A brief but touching time in Nigeria

Siddharth Sankhe recently completed a three-month monitoring and evaluation placement in Nigeria. There he used his expertise to contribute to VSO’s ‘Making Markets Work’ (MMW) project in the capital Abuja and towns in three other states. Here he tells us about the work he conducted, the friends he made, and the many things he learnt during his time in Nigeria.

On the road

After seriously considering the decision to apply for VSO, it turned out to be an interesting journey right from writing my application all the way through until my placement in Nigeria ended. Planning the research activities, creating budgets, assigning responsibilities and seeking approvals took some time, but soon I was ready to travel from Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, to other smaller towns/villages to conduct and supervise the data collection process.

Nigeria doesn’t have a very robust public transport system in place and certainly there are no trains, although it once had a fully functional railway system. Travelling within the states is largely done in shared private cabs and being on the road for more than two weeks in the interiors of Nigeria was a delightful experience. Based on the places I saw, I can say that Nigeria is a diverse country in terms of scenery and climate. Lafia, one of the towns in Nassarawa state was extremely hot, but Madakiya, one of the small towns in Kaduna state was pleasant and beautiful, whilst Panyam in Plateau state was green, gorgeous and extremely cold.

Meeting the MMW partners, meeting research volunteers and staying with them was an extremely insightful and fun experience. Till this day, I am in touch with all the volunteers who I worked closely with on the project and happy to say that I have made some friends for life too.

A great inter-cultural learning experience

Towards the end of my placement, Sanne, the knowledge manager and I had to plan and host the national data sharing workshop where all the representative stakeholders were invited to view the results of the research conducted. The workshop was for two days and aimed to share results, make recommendations, gather feedback and foster relationships between the NGOs that worked with VSO for the MMW project. Planning and hosting the national workshop was a great inter-cultural learning experience. The workshop was attended by farmers, national volunteers, international volunteers, VSO staff and the senior management of partner NGOs.

The whole work experience from the beginning, right from being inducted to the research team to completing the report and conducting the national workshop was a very enriching experience. Apart from the added value on my professional side, being able to interact and learn so many things from people of multiple nationalities has been an incredible experience in itself.

One of the best decisions I’ve ever made

When I landed in Nigeria, I was a bit apprehensive of living in an entirely different country that is regularly in news for various security reasons, but Nigeria started to grow on me. The office people were very caring, other volunteers were very supportive and frank and not to mention the warmth shown by all the Nigerians I came across. On the day I had to return to India, I never thought I’d be so sad, leaving so many good people and great memories behind. I found myself back at the airport where I arrived in the country and looking back at that day, I felt silly for having been so worried about entering into the same country that was more than home for me for nearly three months.

And now when I look back at the day I applied to IVO/VSO India for a volunteering position I ask myself the question – was it the right decision? The only answer that comes to my mind is – one of the best decisions I have made in my life. Not to exaggerate, but my life has changed in many ways. I can definitely say that it has been a life-changing experience. Although three months of volunteering may seem little, the activities I carried out, the number of friends I made, the travelling I did, the memories I have left behind, it felt no short of a whole year or two for me.

To sum up my experience, I’d repeat what David (a fellow volunteer) told me in French at my farewell party: “brève mais touchante” – meaning it was “brief but touching”. And that’s how the whole experience has been for me. I once read on the VSO website that “volunteering can change lives”, and I can relate to it the most, for I have seen the kind of work VSO has been doing to impact the lives of beneficiaries, and even more so the change that it has brought about in me.

Visit the iVolunteer Blog for more stories from volunteers overseas.

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