Clare Mullaniff writes about the launch of our new learning journal for volunteers which took place last week.
In February 2013 the journey began. Comhlamh’s volunteer and developmental education committee, along with the original creative workings of Ursel Biester, had an idea that would go on to change the face of volunteer reflection and self-development in Ireland.
An idea to fabricate a journal specifically for volunteers to document both their physical and mental journey, in the hope of creating an open and continuous space for development discussion both away and home.
In June 2013 the journal was piloted by a handful of volunteers on short-term overseas placement, who upon their return praised the journal. They found it helpful and thought-provoking, something physical, concrete and true to their own past feelings to relive for years to come. So from April 2014, through analysis and discussion, the group decided to pursue bigger options – fundraising for the creation of their own, new journal. And on Wednesday 24th June 2015, the Comhlamh committee launched their very own learning journal, printed and available for any interested charity to order for the benefit of their own volunteers.
As a past volunteer who used the first draft of the learning journal in summer 2014, I cannot commend the journal enough, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it helped me organise my thoughts. Even the most emotionally rounded person can get overwhelmed when volunteering overseas. The journal is split into before, during and after sections, which encouraged me to focus on the time at hand, and worry about settling back at home when I actually went home.
The learning journal also offers reassurance. WIth questions addressing culture shock, helping volunteers understand that they are not alone in what they are feelings. Looking back on the before section and the answers I gave to the “why are you volunteering” questions helped me to stay motivated while overseas. On a personal level, the journal helps you remember the little details that would otherwise be forgotten over time – like what you ate in a day, the names of people you chatted to, etc.
On a bigger scale, the journal helps volunteers to remember the injustice they experienced while overseas – which could be misplaced, or even forgotten about once they return home to proud parents and disinterested friends. The journal encourages the continuum of learning and interest in development, on any scale.
The learning journal is a valuable resource for both organisations and volunteers. Volunteers gain a book of motivation, memories and creativity penned by their own minds to keep forever, and to hopefully look back upon to continue their interest and commitment to global development. Organisations gain a tool to show their volunteers how to organise themselves and make the most out of their placement, and furthers their pre-departure training.
All in all, there is nothing to be lost from self-reflection and development discussion after volunteer placements are over, and Comhlamh want to encourage the message that volunteers are not just for a few weeks, and have the ability to continue making a difference for the rest of their lives.