Guest blog by LSE alum Rosie Coleman (BSc International Relations 2013):
I’m currently volunteering in Rwanda’s capital city Kigali as a Team Leader and consultant on an International Citizen Service placement. ICS is a government initiative that enables young British volunteers to work overseas with one of eight partner charities, all carrying out incredible development projects in some the world’s poorest communities.
I work for a charity called Challenges Worldwide. Young British volunteers are paired with young local volunteers. Together, they work as volunteer Business Associates, providing free consultancy advice to social enterprises in one of four African cities. My job as a Team Leader here in Rwanda is to manage the Associates’ day-to-day work and ensure all volunteers are healthy, happy and safe whilst on their three-month placements.
At 9am on Mondays I meet my fellow Team Leaders (one British, two Rwandans) and in-country staff for our weekly meeting. We talk about each enterprise, each counterpart pair and each host home and ensure that the whole team understands any issues and next steps to fix them.
After this meeting, the Team Leaders will spend an hour or so putting the finishing touches to plans for Wednesday’s CMI training session. We then each head off for various enterprise visits across the city for the rest of the day.
From 5-7pm its back to emails and WhatsApp messages that may have not been urgently replied to earlier in the day.
Then it’s dinner. All volunteers, including Team Leaders, live with Rwandan host families. Dinner at my house is quality time with my host family, a chance for me to learn about their lives, share stories and realities of home back in the UK and ask of them any questions I have about Rwanda more generally. This time is undeniably the best part of every day.
We’re most likely to spend Tuesday’s visiting volunteers in their enterprises and having one-to-one meetings with each of the Associates. A large part of the Team Leader role is managing volunteers’ wellbeing and personal and professional development.
In the first few weeks of my placement I ensured all our volunteers had personal development plans in place and we’re working together during our one-to-ones to help them achieve their goals for the placement. This is my favourite part of being a Team Leader; it’s just fantastic to see how much people can grow and develop in such a short period of time!
When I’m back from visiting enterprises, I’ll spend a few hours checking through Associates’ deliverables and giving feedback. Team Leaders are responsible for ensuring a high quality of work from Associates at all times. I like this part of the job because it’s really rewarding to see first hand the hard work your teams are putting in!
Dinner is usually at 8pm in my host home. My laptop is always away by this point at the latest but I’ll have picked up my novel at about 7pm or maybe even 6:30pm. My phone is never far away though because we’re always on call for any emergencies.
One of the amazing parts of being a volunteer with Challenges Worldwide, is the fantastic chance to gain a Level 5 Certificate in Professional Consulting from the Chartered Institute of Management. Every Wednesday, we all meet in one of the co-working spaces in Kigali and cover the relevant CMI topics to aid the associates work in their enterprises for the coming week. As Team Leaders, our job is help guide volunteers through this content.
Wednesday’s are also when volunteers get issued with their stipends. Our placement in Rwanda is part of the International Citizen Service programme, fully funded by the UK government. Each volunteer gets a weekly allowance to cover essential costs of life in country, and travel expenses too. As Team Leaders we’re responsible for calculating and distributing the stipends. It’s my least favourite part of the job as we never seem to have enough small change!
In the late afternoon, volunteer committees get together. Being part of an ‘extra curricular’ committee is a great social and learning opportunity for volunteers and each Team Leader has oversight for a different committee. I work with the Communications Committee and we get together each Wednesday to discuss campaign ideas and review or update the team’s plans.
Having seen the volunteers all day, there are often far fewer WhatsApp messages and emails to be sent in the late afternoon to evening. Wednesday evenings tend to be when I spend extra time with my host brothers. There’s four of them, ranging from 18 to 30 and we generally discuss politics, books and they’re great at answering my questions about various things I’ve observed across Kigali over the previous couple of days.
Normally we’re very busy with more enterprise visits across the city on Thursdays. With eleven enterprises located in almost every district of Kigali, getting to all them every week takes a lot of time. Sometimes we meet counterpart pairs in various coffee shops or co-working locations, or we just head straight to their office. Team Leaders are also responsible for maintaining strong working relationships with all the clients. That’s usually the enterprises’ founders, CEOs or Managing Directors – and enterprise visits are a good opportunity for us to check in with these ‘top dogs’.
Ensuring volunteers are happy, healthy and safe means Team Leaders effectively work 24/7. Most of the time this isn’t too stressful as volunteers are all back at their host homes from 8:30pm. Sometimes however volunteers might get sick and so taking them to the hospital is an important part of our role. Last Thursday I was in A&E until nearly half ten, supporting a volunteer who’d had a nasty allergic reaction to mosquito bites.
Our Team Leader weekly report is due by midday Friday so our Friday mornings are spent completing this as a team. We often find a café or hotel restaurant to sit in for a few hours.
Once that’s sent off to staff, the afternoon is usually reserved for enterprise visits. Occasionally volunteers will come to a drop-in workshop we run for consultancy support, particularly if there’s a big work deadline coming up!
On Friday evenings volunteers will often meet up for an end-of-week catch-up, maybe at one of the cool bars or poolside venues across the city. It gets dark early here because we’re so close to the equator. Kigali is built across the hills and once the sun sets the hillside street lamps and houses light up above the city like stars. Walking home from the bus on Friday nights is one of my favourite parts of the week.
Our Team Building committee here in Kigali are excellent and they often organise events for the whole team on a Saturday. My favourite event so far has been the Kigali Arts Festival. A celebration of ‘humanity’, the evening was a fantastic showcase of East African performance arts and it was a really beautiful stage too!
Saturdays tend to be a good day for paying volunteer host homes a visit. Team Leaders oversee volunteers’ welfare and obviously a big part of this is their living situation. We visit to make sure that all ICS standards are being met and also ensure that host families are happy with the conduct of their newest family members. It’s also just nice to see where all the volunteers live too!
We will often take Sunday for ourselves. My host family leave for church quite early and so this a good opportunity for me to do my hand washing. We don’t have a washing machine in my home so it’s buckets and elbow grease for me. Luckily the wet laundry dries pretty fast though because it’s wonderfully sunny in Kigali most of the time.
Last Sunday I climbed Mount Kigali and enjoyed amazing views over the city. It can be quite hazy here due to the heat and the dust but we were lucky that it didn’t spoil our experience at all. I also like to spend some time reading a good book on a Sunday. My host home has a lovely garden and I like to read whilst getting some vitamin D.
And that’s it. Of course then it all begins again. No two weeks are ever quite the same for Team Leaders. We very much set our own schedules and take downtime when the volunteers don’t need us. It’s not a job for the faint-hearted, but its hugely rewarding, particularly if you’re a people-person with lots of energy and a ton of resilience. Think you’re up for the challenge?
Want to volunteer?
If Rosie has inspired you to volunteer, you can search for volunteering opportunities on LSE CareerHub. Alternatively, you can book an appointment with us, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions.