I’ve worked in Winrock’s Volunteer Programs since March 2014. I have many responsibilities, but the most important one is the recruitment of volunteer experts for the USAID funded Farmer-to-Farmer program and an associate award called the Agriculture Education and Market Improvement Program (AEMIP). AEMIP operates in Guinea and its goal is to strengthen agriculture education and training through organizational capacity building of the country’s only four-year agriculture university, the Institut Supérieur Agronomic et Vétérinaire de Faranah (ISAV/F).
When I applied for the position of Program Associate/Volunteer Recruiter at Winrock, I had to google Guinea. I’d heard the country name, but that was the extent of my knowledge and the only thing I knew about agriculture was that Arkansas grows a lot of rice and soybeans. At this point, you may be wondering how on earth I ended up on an assignment in West Africa if I hadn’t come from a background in international development and knew nearly nothing about agriculture. Well, that’s kind of the point of Farmer-to-Farmer and other associated programs. USAID is “from the American people,” and the programs they fund (and Winrock implements) are a way for people to give to others through their own professional skills. Before I was a volunteer recruiter, I was an executive recruiter. I helped local and regional companies find top-notch employees and highly-qualified job seekers find careers with excellent employers. So, when I saw a scope of work seeking experts to teach ISAV/F students and faculty how to coordinate and host a career fair, I got really excited. I’d been on the employer side of career fairs for years. Luckily, my supervisor asked for my input developing this scope of work. When I saw the draft, I knew I had to be a part of the assignment. After the SOW was finalized, I called a good friend who has worked in higher education for many years and ran the idea of a team approach by her. Of course she couldn’t tell me no. I’m a recruiter after all, it’s my job to convince volunteers they need to do these assignments.
On May 15th Jennifer Moody and I hopped on a plane and headed for Guinea. Jennifer went as a volunteer and was excited to travel to Africa for the first time. This was my second trip to Guinea, so I was an old pro. After two long international flights, we were in Guinea. Our assignment site was Faranah, which is about a ten-hour (bumpy, gorgeous, heart pounding) drive inland from the capital. Each day of our assignment took us on an emotional journey as intense as that drive in. This is where I found an even deeper level of appreciation for our volunteers. We always remind volunteer experts that they must be flexible. Things are often not exactly what you expect them to be. For example, we assumed the group assembled would understand the basic concept of a career fair. We were mistaken. So, we adjusted our training schedule. We went back to the guesthouse that night and pulled photos and diagrams and created some very basic guidelines. We were hesitant the next day, but left campus that evening truly inspired by the level of understanding the group showed. Each day had its leaps forward and stumbles back. There were obstacles that we don’t think about, living in the US. Things that to us would be bumps in the road, seemed to be full on roadblocks for these guys. But, we worked together, the students formed teams, elected a chair and took ownership of the event. By the end of our assignment, the group had an organized plan and full support of the university. After the fair is carried out this summer, I anticipate an inbox full of emails (that I will have to run through google translate) telling me all about the internships and job prospects the students will have received. And that is exactly why our volunteers are so passionate. I will never forget the students we worked with, their drive and intelligence were inspiring. I hope everyone who completes an assignment like this feels that way.