My volunteering experiences – discovering my strengths and potentials

An ayurvedic doctor by profession, engaged in clinical research; I was adventurous at heart but someone who liked to live in his comfort zones. One day I decided to listen to my adventurous spirit! The opportunity presented itself in the form of an assignment to volunteer my skills and experiences through the iVolunteer Overseas Programme to make a first hand difference in the lives of the Africans.

Life couldn’t get more adventurous for me; Dr. Falguni Basu. I hail from Rishra, a small town near Kolkata, West Bengal and this is my story…

Most of us, at some point of time in our lives have wanted to do something to change the world.  We may have wondered what we were doing in this robotic life and job. We may have dreamt of exploring the world but…
But, what can I alone do?
But, who will pay for my travels?
But, what about the rent?

These series of ifs and buts was never ending… until I contacted iVolunteer and VSO. It gave me an opportunity to use my skills, to change lives, to explore new cultures and countries; to just evolve as an individual professionally and personally. It all seemed too good to be true!

Comfort zone challenged

My first ever volunteering experience was in Nigeria. I was sent to the ‘Centre for HIV and STD Research’ as HIV Baseline Development Officer, placed in a remote village called ‘Umonyama’ in southeast Nigeria.

The moment I arrived in Nigeria for my placement, I found myself in a completely different situation; culturally, geographically and socio-economically!! I was placed in a remote village without electricity, Internet and water was a mile away from my house! The house was filled with lots of rats, bats and cockroaches! The nearest cyber café was in a distance of 45 km. Signals in mobile phone fluctuated and some times switched off for 2-3 days!! Even the mobile operator in Nigeria was not provided GPRS in the rural area.

All my comfort zones were shattered but left my sense of humour intact! In the circumstances where there was no electricity, I entered my house to find a refrigerator provided by my employers! Well, in time it was used as a kitchen cupboard!

My work place had one computer with only 8GB hard disk and severely infected with virus, there wasn’t enough space even to install anti-virus software! Some times I borrowed laptop from my Nigerian friends; some times worked from business centre or my volunteer friend, Sudha Rathore’s laptop. During overseas placement co-volunteers are truly friends in need.

An inspiring and motivating experience

So, has life changed for me? You bet it has!

This is a wonderful experience against all odds. One can discover a lot of hidden strengths and potentials within oneself.
Personally, for the comfort seeking person that I was, today I am ready to face any challenge, any hard-ship. I believe I can survive in any corner of the world with whatever the situation is. Professionally I never did social research, I used to coordinate and monitor clinical research. But now I am confident enough to conduct social research on my own.

This experience gave me so much that I was inspired to volunteer myself for yet another assignment! After one and half months back home, I came to Kenya for my second placement. I write this in my fourth month of this placement of two years.

Here I work as a HIV mainstreaming advisor in an organisation called ‘Catholic Diocese of Homa Bay’ (CDoHB). This time too I had my initial challenges of living in a maternity ward of a hospital of the diocese and surviving on hospital food. Now, I have my home in the most picturesque location of Lake Victoria. The story has a twist in the tail… my house is the only one within the compound without electricity!

And I merrily march on…
Dr Falguni Basu
VSO Volunteer
India

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