This article was originally written and published by Winrock International here.
Winrock International’s Nigeria Farmer-to-Farmer staff have nominated Dr. Onesimus Otieno as the December Volunteer of the Month because he is committed and passionate about what he does. Country Director, Mike Bassey, stated that “he is a great student as well as teacher trainer who has a good understanding of his audience and knows how to tailor his teaching and information to the benefit of all. At the completion of his 2016 assignment, the Nigeria F2F Program agreed with the host and the participants’ call for more training as well as a specific request to have the volunteer return to the college in the following school year (2017) for a follow-up training. On the interpersonal skills side, Dr. Otieno relates well with all and has great respect and love for the Nigerian people and for their culture. At the Nigeria F2F Program, we see Dr. Otieno more as a partner, this was evidenced in his driving for five hours with his family from Huntsville, Alabama to visit with me as well as meet with the Winrock headquarters staff in the Summer of 2017.”We asked Dr. Otieno to reflect on his experiences as a Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer. His responses are below:
Why did you want to volunteer?
First, I saw an opening that made the perfect fit. It was to Senegal, a new place I had never been and I thought it would be a great way to visit while I see just how I can apply my skills in a new context. The duration was long enough to experience the new challenge and make an impact, yet short enough to squeeze into a tight annual schedule.
What was the highlight of your most recent volunteer assignment abroad?
This was a return trip and I met colleagues I had trained before. They had applied some of the skills we learnt and were eager to share their new experience and the changes they had observed in their workplace. Trainees came in larger numbers than we expected. Their enthusiasm was sustained through-out the sessions. The training opened out a new world and they were eager to walk right in.
What made your Winrock volunteer trip distinctive?
The planning and execution was seamless. Head office staff was in constant contact and gave me all the necessary information and detail. I also met people who were so committed to their work and demonstrated a sincere passion for everything they did.
How does your experience affect your worldview?
I realize that we all live in a global village and everything I do can be of impact to others around the world. They too impact me in many ways and I now have a raised consciousness of their environment. My professional focus is now more global and I always assume they are part of my audience everywhere I go.
What advice would you give a new volunteer?
Try it, you will wonder why you did not do it earlier. The world of WI staff and in-country hosts will make you feel like family.
How have your assignments made a difference in your own life?/Has your assignment caused you to do anything differently once you returned?
I find myself tailoring my regular work to an international audience even though they are not present. I have a constant awareness of my experiences there that I even see the world and my work differently.
Why should people consider volunteering?
Volunteering makes a great impact on people and communities around the world – it starts with the volunteers themselves.
How do you feel about the support from Winrock, whether before, during or after your assignments?
What brings me back is the support I get through-out the process. It seems my first call was the beginning of a long-term process that continues even after I have returned home from the assignments. Through this continued contact, I have been made aware of other opportunities within the WI F2F program that I have either participated or referred my colleagues. I find the WI team very welcoming, flexible, and believe that I will only do more of such in the future.
When your friends/family find out that your volunteer assignment aboard, what do they say or ask?
They always want to know more and ask how they can participate. I have introduced some. They all admire these opportunities and none has ever been negative.
What do you do when you’re not volunteering?
I teach most of the year and train faculty on the same things I do at the volunteer assignments. This makes things a lot easier.
Does anyone in your life play a role in supporting your involvement? In providing inspiration?
My family has been most inspiring. My mother grew up in a missionary environment and is happy I can also experience some aspect of that. My children are young (7 and 4) and give up family time when I travel. They too accept these assignments and are always happy to know how other children around the world live, play and learn. We stay in contact via the internet and they too have come to appreciate others, just like them around the world.
Do you keep in touch with your host organization? [Host organizations are the organizations that receive volunteer support]
Yes, I hear from them a few times a year. Some communication has been regarding resources, which has been very productive.
How do you feel that your volunteer assignment has contributed to creating a shared understanding across different cultures through person-to-person interactions?
I have definitely gained a lot of cultural sensitivity. This is in both my technical material but also my personal interactions. I have also observed the way my hosts have interacted with me especially since I have had the privilege of a return trip. They remember many things about me and my environment and try to accommodate me. I have in return learnt to respect their practices and have a good level of comfort interacting with them within this context.
What keeps you going back to volunteer?
The WI staff are very well trained and dedicated. They listen, communicate, and excel so effortlessly and it gives me great confidence working with them so far away from home. Although the work has been rigorous and the schedule very tight, the planning has been so well done that we always came back with a positive experience.
What have you learned from your assignments?
I have learnt that there are many things and skills I have, which many will find useful. I have also learned to develop these skills with my global audience in mind and share them at every opportunity. My assignments have helped me gain insight into my work from a very different perspective. I am more inquisitive in the way I do things and, therefore, more intentional on the overall outcome.
What, if anything, has surprised you on your assignments?
I have been surprised how awareness (or lack thereof) can change the way we view resources around us. I have to remember that everyone wants to do his or her best and makes the best choices based on current knowledge. While I have seen this lack of awareness when I travel, it surprises me that it is on my hosts as well as myself. I return home and seek to do things differently and see resources where I previously did not.