Patricia Flynn has taken her occupational therapy skills from County Cork, Ireland to Ondangwa in Namibia. She is working for Elcin Rehabilitation Centre, training Namibian volunteers to deliver community based rehabilitation to hundreds of disabled people in rural communities. Here she tells us about why she chose to volunteer, what she’s learning and life in Namibia.
What made you decide to be a volunteer?
Being a VSO volunteer was something I always wanted to do but I needed two years post qualification experience, so I was waiting to get that experience. Two years turned into four, but one week I applied, the next week I was invited to assessment and within nine months I was in Namibia. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Describe your job at Elcin
I help train community based volunteers who support people with disabilities living in rural areas who can’t access public services and hospital treatment. These volunteers are people that are nominated by their village leaders and they come here for five week training on different types of disabilities and what they can do about it in their communities and how to raise awareness about disability and how to make people understand the rights of people with disabilities.
Was it hard to settle in to the job?
When I arrived I was very cautious about not rushing in, not arriving and saying ‘I am the expert’, it’s about finding your natural place according to the office politics rather than your qualifications. I waited a long time before I started to give advice and change things, probably a year. I just worked, read, got to know people, and did research.
What has been your biggest challenge?
I have been given a lot more responsibility than I would have at home. I am four years qualified yet I have found myself doing a lot of managerial work and even national level programme work; it really gives you the opportunity to evaluate your own skills. You can achieve as much as you want to achieve and see the results coming directly from your work.
Do you enjoy the training part of your job?
Training is very much a practical skill that you have to learn on your feet, you can’t learn about it from a manual. You have to build your skills on the job. The difference in how nervous I am before a training session is amazing. I used to be so nervous but I am actually quite comfortable with it now. I have learnt on the job; you give a few bad sessions and you learn from it and you grow.
Describe life outside work.
Life outside work has been completely different to what I expected. I expected to be reading War and Peace. I thought it would be character building – me sat out in the bush, alone, reading but it’s been the opposite. I haven’t had an evening to myself – my neighbours are always around, there’s a good volunteer social scene, a good local social scene. I’ve made really good Namibian friends who look out for me and are very open with me – they will advise me if I need it.
Would you recommend volunteering?
Time has flown, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I feel have achieved a lot, I have made some very strong friendships. I have nothing negative to say about volunteering or Namibia.