It was on November 20, 2012 when I first met my colleagues at CEDED. After 2 weeks in country training in Juba Annabelle, Sue and I set of for a 5-hour journey to Yei and really start our placements. Today, September 20, 2013 will be my last day at CEDED. They organized a hell of a party, just have a look at the invitation :-) Even though it is goodbye, we celebrate: from the connection between us to believing in and working towards a better future.
My decision to end my placement early was a difficult one. I was confident I would stay for 2 years when I said ‘YES!’ The first few weeks were great: new, exiting and interesting. It is like an adrenaline rush. Then a phase of normality set in, life in a way is as anywhere: you wake up, have breakfast, go to work, come home, eat, enjoy the evening and go to bed. Somewhere then, the balance started to shift. I had to deal with having too much time at hand, being disappointed in work, VSO and myself, limited freedom, and my physical health not being fit. I cried, talked, laughed, came up with new ways and saw change. And decided to end my placement sooner. There is not one aspect I can pinpoint on making my decision. It is a combination of my experience at work, the conditions that come with being a VSO volunteer, my life in Yei and my personality. I have no regrets what so ever coming out to South Sudan, even though I decided to end my placement after 10 months. I followed my dream, did what was within my ability and hope to have been able to set some small things in motion. It has been an incredible experience, it feels really good to be able to ‘do’ something and I am proud of the work we have done. I recommend everybody to volunteer once in his or her life.
There were multiple reasons for me to come out with VSO and to South Sudan. Or maybe more: to Africa, the continent I was born. I was ready for something else and I have always wanted to use my knowledge, skills and experience abroad. I also wanted to know more about development and the (I)NGO world. I have had the opportunity to experience life in post conflict country where the culture is completely different. Where there is an atmosphere of continuous survival mode, insecurity, and limitations. Where you are first a tribe member and second a South Sudanese, where people smile from ear to ear otherwise it is not genuine, where they eat posho and dodo (with their hands), where people struggle because they have no income and services are not provided, where traditional ways still rule…I can go on forever. I value more that I come from a country where there is peace and freedom, where there is a constitution and rule of law, where there is prospect and there are possibilities.
I learned more about organizational development and moving forward in a context with a lot of challenges. To really work from and with what there is, with limited or no resources and people with little education and low capacity. I drafted documents and guided processes that prior to my time here I was only part of developing. I for instance have never been involved in writing funding proposals. We had many meetings and dialogues increasing ownership and a sense of being a team, we drafted policies and formats to increase focus and control, my colleagues gained more insight in their roles and responsibilities and via capacity building and trainings they are becoming more professional. I too acquired new knowledge and skills while working and supporting my colleagues. Also on the field CEDED works in: democracy, good governance, and the struggle of civil society organisations. Although most of the objectives of my placement are reached there is still more work to be done. I sincerely hope we are able to attract new volunteers to keep up the progress CEDED is making.
My colleagues (like Metthew here) and others I worked with have been the most amazing people to me: kind, open, sharing and inviting. I admire how they keep smiling and really appreciate the work done and the effort made in challenging times with no ways of communication, no paper to print, no people to delegate too. And no baby sitters, so the last weeks we had 2 baby boys around. Terribly cute. I had to come back to the core or the basis of my work: not the theoretical elaborate stuff but the simple, explainable and workable stuff. Not to want too much at once but to take small steps towards an ideal situation. To be flexible and creative. To explain over and over that things are connected and how they are connected. For instance that planning without monitoring progress and discussing consequences and making decisions on a way forward is nothing more than a plan on paper. And I have realised I am able to shift from the 5th gear to the 4th but find less than that somewhat difficult ;-)
I got to know myself better. Experiences, feelings, thoughts have a more direct effect. I have realized how connected my mental, physical and emotional well being are. For me the most challenging aspect was the lack of freedom and possibilities. To move at night (we have a curfew and no transport), to relax (doing sports, going away for a weekend), to speak freely about certain issues, lack of privacy at the compound where I live (no windows for instance), no allowance to go on leave or treat myself on something nice (and keep up my spirit). I have learned here that I can very well cope if things change all the time and work out differently. That I can think a lot about how it might be but that I only know if I try and am open. I feel stronger and more confident, professionally and personally. I experienced what it means to always stand out, to not be able to be yourself, to live in such separate worlds and not really be part of either. I have realized I need a place of my own to relax and that I am not a person that suffers from homesickness but that I do miss physical contact with my family and friends: a hug, an arm. I cannot explain how wonderful it was to welcome Yvette and Pamela and share my life with them. They were of great importance in my decision making process. And I have experienced how tough it is to love someone, to build and even keep a relationship with thousands of miles in between and having no stable internet.
Now the time has come to round up, to let go and to orientate myself on my life in the Netherlands again. I will miss my colleagues welcoming me to work every day with a firm handclap and a big smile, the tropical climate, the outdoor shower at the compound, the bleak reddish colour of the road I walk on with my flip flops every day, the bustling market, the beats from the shops, the big show-your-teeth-smiles, the bonfires, the Ethiopian coffee at Addis, the local food Mamie made, the boda boda boys shouting “I love you” and “let’s go”, shaking hands with the kids on the street amazed by my white colour, and the always friendly welcome from Mary when coming home for lunch. And I will miss the friends I made, Annabelle, Belinda and Ingrid. It is weird to realize I won’t be part of this world here any more. It has been months but it feels like 5 years.