Developing Africa One Volunteer at a Time | Naomie Shumel

I never saw myself as a leader. When I was asked if I wanted to be Team leader for the January cycle I honestly thought to myself “how hard can it be?” I was going to tell this group what I had learnt during the time I was a volunteer and that shouldn’t be too hard. I felt equipped to handle a group of 38 until the day I met them. My counterparts Natasha, James and Sam seemed to have everything under control. Natasha and James managed a group of people in the UK and Sam had experience as a team leader during the October cycle. The first time I stood in front of the volunteers I was scared to death and I could feel myself shaking. I was frustrated with myself, I felt defeated and that I was never going to be good enough. I felt the volunteers could see my struggles and saw that I was a failure. I forgot one of the fundamental reasons for this programme was personal development. Every day on the Challenges Worldwide programme is a new opportunity to grow, learn and achieve your goals. As a person, you can only do as much as you believe you can do. I learnt this the hard way, being thrown into deep end of the pool; I had to learn to swim. The only thing keeping me down was me.

Tackling the cross cultural working issues was one of the biggest challenges that the group faced. As a volunteer I had experienced the same lack of confidence and negative attitude towards work, I did not see the value of going above and beyond what was expected of me, this was an attitude I had picked up from the apparent slow pace of the average Zambian way of getting work done. This perception extends to almost all sectors ranging from government employees to causal workers. We do not work according to our capacity but do the bare minimum. The idea of volunteering to most is ridiculous. Why would anyone work for free and why would anyone come to Africa to work and not get paid? My counterpart and I decided to split work and it made it easier when you have a personal task and do not want to fail at it. I developed confidence in my skills to deliver good quality work and that boosted my self esteem.  I found myself reminding the Zambian girls of their capabilities and inner strength – it helped them a lot. I told them to see this as a learning experience. They were learning from some of the best and they were working with people who wanted them to learn. This meant that they had a competitive advantage over the rest. Their work ethic improved exceptionally. When you have a positive attitude towards anything it makes your journey easier. The biggest critics we have are ourselves. The best option we have is to push ourselves out of out our comfort zone and work ourselves up the ladder. The greatest attitude anyone can have is being teachable.

If you are not that great today, learn from someone and do it better. The moment you think you know it all, you cripple yourself. It was hard to read feedback from the training week, but this taught me that if I wanted better feedback next time I should be more prepared.  I started learning from my fellow Team Leaders and Managers. I realized that if I wanted to be a better leader I had to build a relationship with the volunteers. I decided that I would learn from them as much I could to make me a better person and overall a better leader.  I take feedback now as indicators on what I should work on, not as criticism. This has become a motivational incentive for me because I now know that I can be better. My overall goal is to push the boundaries; I do not want to limit myself anymore.

The man who does more than what he is paid for will soon be paid for more than what he does – this is the general attitude of the UK volunteers who put their lives on hold to come to Africa and try to make a difference. They want to work as much as they can in such a limited time and this is something Africa can learn from. We need to start being the solution to our problems and rise above our challenges. If the UK made it through two world wars, the Falklands war, miners strikes and the Recession then as a continent, Africa can rise above our challenges. These consist of unemployment, poverty, corruption, different political systems, bureaucracy through entrepreneurship, through the rising of leaders who will be drivers of change in our communities, counties and the African continent. Challenges Worldwide develops African leaders who will inspire change in their local communities and countries.

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