One year in Vanuatu was a dream come true

Lalita Mahajan has more than 20 years experience in the development sector, specialising in HIV and AIDS. Before she decided to become a volunteer, she was working as a CSR manager in a big corporate group, which was a challenging and demanding job involving extensive travelling. She was enjoying it, and had been quite successful in delivering results, but she was ready to do something different. Here she tells us about her year as a curriculum development volunteer in Vanuatu.

Counting my blessings

I had applied to IVO first time in 2003, but due to family responsibilities could not pursue it further. Nine years later, I felt that the time was right for me to do something which I had long wanted to do, so instead of postponing any further I set out on this wonderful journey.

One year in Vanuatu has been like a dream come true, mainly because of its scenic beauty. Experience as a volunteer in the area of curriculum development was wonderful. It gave me an opportunity to use and apply my skills and knowledge professionally and at the same time to introspect and evaluate myself as a person. The experience helped me in counting my blessings and being grateful to all who helped me in this journey so far.

Adjusting to the environment

Working in a new place developed my patience and tolerance and I learnt to live with basic amenities. For first time I felt that one doesn’t need all those clothes and that variety of food to survive. It was a little tough being a vegetarian, as the concept of vegetarianism was difficult for them to understand. Many times I was told to remove the egg/fish from the bowl and eat the other things!

I enjoyed my time initially learning the language, understanding the culture and making new friends. Culturally the people I met in Vanuatu were like our tribal people in India. The country is very earthquake-prone and has many live volcanoes.  Throughout the year it is usual for the population to face some natural calamity or another, such as cyclones, earthquakes or tsunamis.  All this had made them accepting the nature and adjusting with the environment. They had some wonderful things like making optimum use of natural resources, zero garbage on roads, very effective disaster management system.

Discovering and learning

Being one of the most virgin and unexplored countries, there were lots of opportunities for us to explore, and visit some of the beautiful resorts and islands.  Travelling to the stunning beaches, visiting the live volcano at Tanna and watching the land diving at Pentacoast were all very exciting.

On a professional level, learning about midwifery and nurse practitioner curriculum was a very enriching experience. Using my knowledge and skills of counselling to develop a counselling module and then pre-testing it gave me immense satisfaction.

On a personal level, I overcame my fear of making new friends and soon adjusted to the new environment.  Teaching my new friends how to make rotis (Indian bread) and other Indian cuisine gave me lot of satisfaction. I felt very happy when this sharing of culinary skills was reciprocated by the local team members – we accepted each others as we were, without trying to change anything.

I made a lot of friends for life, and in conclusion I can only say that it was very enriching experience, and I feel I will do it again soon!

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