Chloe sitting on railway line

Volunteering in Bangladesh – my journey and what I learned

Chloe, one of our student Careers Service Assistants, (4th year International Relations), tells us about her volunteering experience in Bangladesh last summer.

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In June of 2018, after five months of fundraising and preparing, I set off on a flight across the world with thirty strangers. Our destination was Bangladesh, and we were to live and work there for ten weeks together. Those ten weeks were some of the hardest of my life; but they also became my most treasured. Volunteering and living in a developing country has changed the way I perceive the world today, but more specifically, has changed the way I perceive myself.

So, here’s the story of my journey and what I learned…

In a previous blog post I documented my fundraising journey; all the trials and tribulations. Despite the challenges I achieved my goal of fundraising £800 for the International Citizens Service and Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO). All I had left to do was get on that plane… Or so I thought.

The first hurdle to my fundraising journey came before I’d even departed, when our volunteer group didn’t receive our visas in time for our original departure date. This was unfortunate, but apparently common when dealing with foreign embassies. No matter how far in advance you plan ahead, these things take time and the mechanisms behind them are often slow. The longer the departure date was postponed, the more I lost hope in my ability to go. But, after two weeks of uncertainty, we got the green light as our visas were confirmed. On the 19th of June I flew to London Heathrow and met the cohort of volunteers who were also going on this journey with me. And off we went – two flights and more than 24 hours later, we were in Bangladesh. The first thing I noticed when we landed was just how green the grass was. I don’t think I’ll ever see that colour of natural, lush green in my life again. And the heat! It really did hit me like a ton of bricks – just under 40 degrees with 80% humidity, as it was the height of summer.

We spent five days in the capital city, Dhaka, undertaking ‘in-country training’ presented by our NGO VSO Bangladesh. Here, we learnt about the social and economic state of the country, its cultures and traditions, a tiny bit of the language Bangla, and about the types of programmes and work volunteers can undertake when they reach their host community. My host community was in the North-West of Bangladesh, in a rural village in Parbatipur, a 10 hour drive from the capital city. The drive there was one of the most surreal experiences of my life – traffic is truly nowhere near as organised as in the UK.

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VSO Bangladesh Volunteer Saba (left) and VSO UK Volunteer Chloe (right)

Upon arrival we spent a few days exploring the area, meeting the people and setting up our office. As we were the first cycle of volunteers in the area, our work was slow. This was something I struggled with – I wanted to be Go Go Go! right from the start. And that’s understandable, as a short term volunteer you are very aware of the limited amount of time you have to make some semblance of a difference. But I quickly learnt international development doesn’t always work that way; that the foundations of trust established at the start of a project are just as important to the outcome as the work done subsequently. It may have seemed at the time very bureaucratic; meeting members of the local government, writing and undertaking a baseline survey, but it was necessary for the project’s success. We spent weeks listening to the community’s hopes and needs (mostly over delicious Bangla tea) in order to decide what projects to take forward. In the end, our team of 20 UK and Bangla volunteers were split into 3 teams: the livelihoods team, governance team and sexual and reproductive health rights team. I applied for and was assigned to the later team.

So began our difficult journey of teaching the taboo topic of sexual health in a rural Bangladesh village…

Watch out for the final installment of this series to find out more about Chloe’s volunteer journey in Bangladesh.


(Image: Chloe Walker)

(Image: Chloe Walker)


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