Gwen Harris pictured here is a VSO volunteer who went to Myanmar. Here she is talking to the camera about the unexpected thing she learnt as a volunteer.
VSO/Juanan Eguiguren

The unexpected thing I learnt as a VSO volunteer

Returned volunteers from the UK share some of the unexpected things they learned from their VSO experience, from the practical, to the bizarre, to the profound. 

You never know what you might discover when you volunteer! 

We asked some British VSO volunteers, recently returned from their placements, what they learned from volunteering. From puppetry lessons in Myanmar, to learning local greetings in Zambia, to groudnut recipes in Uganda, it turns out no two volunteering experiences are the same.

"Before volunteering, I couldn't change a lightbulb!" said Alison May, who was helping people find employment in Uganda.

Alison supported drivers to get more driving experience and get their Ugandan driving licence. In a show of solidarity, Alison also took the Ugandan driving test, and passed.

Have a look at what Alison and some of our other volunteers discovered when they volunteered with VSO.

Our volunteers talk about the one thing they never expected to learn when they volunteered with VSO.
Jane Stageman on the streets of Myanmar, campaigning during the Me Too movement
Jane Stageman
Jane Stageman, pictured here at International Women's Day, worked on women's issues in Myanmar.

One volunteer featured in the video, 63-year-old Jane Stageman, volunteered with VSO in Myanmar, challenging attitudes on how women are depicted in the media.

“I realised I could deal with a lot of unexpected situations in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible before I went. That included having a nest of rats in my department”

“With volunteering, you gain as much as you give, you learn as much as you offer. I like the ethos of sharing skills, rather than thinking I know everything.

"It's very hard to stand in someone else's shoes, although I think it's very important to try and do so,” said Jane.

I have received wonderful kindness and generosity from people in many parts of the world. Volunteering has been one way that I can give something back.

Paul Hague

Paul Hague, 69, volunteered in Zambia, but has previously volunteered with VSO in Malawi, Namibia and Papua New Guinea.

“As a volunteer, I learnt how to deal with people who had very different motivations to me,” said Paul. "But the most important thing I have learnt and been constantly reminded of is humility.

"There is always a temptation to think of ourselves as people with something to teach others, but more often we learn from the wisdom and experience of the people with whom we share time and stories.

"I have received wonderful kindness and generosity from people in many parts of the world. Volunteering has been one way that I can give something back. I also feel that true dialogue between people with different ways of seeing the world can lead to learning and creativity.

"One the most important roles we can play is to encourage people who often feel unskilled to value their considerable knowledge, skills and experience. With confidence comes progress."


Interested in becoming a volunteer? You might just surprise yourself.

Find out what you could learn as a VSO volunteer

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Volunteers Jack Algeo and Chris Tipple wearing Ghanaian fabrics
VSO / Charly Sauret

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