take flight in order to necessitate landing, right? And so the search began.
I knew it would be hard. The Interweb is chockful of warnings that development work is crazy difficult to break into. But I had years of experience with vulnerable people. I had years of experience of monitoring and evaluating, of change management and people management and risk management. I’d volunteered almost without a pause for over a decade, and spent a year volunteering full time with two wildly different grassroots organisations in a developing country. I had two fluent and a third decent language. And I type damn fast. I knew it would be hard, yes…but I thought it would be possible.
So I applied. I applied and applied and applied. I applied for roles in many regions. I applied with many organisations based in many different countries. But I always ensured I ticked nearly every box. Mostly I was met with silence. You’re strongly discouraged from contacting the organizations, and so I couldn’t pull my traditional call-to-confirm-you-received-my-CV trick. When I did break that rule and called the UK head office of a certain very well known NGO, I was encouraged to send my CV directly to HR. That was met with an email confirming that my skillset was well-matched to what they looked for in candidates, and to keep applying. I did. I got nothin’.
I was invited for a series of interviews with another very well known NGO specializing in subsidized volunteer positions. I was “accepted” as one of their volunteers. That of course doesn’t guarantee a position – only that they’ll vouch for you and that your expenses will be paid by their organization assuming the partner organization in the country is interested in taking you on. I applied and applied and applied. I got nothin’.
In all, I applied for over forty positions. In France, NGOs look for paid employees, volunteers (bénévoles), or supported volunteers (volontariats). That latter group is compensated by an organization similar to the one I was accepted with, which happens not to be French, incidentally. So these posts aren’t paid, but expenses are, which of course makes volunteering a lot more accessible for those of us without unlimited disposable income. I applied for lots of these sorts of posts with no luck…until about a month ago.
It’s a very exciting opportunity. C and I will be going to Ecuador for 6 months. I’ll be working fulltime with an organization supporting very vulnerable children, and C will also put in a few hours a week to help them with their IT. There’s even the possibility that our work might cross over at some point, which could be quite cool. We’ll be perfecting our Spanish and getting to see what promises to be an incredibly beautiful, welcoming country. We’ll get to work with amazing people who have dedicated their lives to this noble service.
Thing is, this post is only sort of volontariat, because the while the cost of the flight isn’t paid, they work with another organisation who gets it 66% reimbursed. Food and board are covered, but that’s it. All other expenses (visas, vaccines, etc.) are covered by the volunteer (i.e., us).
I’m mostly super honored.
But I’m also more than a little apprehensive. Intstead of asking what if, I find myself asking, what next? If my skills and experience weren’t enough to warrant a paid position before, will 6 months suffice when this post is said and done? I’m not a new graduate in my early 20s…We came back to France in the name of practicality. We made a list of things to do and we’ve ticked every box we set out to tick, but now it feels like I’m starting from scratch, and my experience seems feeble next to some of my peers (can I even call them that?) with multiple Masters degrees and experience in several countries in development.
Some numbers: We’re leaving in 6 weeks and 4 days. We have roughly seven thousand things to do before that happens. C is in Geneva for the next four days, and in a couple weeks he’ll be off to Singapore for 2 weeks.
In the meantime, I’ve got to remember to be grateful.
This is going to get interesting.