Tag Archives: culture shock

Time and Team Work

22 Apr

In volunteer time, I think five weeks is really short. It took me about two weeks to really get used to the environment, altitude, culture, language, people, food and the work. Then when I finally felt settled, it was about time to be uprooted. My relationships started to deepen but there was always the ominous feeling of the end. I found it hard to get completely settled knowing I was going to leave so soon.

That being said, five weeks was still enough time to meet all of the children from Quilla Huata and learn their names and find out about their lives. Sometimes I wonder, “where did all the time go and were we actually effective?” It seemed like we did a lot but until I compared the before and after shots of what we built, did I realise just how much we had accomplished.

We built:

  • 2x perimeter security fences out of mud bricks

Wall #1 - before

We had to get down and dirty building those walls


Wall #1 - after

We are so proud of our wall!

Wall #2 - before

Wall #2 - after

  • 2x classrooms

Classroom #1 - before

Team work!!! 🙂

Classroom #1 - after

Classroom #2 - before

Classroom #2 - after

Classroom - before

Classroom - after

All the building was by all means a TEAM EFFORT

We also taught:

  • English
  • Sport
  • Dance
  • Art
  • Health
  • Hygiene

For the NGO, we:

  • Redesigned and built a whole new website
  • Wrote a social media plan
  • Wrote a marketing policy plan
  • Did house visits and wrote reports on families and how the NGO can help them better in the future

I loved working in a team and bonding with my friends through construction. We were all forced out of our comfort zones, there were up days and there were down days. There were days where only 6 of the 19 volunteers were on site because the rest were struck down with parasites and were cooped up in the hospital. There were days when all hands were on deck and there were days where we toiled in the blazing sun or the unrelenting rain. But in the end, we all got there together.

In retrospect, five weeks was a good amount of time. It was long enough to do something effective yet short enough that we did not have time to get so sick of each other.

How long did you volunteer for? Was it long enough? Were you over it at any point and genuinely contemplated leaving or actually left? How did you adjust to working in a team with strangers? How long did it take you to get settled in your country and volunteer position?


Honey ants on a chip packet

9 Apr

A friend put this photo on her facebook profile the other day (don’t worry, I asked her for permission to use it!).  For me, it epitomises my initial impressions of Yuendumu, an Indigenous community 300km Northwest of Alice Springs.  Yuendumu shocked me – I had been to majority-world countries, I had seen malnourished and diseased children, and I had waded through streets full of rubbish – but I had never done these things in my own country.  A country, furthermore, that has one of the highest standards of living, lowest maternal mortality rates, and best educational oppurtunities in the world.  Except for Yuendumu of course,  and other Indigneous communities like it.

Experiencing extreme culture shock in one’s own country is a nasty, insidious experience.  Many people can’t cope with it, and this is one of the (many) reasons there is such a high turnover of staff in community organisations.  We prepare ourselves when we travel overseas, we breath deeply and vow to help, we look at it straight on, knowing that acknowledging this poverty and inhumanity is all we can give people.  And then (most of us) go home.

Yuendumu, and any other majority-world place in our own country, does not allow us to do that.  It sticks with us, under our skin, in our nostrils.  The air and dust and dirt stay inside us, and the names and faces of the people waltz through our heads.  It has been more than four years since I lived and worked in Yuendumu.  And then Shaurita’s photo pops up on my newsfeed, and the juxtaposition of culture and modernity, of majority-world poverty and 21st century iphones, of honey ants and a chip packet, draws me back into my culture shock.

And I am home.

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