Bola Ojo, education manager, Rwanda

Giving something back to the community has been a life long passion for education manager Bola Ojo. Taking early retirement and volunteering with VSO International meant she could continue to contribute to the community – but this time internationally. She opted for a 12-week volunteer placement in Rwanda. At the same time as sharing valuable teaching and management skills that will help to improve standards in 126 local schools, she helped lay the foundations for a long-term volunteer to take her crucial work even further.

Why short term volunteering?

“I hadn’t volunteered before, so I didn’t want to launch straight into a long-term role,” says Bola. “Twelve weeks would be a taster, giving me the opportunity to do a self-contained piece of work – something that I could confidently start and finish.”

Based in Rwanda, where nearly half of all children fail to complete basic education, Bola was supporting the Muhanga District Education Office in improving the performance of the 23 secondary and 106 primary schools in the area.

Bola’s professional expertise enabled her to achieve a lot in those 12 weeks. Her tenacity and sense of humour helped too. “The short time scale proved to be both a challenge and opportunity,” Bola recalls. “My colleagues responded positively to my constant reminders that I was only there for 12 weeks. So things moved along quite quickly.”

Making a meaningful contribution

As well as undertaking a training needs analysis and running two workshops for 40 teachers, Bola helped to implement a new monitoring and evaluation process. 

“So that they could identify priority areas to improve, my colleagues were visiting schools and gathering data,” describes Bola. “But this was ad hoc, with different people gathering different information at different times. As a result, the data couldn’t be easily evaluated.”

Bola created a new monitoring and evaluation tool to be used on school visits: a detailed checklist with a wide range of questions, from the number of children in the school to the number of blackboards and toilets. This tool ensures that all information gathered on the schools is standardised, making it easier for Bola’s colleagues to plan and prioritise.

The short-term/long-term dynamic

VSO International’s long and short-term placements are often designed to compliment each other. 

Bola’s was no exception. As well as playing a vital part in developing a long-term volunteer’s job description, she laid a solid foundation for him to build on.

“The training needs analysis I did with the director of education led to the development of a year-long training plan for teachers,” Bola explains. “This plan will be supported by the new volunteer when he arrives in January. It means he won’t be starting from scratch.”

Supporting diaspora organisations back in the UK

Being black was one of the biggest challenges Bola faced as a volunteer. “The locals’ stereotype of a volunteer is white,” she explains. “So they’d either assume I was Rwandan and talk at me very quickly, ignoring my pleas of “English! Anglais!” or they’d address everything to the white volunteers. They just aren’t used to black people volunteering.”

That’s one of the reasons Bola is now getting involved with VSO’s Diaspora Volunteering Initiative. Through this initiative, VSO helps diaspora communities in the UK to volunteer in their countries of heritage. Bola is drawing on her own experiences of volunteering to support two diaspora organisations - the African Child Trust and the Medical Association of Nigerian Specialists and GPs - to develop their own volunteering programmes. “I want to see more black people volunteering,” she says.

Bola’s commitment to the diaspora organisations and her plans to undertake another placement with VSO demonstrate her great enthusiasm for volunteering. “I’d recommend it 100 per cent!” says Bola. “It widens horizons, broadens skills and gives you an appreciation of what can be done if you put your mind to it. You might not be able to save the world but you can certainly make a small difference in a small way. And that’s the start of the ripple effect.”

Impact

  • Bola ran two workshops for 40 teachers on topics such as staff appraisals, child centred methodologies and using local resources like rice sacks and bottle tops for teaching aids.

  • The training needs analysis for head teachers that Bola undertook with her employer led to the development of a year-long training plan, which will be supported by a long term volunteer.

  • As a result of her experiences in Rwanda, Bola is now helping two diaspora organisations in the UK to develop their own volunteering programmes in Africa.

How to apply

Interested in volunteering with VSO? Find out what you need to apply and begin your application process now.

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