By Zonya Jeffrey

For years when I was a teenager, I always had the desire to work overseas.

Though this was always my ambition and dream, I still found myself a thirty year old doing a job that I once loved that seemed to be not as fulfilling as it used to be.

Over the years the profession I entered into was changing. So much that it was not only in the work place that I became unsatisfied. I felt something was missing in general. Working nine to five, day in day out. Same old ‘rat race’. Was this really what real life was meant to be like? I had fulfilled all my academic aspirations and had trained in reputable establishments and was working for an accredited healthcare company in one of the most prestigious locations in central London, UK. Yet still I wanted something else.

I knew I had to follow my heart. So I decided to go for it and do what I always wanted to do-volunteer overseas. Doing so was life changing.

The people I met during my journey. The situations I have faced and the memories I have…

A day doesn’t go by that I don’t feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to have volunteered overseas with VSO and to have worked with local people in a developing country. To have worked alongside my peers in such challenging environments. To do what I trained for, for years and pass these skills onto individuals that in turn would pass onto others. Ultimately improving the lives of those in need.

Having the opportunity to live in a new community in an amazing location in a fascinating continent. Since volunteering, my life has changed. I see things differently and I smile as I write this. Why? Read on and you’ll see why and how volunteering really has changed my life too.

  1. Flexibility– Really understanding the meaning of being flexible: When a meeting is scheduled between 10 and 11am, realizing attendees may arrive at anytime during the hour arranged. I remember waiting until the bus was full before it we set off for our eight hour cross country journey to the city. So now when someone is 5 minutes late to a meeting in my work place- I smile! Or now if the bus driver decides to wait for a passenger running for the bus- I smile!
  2. Party Planners: . Social Events including sweet sixteen parties and weddings always require a committee. No such thing as an impromptu party. Precision planning is essential to have the perfect execution…I mean Party! I still check if there is a theme or colour scheme when invited to a party, these days.

    The Wedding planning committee.

  3. Appreciation for the Basics: like electricity and running water. Having lived through numerous powers cuts that seem to coincide with heavy rain fall, even though the electricity came from a hydro-electric power plant, on occasion, still half expect the lights not to work when I wake up in the morning and there is heavy rain fall! And I know exactly where all the candles and torches (yes more than one!), are in my current home here in the UK.  I feel sense of relief when the power switch on my shower belts out that refreshing water each morning. I never forget that 80% of my time overseas, we bathed with large buckets of water due to low water pressure in our shower .
  4. My Patience has grown– bureaucracy played a massive part of my working life abroad. Even the simplest of things like ordering a box of pens for the department at work, where several signatures were needed before approving and issuing the order. Red tape made things take three times as long to complete. My frustrations disappeared too as a result.
  5. Becoming more adventurous– especially with food. When one of our fellow volunteers would show up with snacks and they whip out the Garlic Fried Grasshoppers (a delicacy in some regions of Tanzania),  though you are a little disappointed,  because you were hoping they would have brought plantain crisps or mango’s, you tuck right on in to them savoury critters because…well, just because! Gone are the days of me turning my nose up at prawn cocktail crisps…

Cockroaches for sale!

6.  I really can tell the time without my watch! Somehow, over the time, I managed to get up at sunrise, get home before sun set and even know when the full moon was scheduled so I wouldn’t need to take a torch out with me on a night out…. It just crept up on me and my fellow volunteers. We were just like the locals. .I remember telling my house mate Vicky Parker, one evening, when she asked if I had my torch on our way out for the evening, “I don’t need my torch tonight. It’s a full moon” We both looked at each other for a brief moment and burst out laughing.
You see, one year earlier I was using two hand-held torches and a head torch to get around the unlit streets of Ifakara town on our nights out!

The full moon!

7. Travel any which way you can. Anything with wheels that gets you from A to B is transport. Sitting on the bus on my way to work daily. Seeing all the commuters in their cars and other buses on the dual carriageway. All uniformly manoeuvring  …nothing like what I saw in Tanzania. Crazy and adventurous and utilizing any kind of VEHICLE to get from A to B.  Red Lights & Green Lights here. Everything running smoothly and according to plan…mostly.  I remember the Dar es Salaam chaos of that exciting rush hour traffic and I smile!

African Transport!

8. Tapping into skills I never knew existed– A great listening, mediator and negotiator- who would have thought it?! I developed these skills when managing the lab at St Francis Hospital and learning to be sensitive to co-workers needs. Now I cherish these skills for my every day life.

9. Appreciating the rag trade and clothing production– Though I love designer items, seeing Tailors carrying out their trade in the high street of Ifakara, always made me feel that the locally tailor made clothing were sewn with love and care. 

10. Friendships forged– Not acquaintances but understanding the true value of a friend…a confident. Making new strong friends that you never envisaged. These friends you will have shared some of the most poignant experiences.

Friendships forged – Vicky, Ima and Zonya


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