Thoraya Abdul-Rassol is on a 10 month assignment as Support Officer with the Samoa Association of Sport and National Olympic Committee (SASNOC).
Published on 15th February 2017
In her last post from Samoa, Thoraya explains why she feels volunteering is a true partnership.
Although volunteering isn’t a breeze, it’s good to focus on the little things that are working when you’re going through the tougher times.
I’ve gone through all the emotions; feeling driven and confident that I can do what I set out to achieve, feeling overwhelmed that I wasn’t realistic enough about what I wanted to achieve, feeling frustrated that things kept getting in the way and pushing me off my timeline, and finally feeling like giving up because ‘what is even the point!?’.
Then Fusi would walk into my office, huge grin on her face, with a document in her hand that she had done all by herself. I’m not exaggerating when I say I constantly get teary eyed when I see her growth in confidence and achievements. Yes, they are seemingly simple, but when you see the improvement, anyone would be proud!
When volunteering abroad in a culture completely different to the one you’ve grown up in, it’s extremely normal to go through the emotions I mentioned earlier. I say it’s normal because every volunteer I’ve met in Samoa (whether they are from New Zealand, Australia, America or Japan) has a story about this. The best advice I could offer to anyone thinking of volunteering or currently volunteering is don’t dwell on these emotions. They will pass if you let them.
I’ve been lucky enough to have Fusi in my life this year and she’s really helped me to see the positive side of things. In fact, in my flat here in Samoa we used to joke that ‘everyone needs a Fusi in their office!’ Not only do I have Fusi, I also have Tuna, who I’ve been training to be the media officer when I leave. All in all, SASNOC has been a really, really REALLY lovely organisation to volunteer with and that largely comes down to everyone being on the same page with the direction they want SASNOC to go in, and being willing to learn. Fusi and Tuna are the two staff members I’ve worked with the most and so they have a special place in my heart.
My time with Fusi
On my first day at the office, 5pm came around and Fusi asked if I wanted to catch the bus with her. I said yes and she stayed with me until my bus turned up to take me home and told me to text her once I arrived. This sums up Fusi’s caring personality and set the tone for our relationship. One guy from the weightlifting federation thought Fusi was my mother, since I was always with her!
At the start of the year, Fusi approached me and said she wanted to learn everything there was about how to use a computer and Microsoft Office. She wasn’t exaggerating either, when she said everything she meant EVERYTHING. So I set off creating documents, explaining as much as I could and worked one-on-one with her. I wasn’t sure how much Fusi would retain, but went for it anyway. Obviously Fusi hasn’t learnt everything there is to know, but she definitely knows a lot more than she did and more importantly, her confidence radiates!
Hands down, Fusi is the most hardworking person I know. When we have our training, she sits there with pen and notebook in hand and writes down all the steps. She’s always quick to give things a go herself and insists that she does it on her own so she can learn. When the same mistake is made, rather than giving up and getting frustrated, she laughs and learns from it. She even asks for homework so she can practice without me being by her side! Every training session is followed with a high five, a hug and ‘Fusi, you are smart, you are hardworking, you are amazing!’
My time with Tuna
In my first two weeks at the office, Tuna was in Japan for a conference. When he came back, we talked about his time and I was so impressed by his critical thinking and ability to truly question what would and wouldn’t work in the Samoan Sporting realm. This sums up Tuna pretty well. He’s constantly thinking and questioning how things are done. I’m very confident in Tuna’s ability to continue on as media officer on top of his other roles at SASNOC.
About 5 months into my placement, my boss and I had a talk and decided we needed to train one of the staff members to be the media officer when I leave. It was decided that Tuna would be the one. He was more than happy to do it and felt humbled to be chosen. When I spoke with him to see how much he already knew, he kept mentioning his desire to upskill.
Like Fusi, and everyone else in the SASNOC office, Tuna is very hardworking and extremely willing to learn. Every training session we have, Tuna takes the opportunity to practice what we have just gone through straight away. Questions are always asked and jokes are always made. At the end, Tuna looks at me and says ‘man, I am SO smart’. Yes, Tuna, yes you are.
The difference willingness makes
I don’t have much volunteering experience to compare to VSA’s model, but one thing I really appreciate as a volunteer is the background research VSA puts into finding a partner organisation. We have an in-country programme manager, Faleolo. Her job is to liaise with partner organisations, see how we’re going, and get contracts for other organisations wanting a volunteer.
An organisation doesn’t get a volunteer straight away, they need to be checked out to see if VSA can help, if the volunteer will have capacity building to do, and if the organisation is willing to accept assistance from a volunteer. The reason I think this is important is because the organisation’s willingness to learn and grow makes all the difference in the world.
If Fusi and Tuna didn’t want my help I would have nothing to do. If they didn’t care about my training and put no effort into it, there would be no growth. The fact that they are so willing to learn and upskill means they will retain the information better and be more likely to use it.
Volunteering truly is a partnership. Without willingness from your partner organisation and the person whom you’re training, your placement may not work. Credit needs to be given to the partner organisation just as much, if not more, than the volunteer. It’s important to recognise the work that both parties put in.