This article was originally written and published by VEGA Member Winrock International here.
Jolene was nominated by the Nigeria Farmer to Farmer team because she demonstrated a commitment to the success of her assignments and never tired of the frenzied hours of hard work – developing training materials, training the host in necessary skills and capabilities. Country Director, Mike Bassey, said “Outside of Jolene’s scope of work, she accepted a request by the National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS) to travel to a NAERLS-adopted farming community to hold an interactive session with farmers in pesticides safe use. This collaboration helped pave the way for the implementation of a follow-on assignment.” Further, Jolene continued to work with F2F country staff after she returned to the US!
We asked Jolene to reflect on her volunteer experience and the trip to Nigeria. Read on to see what she had to say!
Why did you want to volunteer?
I’ve always volunteered in my community, which is very important, but the idea of being able to expand beyond my local borders and reach people who live completely differently than I do is exciting. I love challenges and I felt that this opportunity would challenge me on a personal and professional level and really stretch the depth of what I can do and who I can reach.
What was the highlight of your most recent volunteer assignment abroad?
The most recent assignment in March provided an opportunity for me to meet a few village leaders and provide some pesticide safety training to farmers directly. That was my first experience using an interpreter to translate from English to the native language of Housa and although it was a new experience it was received well and appreciated by the farmers.
How does your experience affect your worldview?
Even with extensive media outreach in today’s world, nothing impacts a person more than an actual experience. The differences in cultures, lifestyles, values, environment can’t be truly realized through video and pictures in the same way as being there. Meeting real people in real time creates a bond and you always find that you have something in common with each person you meet even with large disparities in where and how you live. It also gives you so much to reflect on, how so much of the world struggles with basic needs yet people live happily without material things.
What advice would you give a new volunteer?
Use your opportunity to meet and have real conversations with as many people as you can. Don’t be afraid to accept their invitations to culture and new experiences. We grow the most when we move outside of our comfort zone and they will want you to share everything possible about yourself and your life. Don’t be afraid to do so.
How have your assignments made a difference in your own life? /Has your assignment caused you to do anything differently once you returned?
Absolutely! I always thought material things were a low priority for me but now even more so. I purged so much stuff when I came back from my first assignment! I regained my love for art and culture and looked for more ways to share my talents. I thank God every day for clean water and air, security and my family’s wellbeing and for even having the opportunity to venture and see the world.
How do you feel about the support from Winrock, whether before, during or after your assignments?
Winrock is the most amazing organization. They provide incredible opportunities and really support their volunteers. I always feel I can reach anyone with questions, get advice, or details from my assignments. Being able to talk to previous volunteers is a bonus as well.
What do you do when you’re not volunteering?
Professionally, I have always been in science and education or a combination of the two. I’m also a mom and artist, who loves all things outdoors such as camping, hiking, biking, scuba diving, and beekeeping.
Does anyone in your life play a role in supporting your involvement? In providing inspiration?
I feel that the most successful volunteers have support from their families. My daughter is my inspiration; I want to be a role model for her, to show her how to serve others, to be selfless and adventurous and to share her talents with others who can benefit from them.
What keeps you going back to volunteer?
Winrock is such a solid organization and I believe in their mission. The professional atmosphere, the host organizations they work with, the value received from the inputs, and the experience as a whole provides amazing opportunities for all those involved.
What, if anything, has surprised you on your assignments?
I am amazed at how engaged everyone is during the assignment. Even in cultures where time schedules are flexible and fluid and learning environments are not standardized, everyone is engaged and willing to learn. They show a real desire to soak up as much information as you can provide. They are inquisitive and anxious to use the information you provide. I was really surprised that as much as the internet and media can reach now, there are still huge disparities in the type and quality of information that reach people.