* Updated - January 2014* The Sudan Volunteer Programme offers opportunities to gain experience working with Sudanese students – at schools and universities. We spoke to David Wolton, the managing secretary and one of the trustees about why the country is of particular interest.
It has a really unusual mix of elements. As well as being a developing country it is also both African and Islamic. It is also emerging from a number of different conflicts – not least Darfur and the conflicts with the newly formed Republic of South Sudan. So whether you are interested in peace building, international development, the Islamic world, the Middle East or Africa or even want to deepen your knowledge of Arabic, Sudan has much to offer. And of course with our programme you have a great opportunity to make a real impact on the life chances of the students you work with.
What does the programme offer? Most of our volunteers go from September to June each year to work either in schools or in universities helping students improve their conversational English. We are also starting to teach in secondary schools where there is much urgent work to be done. For this the best time to arrive is late May – a few weeks ahead of the school year. We don’t charge arrangement fees – we raise the money for that from our supporters through our charity status in the UK – and volunteers get paid a local wage by the hosts who also provide free accommodation. Volunteers do have to sort out their own air fare and health jabs, and make a one-off payment of £80 towards the SVP the group health and travel insurance which covers all volunteers when traveling to/from and residing in Sudan.
Given its profile with the conflicts you mentioned above how safe is the country? It is hard to imagine but really I think it is safer than London. There are conflicts – the issues around Darfur haven’t been settled and there is an ongoing territorial dispute with South Sudan but our volunteers don’t work in those areas – and Sudan is a very big country. We provide our volunteers with cultural training and orientation on arrival. This includes things like learning how to use local buses, advice on living and working in an Islamic country. Security isn’t a significant issue. The Sudanese are a very hospitable and friendly people; they welcome and appreciate the presence and work of our volunteers. At the same time it can be a challenging country. We look for volunteers who can be self reliant and adaptable, perhaps they have already done some travelling. Young graduates are surprisingly good at making the experience work. We have sent hundreds of volunteers to Sudan over the last 16 years so we know how to provide a safe and rewarding experience.
What are some of the cultural issues? Well it is an Islamic country so alcohol isn’t a feature of the culture but it isn’t a big issue for volunteers either who want to have a discreet drink. Similarly we underline for our volunteers that relationships with local people should be friendly and professional. Having said that a number of our volunteers have eventually married Sudanese.
David, as you probably know there are some concerns about unqualified people working in classrooms in the developing world. What is your response to this? What the volunteers are there to do is to help with conversational English. Native English speakers are the perfect people to do that. The work is extra-curricular and, frankly, if we didn’t have volunteers doing this then the students would be missing out. For many of them developing a future and getting work depends in part on their ability to speak English well. On arrival we provide some training on running conversation classes and English clubs and we cover things like differentiated learning, assessment, and classroom management. We even cover things like course marketing as the classes are voluntary for the students. Incidentally we also get volunteers who have TEFL qualifications and/or other formal teaching qualifications who want the opportunity to learn about Sudan.
What do volunteers get out of the experience? You can read some case studies on our site but one thing students might be interested in is how helpful the experience can be to their careers. Sudan is seen as a ‘difficult’ country and it is an unusual place to go and this by itself gives an advantage. This can help if you are applying to places like the Foreign & Commonwealth Office or international agencies and NGOs who give real preference to those who have had experience in the field. A spell with SVP gives regional knowledge – it helps anyone applying for international development, conflict resolution, political risk or for those who want to make a start in learning or improving their Arabic for a commercial career. The other aspect of the experience is that it makes a strong, positive impact on our volunteers. Just one quote from many, fromKathryn, a recent returner "... I cannot help but miss the buzz of downtown souq arabi. I loved the fact that all essentials were within reach, the mixture of sweet and sickly smells, the constant throb of vehicles and people and picking your way between street wares and prayer mats where men worship throughout the day. I am very glad I was able to live there, albeit very briefly, as I felt it gave me a better understanding of Khartoum’s heart."
There are many ways of getting international volunteering experience. Use Careerstagged.co.uk to find out more. We have listed some of them here