After a lot of thought and careful consideration I have decided to leave the UK and work for the VSO organization. I have been in the UK now for four years and with my work VISA (UK Ancestry) due to expire at the end of 2001 I decided early in the year to perhaps consider moving on to do something new.

On January 25th, 2002 I am scheduled to leave for the Gambia to work for the Department of State for Health as a Health Information Systems Analyst on their Health Management Information System (along with all the associated acronyms). The placement is for two years (this can be extended, if required) after which time I will be returned to the United Kingdom but whether or not I stay here I have not yet decided. To read more about this posting, the placement description I was given by VSO is available here.

Until I actually depart there is the chance that this placement may not go through but every indicator both from VSO as well as the placement in the Gambia is that I will be going on January 25th.

What is the VSO?

The VSO (Voluntary Services Overseas) is the largest independent volunteer sending charity in the world. VSO seeks to promote sustainable development in countries all around the world most notably in Asia and Africa.

Why volunteer?

For many years I have been unhappy working in the business sector. Money has never been a driving factor for me and so I have never really felt like I really belonged. By volunteering I am hoping to be able to help other people and in doing so I am looking to see if this is where I belong.

This is not the first time I have volunteered to work for an organisation. In the past I have always looked to see where my computer skills could be most useful, initially by volunteering to put together PCs (and software) for charitable organizations and most notably I volunteered for many years to help bring free (yes, free, as in REALLY free, no phone charges, no on-line charges, no fees whatsoever) Internet access to my community when living in Canada. It is during these periods that I felt most like I had found my niche and so this is not such a big step for me.

I also have to admit that I do like new things and travelling about so there is a bit of selfishness to volunteering with the VSO as well. After all, the Gambia? Wow! I had wanted to get a placement in Asia being as I know a bit about the culture and do know a BIT (SMALL bit) of Cantonese but this was not to be for the IT placements they reviewed for me.

Why the VSO?

I had considered a number of other organizations but the VSO is one of the best organized and has the most support for it's volunteers. In addition to a rigorous screening process they also offer in-country support as well as ensuring that when working abroad you have a basic salary (the same salary as local people) for doing your job – so you don't starve. They have a large number of other benefits such as flights home every year and an extensive library of resource material in London and Birmingham.

Will you be paid?

Yes and no – Yes I will receive a salary (as mentioned above) but not exactly comparing to what I make here in the UK right now. The salary will be an average local wage – enough to live off of (that is, eat) but not much more. Some people I have talked to that have worked in the Gambia for VSO have suggested that they actually spent (on living expenses) more than they made. A negative salary. Nice.

Why now?

There are a lot of factors that made me pick this time to go. As I said above, I had considered this time to be a good choice since my VISA was expiring but not only that work on the primary contract for my company seemed to be winding down and so change was going to be inevitable anyway. As it turns out, by VISA has since been extended for an indefinate period and further contracts I am assigned to at Diagonal have also been seen to have a turning point at the end of December or January.

Having said this, one of my major concerns has been that I did not leave Diagonal “in the lurch”. I made every effort to ensure that my departure did not damage Diagonal's relationship with my contract companies. I would feel too guilty if it was damaged…This decision is largely a personal one and I did not want anyone other than potentially myself adversely effected. I do tend to have a BIG guilt complex.

What about your flat (apartment) in the UK?

Living in another country I have always been prepared to leave thoughout my stay and am well aware of the practical problems involved. Having said that I have taken steps to attempt to ensure the least amount of hastle is involved. I am working on having my posessions moved to Canada into a storage locker I already have for my posessions from my house in Canada. Some of my things will not be moving but donated or given away as appropriate. When living in the UK I have attempted to keep my number of posessions to a minimum including renting a TV, VCR and microwave – the washing machine, stove and fridge all belong to my landlord – this means that I have as little to move as possible given that I have been here for four years.

What about your family?

This is a massively important factor to me, of course. They have been tremendously supportive of me and this decision. Having lived away for four years already it is not as difficult as it was when I first left them but I must admit that I will miss them and will be making every effort to visit them at least once a year (Christmas without my family would be unbearable).

Where is the Gambia?

The Gambia is a small country on the west coast of Africa entirely surrounded by Senegal though the country stretches from the coast all along the Gambia River. The placement is in the city of Banjul which is right on the coast and is, from all reports, a large, thriving city (with great beaches). The thing I don't know that I will like is the climate which is VERY hot and very humid (yes, there is a rainy season…oh dear).

My accomodation will be (most likely) a standard flat (apartment) with privacy as well as cooking area, bed, toilet, and access to a shower or bath. Probably not five stars though…

How can we contact you when you are away?

I will have intermitent access to e-mail facilities when away (including keeping up with my AT & T Global Net Internet account – so that can be used) and I will be also reachable by standard post. When specific addresses and the like are available I will distribute this information as I can (or on request).

I am looking forward with, granted, a bit of trepidation but a lot of enthusiasm to this new oportunity. I have no idea where it will lead me or what will happen but I am going to be putting every possible effort into it. This is a BIG step for me but one I think I have to at least try. I feel I can always come back to the life I have been leading up to now but I would like to try something different, after all, it is only for two years…

If you have any questions you would like to ask me about this, please feel free to contact me.

Further Information

For further information, please see: