Volunteer Power News - Number 106
Author: Thomas W. McKee
"Volunteer Power News" Monthly Newsletter
© 2012 Advantage Point Systems Publishing
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Featured Article: When the "Always Be-In-Charge" Person is Only a Team Member.
Lessons Learned from Volunteering in Uganda
When the "Always Be-In-Charge" Person is Only a Team Member.
Lessons Learned from Volunteering in Uganda
By Thomas McKee
The recruiting was text-book New Breed recruiting. That is probably why I said "Yes" in the first place.
Very specific request: I was asked to go and do a very specific job--training and development. I had heard the announcements, thought about it, and knew that it was a very expensive trip--pay for your own airfare, food and lodging for 14 days. But I was asked to do what I love to do-leadership development.
Awaking my passion: I was first introduced to the needs in Uganda when my sixteen-year-old granddaughter asked me to accompany her to help put together the World Vision Care Giver Kits designed to equip volunteers who care for those affected with AIDS. How could I say no to her? Last August as we assembled the kits, I heard about the AIDS epidemic in Uganda and how World Vision was providing training for Ugandans on how to use the medical kits to treat AIDS patients in the very rural areas. Although I felt that I was doing something, I knew in actuality I was one of those typical episodic volunteers who once a year volunteer to put together those kits. And it was important. I don't want to knock that, but for me it was the first date to awaken my passion.
While we were putting the kits on pallets to be shipped to Uganda, the team leader approached me with a challenge, "Tom, we are taking a team to Uganda next February for two weeks. I would love you to be a part of the team." I asked, "What would you want me to do?" If he had said, "We are still working on that," I probably would have turned it down. But he didn't. He said that he would like me to teach leadership workshops. I became curious and discovered that he was working with a leader in Uganda who was setting up training in the capitol, Kampala, and the rural villages up North. The leaders in Kampala were college educated, and the leaders up north had very little education and did not speak English so I would have to teach through an interpreter. My awakened passion began to take on a new focus-I could actually do something.
When he outlined how we would travel on dirt roads, cross scary bridges, sleep under mosquito nets, and eat a lot of rice and beans, I knew that I was definitely out of my comfort zone. But I was hooked so I asked, "How much?" After all usually I get paid for this stuff and stay in nice hotels. When he told me the price of the trip, I gulped, but my passion had been awakened. No "Oh, by the ways" -- he laid it all out.
After a talk with my wife, we decided that I should go.
The Volunteer Team
Our team of fifteen included eight women and seven men. The two youngest were two very mature high school girls. At 70 I was the oldest member of the team (I am the same age as Paul McCartney who will turn 70 this June and wrote - When I am 64 when he was 19. And we are not sitting by the fireplace in rocking chairs-we are very active). I found out that gray-hair carries a lot of respect in Uganda as the average life span is 45. We had nurses, business men, corporate managers, students, housewives, an accountant, and a minister, who had all taken off work and school for two weeks to be a part of this team.
AIDS prevention education: Much of the time we would split up according to our specific responsibilities. Since AIDS is a huge problem in Uganda, most of the team went to public school assemblies and taught over 1000 children and teens a curriculum about AIDS prevention. The response from school age children and teens was overwhelming. The young people were asked to write questions about AIDS, and we were amazed that almost all of the students wrote questions. Then different members of the team would answer the questions. The questions were heartbreaking:
Leadership Development: The highlight of the experience for me was the opportunity to be on a team of three instructors, two from the U.S. and one African leader from Kampala. We met with 60 ministers in rural, Northern Uganda, a seven hour drive north of Kampala on rough roads. In African culture these ministers have great influence in their villages. We led a 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. workshop for four days. Many of these men had ridden bikes for miles (some over 60 miles) and slept on mats each night on the dirt floor of the church building to attend the conference because
Effective Volunteer Leadership-Learning from Our Leader of Volunteers
Our leader was the role-model leader of volunteers. He was our cheerleader because we were often exhausted and drained emotionally at what we saw. Each night at our evening briefing meetings, he
On our closing night our team leader gave out gifts. He gave me an African cane--beautifully carved out of African wood, and I proudly have it displayed in my office to remember an incredible volunteer experience. And to those of us who had left spouses at home for the trip, he had a small gift for each of them. My wife, who loves tea, got several boxes of Uganda tea. That made huge points when I got home. The gifts were small and didn't cost a lot, but they said volumes.
Not being in charge
At times it was hard not being in charge. Leaders always see things that they would have done differently. Sometimes I felt that African culture of "time is not important" was an excuse to be unorganized. For a person who is almost anal retentive on organization, this was a huge adjustment for me. But in retrospect it probably was good that I wasn't in charge as I probably would have tried to micro manage Africans which would have been disastrous. But it was also good for me to be a volunteer who had to do what I was told rather than facilitate the work. I was empowered to do my research, develop the lessons, and organize my breakout sessions. When I shared my ideas with my team leader, he was open to them and incorporated them into the workshops so that I felt valued at each stage of the project. The bottom line is that I didn't feel that I was ONLY a team member. I felt that I was a valuable part of a team.
Am I eager to return? Absolutely. The need is huge, and we talked with African leaders about forming partnerships to work together. So I am hoping for continued good health to return. In fact, our African contact who set up our training opportunities, personally asked me to come back and teach workshops on non-profit governance and how to lead volunteers. He had no Idea that I had written books about those subjects and that my business gave me the financial resources to even make this trip.
In Conclusion--So what? Why am I telling you all about this? Five Reasons
First, you are committed to the power of volunteers and understand what volunteers can do. I knew you would be interested in my experience and identify with this story-as a leader and as a volunteer. I was amazed at how many of you e-mailed me with interest in this trip. Many of you have actually been to Uganda or on such a trip to a developing country. You encouraged me to tell you my experience.
Second, seek out my generation. We are eager to make a difference and use our training, skills, and resources to help serve with others. I know we are opinionated and sometimes hard to work with, but we are a huge resource. Just remember to give us a specific task and empower us to get it done.
Third, remember the effectiveness of the dating method of recruiting. If the leader of this team had not approached me personally, I probably never would have responded to this need. He made me feel that I could do something.
Fourth, when you lead a group of volunteers, give constant feedback. The daily feedback was so important to a physically and emotionally drained team. And the small, inexpensive gifts that said, "Thank you" were huge.
Fifth and finally, don't forget to volunteer yourself. We who often lead volunteers get so busy in our own world, that we forget we have some huge skills to offer in a world of need. Many of us need to get out of our comfort zones just like we ask our volunteers to do.
Thanks for all you do in leading volunteers. When I look over my mailing list I am so encouraged at what you do with volunteers to change a society that has huge needs. One of the qualities that we all have in common is that even though we get discouraged and tired, we see the great potential in what we do-volunteer power.
Volunteer Power Key-Notes, Workshops, Or An Education Day
The New Breed of Volunteer
A Volunteer Power Workshop
Recruiting and leading the 21st Century volunteers who want to do it their way
THE STRATEGIC CHALLENGE
The questions: Volunteerism is hot. From American Idol, Disneyland, Glee, Lady Gaga, President Obama to Wells Fargo, Intel and Wal-Mart, giving back is the rage.
THE TECTONIC SHIFTS THAT ARE CHANGING VOLUNTEERISM
The 21st century volunteer culture is very different because of tectonic shifts that have changed volunteer leadership. These shifts have impacted the volunteer organization; therefore, how we recruit and lead the New Breed of volunteer is a whole new game. The tectonic shifts include the following:
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