This interview is taken from an article written by Rowena Forbes that appeared in Student Direct in February 2007. The Article was entitled ‘Do something different this summer‘.
Being interviewed is a past VESL volunteer, Anna Watt. Anna graduated from The University of Manchester with a BA (Hons) in English and Drama in 2005. First volunteered for VESL in 2004 in Sri Lanka. Returned as a volunteer co-ordinator the following year and was invited to join VESL’s board of trustees in 2007.
Why did you get involved with VESL?
“Having taught English as a volunteer in Morocco in 2003, Sri Lanka seemed like the next step. VESL’s four-week projects were ideal: I could work to save the money beforehand, then leave for the project and have a holiday at the end. I was also really impressed that VESL was a not-for profit organisation that was – and still is – run entirely by volunteers.”
What did your voluntary work involve?
“My project partner, Sara, and I were located about 45 minutes from the town of Galle in a beautiful jungle with padi and tea fields. We lived with a family and shared a room. Our toilet was a good trek into the jungle and up a steep hill, and we washed in the local well. The school in which I taught was beautifully located between padi fields; I caught two buses to get there. I taught conversational English classes from reception age to A-level, between 8am and 2pm, after which I helped in the local orphanage, where some of the schoolchildren lived, playing drama games to enhance the children’s English skills.”
Did you need previous experience to get onto the programme?
“VESL looks for volunteers with some experience of volunteer work and/or teaching, and who are adaptable to different cultures and environments. However, VESL is also really keen to give people their first volunteering experience. The qualities they seem to most look for are enthusiasm and adaptability.”
What support were you given?
“Lots! Prior to departure, we met our partners and our in-country co-ordinator, Sophie, at a training session in London, and discovered where our projects were based. We flew out as a group and were met by Sophie, who took us to our hotel/hostel and did a group induction and individual project briefings. Sophie took us to our projects and was on-call 24 hours a day to deal with any queries. She also visited us during our projects.”
How has VESL influenced you as a person?
“VESL helped to define what I want to do career-wise, and gave me an insight into other societies and cultures.”
What kind of person do you need to be to succeed at VESL?
“Enthusiastic, adaptable and up for a challenge.”
Would you recommend VESL to others?
“Yes! VESL is run entirely by committed volunteers; it’s not-for-profit, so all the money you pay is channelled into your costs and the charities. Programmes are excellently co-ordinated, with people on hand 24/7 to deal with any problems or issues.
VESL works closely with the Sri Lankan government to select schools where volunteers will have maximum and measurable benefit to both the school and the community as a whole.
You meet some fantastic people, see a beautiful country and have the opportunity to make a small but measurable difference. And the projects really are what you make them – great self-motivation!”
– Anna Watt, VESL Volunteer 2004 & 2005 in Sri Lanka
Extract (with kind permission) from ‘Student Direct’, February 2007