Why talking on the phone isn’t as bad as I thought
Sri Lanka — Uniterra
I pick up the phone to make a call. Again. It’s check-in week with the volunteers I support in Sri Lanka so I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone over the past few days. The purpose of these monthly phone calls is to “check-in” with each of our in-country volunteers to see how their lives and mandates are going.
Like most millennials, I used to be uncomfortable speaking over the phone, preferring instead text communication and in-person meet-ups. To check-in with our volunteers around the country, however, text communication is inadequate and in-person meet-ups are often not feasible due to our volunteers working in the field. Because of this, I check-in over the phone, forcing myself to face my fear of sounding awkward so that I can “be there” as best I can for our volunteers as they adapt to living and working abroad.
I’ve been working in the Colombo office at WUSC Sri Lanka for the past five months as a Volunteer Support Officer for the Uniterra program. My work life is dependent on what I call the “volunteer life cycle”. This encompasses each volunteer’s Uniterra Sri Lanka experience, from the moment they are introduced to us as an incoming volunteer through their orientation in-country to the completion of their mandates and even beyond, once they have returned to Canada.
Because the job involves so many different stages of the volunteer’s experience with the Uniterra program, each of my workdays as a Volunteer Support Officer is different. If we have incoming volunteers, I am planning orientations and managing logistics. If we are planning an upcoming event such as a volunteer retreat, I spend my time planning trainings and activities. And if we are saying goodbye to a returning volunteer, I am running to a bakery to grab a cake to share with the office during afternoon tea as a “thank-you” to the volunteer for spending their time with us and our partners here in Sri Lanka.
When I first applied for this position and even in my first few weeks, I saw my role as systems-focused. I knew I was in Sri Lanka to review and develop all the policies, procedures, and tools needed to maintain an effective volunteer management system. And, while it’s true my role involves all of that, the part I enjoy most is the people side of things. So even though check-in week can be busy and during that week I do spend a lot of time on the phone, it’s in my interactions with our volunteers when I feel most fulfilled in my work. In my small way, I hope I am making a difference in their lives by listening to their stories and helping them feel heard.