VSO selects volunteers on the basis of 7 criteria, or selection dimensions, as they call them. These are
1)A positive commitment to volunteering
2)A desire to learn and to help others learn
3)A flair for solving problems
4)Flexibility and adaptability
6)The ability to work in a team
7)Sensitivity to the needs of others
These form the basis of how candidates are assessed during individual interviews and group exercises on the selection day, and are constantly referred to throughout the training process, both online and in person. When you speak to past volunteers the one dimension, or quality that VSO volunteers seem to especially need is number 4 - flexibility and adaptability. I learned the necessity of this about 2 hours after I arrived in Nairobi.
Upon our arrival at our guesthouse on Friday we were introduced to two amazing women, Lucy, who will be our Swahili teacher and go-to person for the week, and Stella, who is a programme support officer with VSO Jitolee. Stella knew all about us, where we were from, our backgrounds, and what placements we'd be working on in Nairobi. So when she asked me where I'd be working, as a reminder to herself and I said 'UNICEF in Garissa' and she replied with a 'Oh no, UNICEF in Nairobi' I got a bit of a surprise. She told me that yes, I was originally to be placed in Garissa but I was now based in Nairobi and she said that I had been told about this. I definitely hadn't, but it was nearly midnight so I said little more, laughed it off and went to bed that night with lots on my mind.
So here are some of the things that ran through my head last night.
In some ways Nairobi would be a much easier place to live. Here you have so many Western luxuries on your doorstep, if you're willing to pay for them. I'd also never be stuck for company as there are a good community of VSO volunteers dotted around the city. It was also very far from the Somali border, which would be a great relief to Mammy Wickham.
But then the work I was going to be doing was bound to be different. I had signed up to work in a smaller UNICEF office, making regular visits to communities and villages in North East Kenya. Working in UNICEF in Nairobi would mean working in the enormous UN complex at Girigiri which I visited back in 2009. It left me with lots of questions. Lots. What would my new role be? Who would I be working with? Would I get to travel out to communities? What would I have to wear to work? (a serious consideration, I have no formal, grown-up clothes with me, only maxi-dresses and skirts to beat the band)
So yes, suffice to say it took me a while to get to sleep last night thinking about all that. I am feeling lots better about it all today. All of my above questions are still unanswered, and will probably remain unanswered until this Friday when a UNICEF representative will come to meet me and work out, with VSO and I, a working agreement for my year here. But despite my questions being unanswered I'm feeling a whole lot more positive about the news today. Whatever happens I am going to make the best of it. I am going to learn lots and lots and try and contribute in whatever way I can to UNICEF's work here in Nairobi. And sure isn't that why I came here?