On a cold, gloomy Monday night in January 2013 we were pondering our futures. Eric’s retirement was looming and frankly he wasn’t looking forward to it. He isn’t one for golf or gardening, so we started talking about what we could do in the next phase of our lives. In the past both of us had talked about VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) and the great work they do. So when it came up in conversation over dinner on that snowy Monday it really was “Light the blue touch paper and retire”…with a purpose.
After going through the application process, we were accepted by VSO and headed off to Ethiopia, booked on a flight on 14th September 2013.
Eric joined the team of the engineering faculty at a fledgling university in a place called Kombolcha (a 370 km drive north of Addis Ababa) on a 2 year volunteer basis, with me tagging along as an accompanying partner. However, I too joined the Kombolcha project shortly after when we realised there was a great opportunity to help not only the university but to expand the project to incorporate the local textile industry in order to focus on how to develop exports.
It was a huge adventure and opportunity for us to live a completely different kind of life but was also a chance for us to use the education and professional experience we have been privileged to have in a way that can help others access opportunities of their own.
This blog was started so that friends and family could see how we got on.
When we set off for Ethiopia back in 2013 we thought that our 2 year VSO placement would be a one-off experience and that at the end we would be heading back to our normal life in Hampshire. But as the time came closer and closer we found ourselves thinking that perhaps it wasn’t quite time to hang up our volunteering hats.
And then Eric spotted an opportunity that was just to good to miss, for me at least: a VSO placement as a marketing and communications specialist working on the Nyamuka Zambia Business Plan Competition. It is part of an integrated programme sponsored by UK AID called the Private Enterprise Programme Zambia (PEPZ) which is helping to develop entrepreneurial activity and the growth of small and medium sized businesses as a way of generating sustainable jobs and livelihoods. Needless to say, I applied immediately and was delighted to hear that I had been accepted.
After a 2 month visit to the UK which sped by so fast, on 1st November 2015 we were once again at Heathrow, heading for Lusaka for me to take up what became a 13 month VSO placement. This time is was Eric travelling as my accompanying partner, just as I accompanied him last time. But history repeated itself again and in no time at all Eric joined the Private Enterprise Programme Zambia as a consultant, drawing on all his experience of manufacturing, process improvement and management.
At the end of my VSO placement I negotiated to stay on for another 6 months, this time as a consultant working with PEPZ as a whole rather than just the business plan competition. Our aim is to stay in Zambia until July 2017…but who knows what will come next. You’ll have to keep up with the blog to find out!