"It was very emotional when I finally had to leave" Cicely Brown, Business Development Director, 44
I was based at a Nigerian non-profit organisation called the Fantsuam Foundation in a semi-rural town called Kafanchan. One of the main aspects of the business was selling computer training to those who could afford it in order to be able to teach those who couldn’t for free. The Fantsuam Foundation had taken on volunteers from the VSO for some time and had a good working relationship with them. One thing I must stress is that the VSO doesn’t just recruit from Europe.Two of the volunteers at the Fantsuam Foundation were East Africans, so it wasn’t a lot of white people telling black people how to do business. There was complete integration, both among the volunteers and between the volunteers and local Nigerians. Everybody really pulled together. It made it very emotional when I finally had to leave.
My role, essentially, was to use my previous experience as a Business Development Director in the UK to offer advice, both for the benefit of the Fantsuam Foundation and for the village. That might involve any number of things. For example, men in the village would each arrange to send their chickens to market by separate forms of transport, so I suggested that maybe they should group together to cut their transport costs and we talked about how it might be done.
Sometimes I felt incredibly lucky in that we were able to deliver a huge amount, and in that sense I definitely feel I did make a difference. I think there was value in bringing a Western perspective and believe that having that additional resource really did help the Fantsuam Foundation.If someone had told me that the best two years of my life would be spent without electricity, running water, television or cheese, I wouldn’t have believed them. But the ability of the average human being to survive with very little really struck me.
One thing really exemplifies life there: I spent my two years sharing a flat with another female volunteer, and at some point she had to go away on a course, and I thought to myself, “Oh, great, I’ll get the flat to myself for a week.” And yet by the second day I started to feel lonely, and when I mentioned this to a local, they said, “You know what’s happened to you? You’ve become a Nigerian.”I couldn’t remember being unhappy in my time in Nigeria, although I should stress that my circumstances were probably a little bit exceptional – I’d spent a lot of time growing up in a number of countries abroad because my father worked for the British Council. Some people find it much tougher to adapt. But if you’re interested, have a look at the VSO website, which is great. Also, try to track down some volunteers and get them to talk about their experiences.