Volunteer Voices
Key Insights from International Development Experiences

Edited by Duncan McNicholl
Paper: 978 1 85339 943 5 / $29.95
Published: April 2017  

Cloth: 978 1 85339 942 8 / $75.95
Published: June 2017  

Publisher: Practical Action
176 pp., 5 1/8" x 7 7/8"
Do you want to spend time on the other side of the world, seeing how people in developing countries live, and doing something to "make a difference?" Do you want to get first-hand experience of grassroots development as you start a career in international development? Volunteer Voices is a guide for the critically minded volunteer and early career development worker. It is designed to help aspiring young change-makers engage with the complicated environment of international volunteering from a hands-on perspective that can help them to benefit and contribute as much as possible from the experience. Beyond technical expertise and factual knowledge, creating change comes largely from our own mind sets and attitudes.

By sharing stories, mistakes, and lessons learned in this collection of short stories, the book guides readers to reflect on their own work and how their own practice might improve. Each individual and experience is unique, and no blueprints are offered. Providing stories and concepts for reflection instead allows readers to consider how particular ideas relate to their own contexts and then to determine how to proceed. This process is crucial to the development of an effective volunteer, and this book provides practical support.

This book is essential reading for gap year students, volunteers, and early career professionals embarking on work in grassroots international development projects.

Table of Contents:
Contributing Authors
Part I – Working with Yourself
1. It’s not about me: mistakes from being too personally ambitious when supporting a small agricultural business -- Duncan McNicholl
2. Pursue the art of being humbly radical: my choice to try and solve the hard parts of climate change problems -- Mike Kang
3. Know how you expect success to feel: a time in Malawi when feeling good about work was not the same as doing good work -- Duncan McNicholl
4. Understand why you want to work abroad: developing a passion for social justice in a Zambian refugee camp -- Jennifer Gottesfeld
5. Persevere with intention: the tragedy of watching capable volunteers give up when things get difficult -- Duncan McNicholl
6. Remember your own needs: how a friend reminded me of what I had forgotten when I left Ghana to help others -- Sam Atiemo
7. I don’t change anything alone: learning to let go of personal projects to better support others -- Duncan McNicholl
8. Find the balance between giving and staying healthy: remembering to see patients as people in Kenya -- Sanchia Jogessar
9. It should hurt a little: confronting power structures in Canada on indigenous community development issues -- Mike Kang
10. Understanding problems from within: experiencing discrimination in Ethiopia -- Megan Geldenhuys
11. Doing lifelong work: how I always needed more time to support agricultural businesses in Zambia and Ghana -- Mina Shahid
Part II – Working with Others
12. Believe that everyone can teach you something: how I overlooked the most important person in Northern Malawi -- Duncan McNicholl
13. Be more conscious than professional: suspending judgement and learning from sex workers in Malawi -- Sam Atiemo
14. Perspective matters: becoming the beneficiary of an NGO sanitation project -- Duncan McNicholl
15. Strive for real learning: a journey of transformation with indigenous youth in Canada -- Alyssa Lindsay
16. Don’t do it for glory: the frustration of optometry volunteers who wanted to do it themselves instead of supporting local systems -- Sanchia Jogessar
17. Offer real value: how criticizing the "playpump" was not the same as helping people access safe water -- Duncan McNicholl
18. Don’t fight brick walls: how a volunteer turned a challenge into an opportunity when working with local government -- Duncan McNicholl
19. Create the space for colleagues to lead and grow: lessons learned micromanaging a tax reform project in Ghana -- Fariya Mohiuddin
20. Find the best idea, wherever it is: listening to the wisdom of chiefs in rural Malawi -- Duncan McNicholl
Part III – Working with Issues
21. Do good work: struggling to support a cassava flour factory in Malawi -- Duncan McNicholl
22. Make it last: the disappointment of a broken water filter at an earthquake survivors’ camp -- Duncan McNicholl
23. Aim for "great": learning from agricultural investments in Ghana through ambitious goals -- Mark Brown
24. Choose the right time: learning when to keep my mouth shut in government policy forums in Malawi -- Duncan McNicholl
25. Choose the information to ignore: how more data on water pump functionality in Malawi did not answer all of our questions -- Duncan McNicholl
26. Big data, big mistake: overlooking details about water access in Malawi -- Muthi Nhlema
27. Get to good enough: testing ways to support rural water pump repair mechanics -- Duncan McNicholl
28. A story that sells: the challenge of communicating both need and the dignity of those who need help -- Sarah Rawson
29. Understand what is already happening: appreciating existing responsibilities of local government in Malawi -- Duncan McNicholl
30. Find the linkages: learning about the complexity of issues in South Africa -- Duncan McNicholl
31. Learn to tell form from function: gaps between policy and practice from engineering education to national water strategies -- Mike Kang
32. The funding is rarely secure: how our work on livelihoods in Uganda was cut unexpectedly -- Tamara Baldwin
33. Know that some things can’t be known: having to guess about which donors to influence in the Malawi water sector -- Duncan McNicholl

Reviews & Endorsements:
”Incisive, insightful and honest. If you have the ambition to change the world, or your neighbourhood, this isn't the book you want to read; it's the book you need to read. In my two decades of working to change systems, the authors of this book come closest to a ‘how to’ guide -- radical openness, deep reflection and powerful questions to reflect on constantly.”
- George Roter, former CEO and co-founder of Engineers Without Borders, Canada
“McNicholls has surfaced reflections from authors we learn with, not just learn from. Their voices shine a light on usually hidden, and hard, lessons from volunteering – they will resonate. Prepare to laugh, cry, wince, think and reflect… and then to be able to make change better.”
- Andrew Lamb, Innovation Advisor, Field Ready