Rajesh worked as a mentor and employment advisor with Saath, one of the slum community-based organisations in Ahmedabad. He worked on their UMEED programme, which is an education and training programme for 18 to 29 year olds.
Placement: Mentor and Employment Advisor.
Location: Ahmedabad, Gujarat
Partner Organisation: Saath
“One of the things that attracted me to AFP was their systematic process of recruitment and matching my skills and experience to an organisation that I could contribute to.”
What was your motivation to volunteer with AFP?
I was planning a 12 month career break in which I wanted to live and work abroad. India was one of the places I was interested in spending an extended period of time. Volunteering appealed to me because I was interested in development.
I was introduced to AFP by a colleague and had my first contact with the organisation via email when I was travelling. One of the things that attracted me to AFP was their systematic process of recruitment and matching my skills and experience to an organisation that I could contribute to. It gave me comfort and confidence.
Where did you volunteer and what was your role?
I started my eight week placement with Saath in July 2008. My task was to enhance their education and training programme for marginalised and under-privileged young people between the ages of 18 and 29 in Gujarat. I focussed on confidence building, job applications, interview techniques and oral English skills. In addition, I developed new training materials and taught over 50 trainers on ways they could improve their techniques.
This education and training programme, called UMEED, was set up over three years ago. It was designed to provide them with specific vocational and relevant life skills to enable them to gain local jobs, improve their living standards and ultimately increase their chances of becoming self-sufficient over a period of time.
In 2008, Saath reported that just over 75% of students (2,752) who’d completed the programme had gained jobs, many of these as call centre operators or in customer sales roles in the retail and hospitality sectors. The organisation plans to train 10,000 young people by March 2009.
“I would advise anyone not to go with any fixed ideas. Just be prepared to roll up your sleeves and work.”
What did you learn personally and professionally?
Professionally, the placement drew on my audit, research and project management skills and allowed me to gain some useful in-country work experience – a useful platform should I decide to pursue a career in international development. The highlight for me however, were the students themselves. They were enthusiastic, curious, knowledgeable and realistic about what they could achieve. As an external visitor, it was easy to capture their imagination.
Personally, the experience also presented me with my first real opportunity to live among the Gujarati community and achieve a better understanding of some of the differences between India and other countries and cultures I have been exposed to.
The main thing that I learned was how to adapt to working in a different environment and work culture. In addition, I realised the importance of the need to build trust and credibility with colleagues and students by building good relationships with them quickly. This required good listening skills and a certain amount of humility.
What is your advice to other volunteers?
If you have something to contribute, you can hit the ground running. If you don’t, it’s more difficult but it’s equally as valuable because you have to go in and muck in. I would advise them not to go with any fixed ideas. Just be prepared to roll up your sleeves and work.
Now that I’m back, I would like to maintain an ongoing relationship with Saath. I have agreed I will contribute one day every month to developing a training manual for the entire UMEED programme whilst in the UK.