Five minutes with...Stella Wragg, mental health worker, Sri Lanka

VSO was thrilled when psychotherapist Stella Wragg decided to volunteer again. With the experience of her first VSO placement in Nepal, Stella is now preparing to volunteer in Sri Lanka.

Her expertise will be put to excellent use improving the care available to people who are living with mental illnesses as a result of years of civil war and the 2004 Tsunami.

Here she reveals her hopes and fears about her upcoming placement.

I spent just over two years in Nepal with VSO nearly ten years ago.

When I returned to the UK I always had the intention of applying again and going to a different country to expand on my previous experience. I’m now coming up for retirement and I think that my new placement will provide a fantastic transition between the end of my career and the start of retirement.

I had quite a lot of mixed feelings about my first VSO experience.

I’m not sure that the placement fulfilled its potential, and I feel like now I have much more to offer. I will be going with a very different attitude and with very different expectations, and I think it will be a better experience both for Sri Lanka and for me. I’m very curious about what will happen. 

One of the things I like most about VSO is its sustainable approach to development.

Its aim is to support and strengthen projects and systems that will have a longer-lasting impact. My placement will give me the opportunity to live with local people, understand their needs and build up long lasting relationships. That’s central to VSO’s philosophy, and that’s what appeals to me so much.

My employer, the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, has established a link with VSO.

It supports its employees in taking a career break and seeing international development work as part of their career with the Trust. My colleagues now have a great opportunity to spend a year working in developing countries but also return to their jobs – although I’ve decided I’ll probably retire when I get back.

I will be taking over from a VSO volunteer who has now returned to the UK.

She initiated phase one of the project and I will be carrying out phase two, working with a team of psychiatrists, occupational therapists and a psychiatric social worker. I am definitely looking forward to working with a group of people who are working towards the same aim and I think that will provide a great source of support.

Negotiation, flexibility and sensitivity are key skills I will put into practice.

The structure of the organisation is likely to be different to ones I’m used to, and I will make sure I take that into consideration along with the limited resources available. Part of my role will involve taking transferable training skills and knowledge, but I think I will also learn from people who are already working there. There is an awful lot that can be gained from looking at how the system already operates and exists.

One of my greatest fears is ‘Can I do it?’.

I’m also nervous at learning a new language as it isn’t my forte, but I hope I will be able to learn and communicate in a way that’s going to be effective.

I’d advise anyone thinking of volunteering to head to the VSO website for more information or have a chat with a returned volunteer.

People might feel that they couldn’t possibly volunteer, but when they understand the reality it becomes a bit easier and they realise that they can adapt to it and they most definitely have something to offer.

How to apply

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