Fail to prepare…

Flights booked? Check. Visa? Check. Sturdy pair of flip-flops? Check. My necessary trawl through essential travel preparation is well underway. On the near horizon, though, is the now customary charade of visiting the travel nurse. Each visit I stroll in, inform the nurse I’m travelling to Ghana and that I’ll be needing a prescription for malaria tablets and whatever boosters are due since my last trip. The nurse will then turn to her computer, look up the details for Ghana and select the right inoculations. She’ll produce the injection, turn to me and will probably say something like “Are you ok with needles?” I’ll then look at her straight in the eye and lie “Yea, no problem.”

Now, I’m no great fan of injections for the reason that someone stabbing me in the arm and sending a mystery fluid round my body doesn’t particularly enthuse me. So I’ll turn to the face away from my arm and get on with though as it needs to happen – I’m also not sure what I would gain from saying that actually, no, I’m not OK with needles. Does the nurse then turn from me, put the offending item back where it came from and say “OK then, I’ll just pop this away and we’ll say no more about it then”? I thought not.

However this visit is one of the last tasks I have to complete before I should be ready to go. But is preparation to volunteer overseas just a case of ticking the boxes that are needed to enter the country? Probably not is the answer that most people would give after giving it a little thought.

On the one hand you might argue that it’s extremely difficult to prepare for situations that you haven’t encountered before. Similarly, you might be inclined to suggest that there inevitably has to be a bedding in period after you arrive before you’re ready to really throw yourself into your project. Both of these may be true to some extent, but there are a few things that you can do make sure you are as fully prepared as possible before you begin your volunteer experience.

Have you gained as much information from the organisation about both their structure and the projects you’ll be working on? Do you have a clear picture of what will be expected of you from your host organisation? Do you yourself have a strong idea of what it is you would like to do?

At KickStart Ghana we try to provide volunteers with information on both our organisation and have produced a volunteer/role specification to try and answer as many of the volunteer’s questions as possible. Everyone has their own issues that spring to mind though and volunteers shouldn’t worry about getting in contact with the appropriate people to find out more information.

Even with this information it may be hard to plan your activities down to the smallest detail, but you can ask yourself a couple of fairly broad questions pre departure:

1. What are my strengths and how can they contribute to the project?

2. What do I want to achieve whilst volunteering?

This gives you something to refer during your trip: Are your skills being utilised? Are you achieving what you set out to achieve? If the answer to any of these is no then it is beneficial for both yourself and the organisation that it is fed back to your project leader.

From a KickStart Ghana perspective we’ve come up with 3 goals that we want to work on over the summer to help support our overall objectives:

1. Consolidate the support we give to our existing projects

2. Increase the scope for the number/type of projects we work with

3. Increase the number of relationships we have with other organisations with common goals

As mentioned above we’ll review these regularly to ensure that they are being fulfilled, and if not then steps will be taken to remedy this.

So despite all the stress and hassle of making sure you’re stocked up on flip-flops, sun cream and bug repellent, the most important pre departure tasks you might undertake is to just think about those few key questions. For me though, the task of overcoming the travel nurse is still to come…

Dave Thorp

This blog originally appeared on Do-it.

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