My flight home is booked, so it's time to commit a few thoughts to paper before the resumption of normal life. First, I need to say that I have a longstanding admiration for VSO and the concept of facilitating skilled volunteers to work in low resource settings. My concern is that, for institutional reasons, VSO may be failing its volunteers and the development process.
Many VSO placements don't seem to work out. VSO tradition and predeparture training emphasise that this is often because the volunteer is insufficiently emotionally equipped for the rigor of working in a resource poor setting.
Our experience is more that many placements are problematic. The jobs are often poorly thought out and in organisations that have made little or no commitment to change and development.
VSO's attachment to the notion that volunteers should be "placed" rather than exercise choice over where they go, perpetuates this problem. I would change the system so that volunteers could choose their own placements from an advertised list. They would make their choice according to their own skills and experiences, their preparedness to engage with a challenge and feedback from previous volunteers. Good postings would be competed for by many applicants. Bad placements would fall rapidly by the wayside.
In-country offices seem to be overwhelmed by issues of policy development and planning. They have little time to attend to volunteer support and placement development. Strange for an old pinko to say but maybe its time to liberalise this particular market..........