I began my volunteering with the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul in Ethiopia as a Vincentian Lay Missionary (VLM) volunteer in 2013 for three months. My background is in community development and I retired from the HSE (Health Service Executive in the Irish public health care system) in 2010.
The Daughters’ provincial house is in Addis Ababa and their work is located in 14 locations in the North, South and West of Ethiopia. They work in the areas of health care, education and training, women and development programmes, home based care for the sick and the elderly, supporting people with a disability, refugees, assistance to prisoners through outreach, human trafficking, and whatever emergency situations arise in their capacity. All of the projects that the Daughters organise and manage are dependent on funding from overseas organisations and some individual donors.
Every year since 2013 I have returned to Ethiopia for 12 weeks. My last trip was the end of 2019. My role was a capacity building and resource person. This involves project writing, report writing and some training workshops. Its focus is as much as possible about empowerment and accompanying the Daughters in their work and mission.
Due to Covid19 it was not possible to travel to Addis Abba in 2020. Hence I now volunteer online. To date this has involved editing end-of-year reports and proposal writing for funding. There is much greater emphasis on governance and accountability by all funders and also emphasis on targets, outputs, and outcomes. This causes some difficulty for projects. English is not the Daughters first language; in fact, it is probably their third one.
Here is an example of my work. I receive a draft document from the DC Provincial end-of-project narrative report. I read it to see if it provides the information sought by the funder; sometimes a template is provided by the funder which is helpful. From my experience I have found that these reports understate the work that has been done. I contact the development co-ordinator who has written the report using WhatsApp to discuss what changes/additions would make the report better. These will be done and a second draft is e-mailed to me. This might happen a couple of times and when we are both happy with the report it is then forwarded to the Provincial who will sign off on it and forward with a cover letter to the funder. In the case of a proposal for funding, the engagement will require more contact, as additional information may be required or gaps identified to ensure that both the proposed work plan and budget are accurate and meet the criteria of the funder or donor. I will have received copies of the criteria etc of the funder for reference.
In addition to ensuring that the information is accurate, I also edit the reports so that it reads as a coherent document without repetition or unnecessary padding. I consciously try to retain the authentic voice expressed in the report and not to over edit it.
There are some challenges to online volunteering. Some are technical e.g., un-reliable internet; the one I find most challenging is the lack of personal contact and benefits gained from being on site with the Daughters and seeing the context in which they work. There is scope to develop online volunteering for me and at the moment it is a learning situation for me.