The Gathering of Volunteers

Last week we kicked off a 2 week break from our daily work schedule with the annual VSO Volunteer Conference. This year, the conference was held at the swanky historic Shanker Hotel located just the down the road from our place. Considering that it is ironic that large amounts of donor money was spent to be at this place while our prime beneficiaries are living in poverty, it was nonetheless a good conference and a much needed escape.

There was even lush, well-manicured green grass at this hotel (haven’t seen that in a while) and an inviting crystal blue swimming pool – a perfect setting for just over the hotel walls, our neighbours are having trouble accessing water. Without trying to be pretentious, I’m just attempting to illustrate that among the many “Have nots” in society, there are many “Haves” out there (driving around in their expensive cars and shopping at high-end stores) and pockets of “Haves” places mixed in. It was such a strange feeling seeing that lifestyle again considering all the things that we have seen already.

(Although we did splurge at the Shangri-La Hotel in Pokhara one weekend).

The meeting of the VSO volunteers, all 50 or so from the far west and terai regions, was quite interesting to say the least since as we all know, once we get that many people all in one room, all heck can potentially break loose.

There were at least 5 different intake group of volunteers where the oldest oldest group arrived in early 2007. Many of us shared, laughed, and grumbled about our experiences to date. Many stories were light-hearted in nature and of course many were not so good (or “horrific” as one volunteer put in).

The most intense part of the whole event was during the lively debate session that attempted to answer “Are we (the volunteers) worth the money?” Let’s just say that questioned literally divided the room (we all had to pick a side in the end) and also sparked side discussions about “What is true development?”, “Where did we/VSO go wrong?”, and the need for a new strategic approach within the organization.

Questions needed to be raised, discussions needed to happen but my goodness it was such a mentally draining affair.

In the end, it was quite refreshing to see everyone again. Many people have already left Kathmandu to return to their placements and a few have even completed their term and are returning home. Browsing through photos that were taken, I especially like the ones where behind everyone’s friendly smiles lies beneath the worn-out and weary hopeful soul that we all have in common.

We can all imagine what everyone is going through in their placements – the difficulties, challenges, and barriers, and we are all grateful that we were able to gather all together to get that much needed support and extra boost of rejuvenation for us to continue on. Our country director mentioned that not all VSO country offices have volunteer conferences and most countries have discontinued having them all together due to it being irrelevant and unnecessary. I am very glad that our director whole-heartedly disagreed.

I leave off with a quote from my buddy Gord, “Your experience here….it is whatever you want it be.