And it’s all over before it actually started. I am sitting here in a house in Kokopo, waiting for a flight back to New Zealand on Monday. It’s raining heavily outside and the power is out. The weather fits my mood very well. I have hinted in earlier entries that my assignment is not going as well as planned. It was actually more serious than I wrote about but I wanted this blog to be entertaining and not use it as a platform to just whine and rant.
Unfortunately the whole thing started to get a life on its own and it was a total train wreck in the end. The crazy thing is that all I wanted was that the College keeps to the contract. I mean by this, I was supposed to train staff for the job and give advice and help, however there was no staff, I was meant to do all the work myself and then bugger off again.
I am ONLY a volunteer and here to ASISST the College to set up a Media Department so they can do their own multi media work in the future. From the College’s side it was viewed as “cool, free labor coming from New Zealand, he will do all the work and then go home.” It is sad to say but I have heard actual variations of this in person. And it upset me immensely. I have fought this kind of thing for almost the entire time I was working in the media field. It is actually standard to get a phone call which says: “We need a highly experienced cameraman/editor/visual effects artist, who can work “flexible” (meaning day and night, and I mean day AND night), doesn’t break under “difficult conditions” (meaning a willingness to endure some crazy moron who considers himself to be a producer and who thinks the world revolves around him and who can only keep his overly inflated ego up by bullying everybody in reach)”. All of this is almost always followed by the sentence: “But we don’t have any budget for it! But it’s a CHANCE for you! A foot in the door! (meaning it is a scam and total bullshit)”.
My situation here was way to close to this kind of situation.
I have seen so many interns working their butts off at major tv networks, often working more than actual employees. only to be replaced by a new, unpaid worker after demanding some kind of compensation, after a year of service or so. Internship seems to be a modern slave labor now, not what it was originally meant to be, a way of gaining experience in a field of work. I have volunteered quite a lot in my life. I participated in the WWOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) program, were you are expected to work 4 hours a day in exchange for food and accommodation. You are also meant to learn about organic farming. I have done that. Most notably I spent a total of about 5 months at one specific farm in the Marlborough Sounds, with the Shand family. I consider this to be one of the most important experiences of my life. It was great, often hard work, but interesting. I was just simply integrated in daily farm life. In exchange for this I lived and learned about the “Kiwi” lifestyle in more intense ways than most Kiwis themselves ever have. I found my time there deeply enriched my life. I still count the Shands to my closest friends, 15 years after “first contact”, going through awesome times and tragedy.
I also volunteered for a year at the Bermuda Aquarium and Zoo, only on the weekends but still. I also loved this work and I only stopped because I left Bermuda. I never felt exploited but was part of a team and helping out in areas of work I would not have been able to do otherwise. I was training seals, fed a two meter long moray eel and had first hand insights into the workings of the Zoo. I loved it there.
So why did I leave this assignment in Kavieng? Well, was the attitude. There was no interest or sharing or any willingness to make me part of a “team”. It was the usual exploitation scheme. I was literally told that “this is what volunteering is about, you come here, you work and then you go home because you are altruistic.” What a load of #$%#$%#$^#$^! They tried to convince me that I have to be “flexible” as a volunteer, that this is the reality of working in the third world and so on.
The reality is, all they wanted is me doing all the work and present the final results on a silver tray to which the responsible people in the organisation can rub their hands, singing “my god, all this free labor, yipeeehhh!”.
There is a huge difference between being flexible and facing the realities of working in the third world and hearing this as an excuse so that the, ahem, so-called partner organisation can save a few dollars. I was not willing to play this game. So I rocked the boat. If you have ever tried to kick the “establishment” you will know what kind or response you will get. It’s not pretty. I do not wish to go into details here as it is really not very interesting for an outsider. But it turned quite messy.
I may sound arrogant but I have worked in this field for 20 years, literally on an international level. My skills are worth something and I don’t just throw them away like this. Especially for no salary! The only thing I expected from the College was to be interested and willing to learn from what I have to offer. Nothing of that ever happened. It was the most unwelcoming place I ever worked for. I was literally put in an office and left alone. There was never ANY kind of communication attempts from them. They do not know my thoughts, plans, or what I am actually able to do. I brought work examples of what I have done. Nobody has seen them or asked for them. “Just do, you are the expert!” No, I won’t! Surely not. I was a volunteer and some people may see this fact alone as proof that I am an idiot, because, what sane person would work for free? This is absolutely the atmosphere I was in and I do not play along with this.
I do need to point out that this excludes the actual staff of the College, they were always very friendly. I am talking about the leadership of the College.
So, it did not work out for me. But there are many volunteers who love their assignment. So I am not generally against the idea of volunteering or VSA. However, when it comes to VSA, it is my impression that it is a bit like buying a lottery ticket, it may work out or it may not. If I was to do it again, I would not trust the good reputation of an agency anymore but would only sign any form of contract if I had direct and personal contact with the organisation I am supposed to work for. I would also stick to the more traditional volunteering positions, like working in schools, the medical field, everything which directly helps people in need. Nothing so “decadent” like video production.
My view of VSA will strongly depend on how it reacts too my situation. If the position description will be adjusted according to the actual demand, at least then it seems there is a willingness to improve. If they advertise for the new person precisely the same way as I was brought on board, well then, my view of VSA will take a steep step on to the “-” side.
I am heading back to New Zealand and have to find a way to support myself until my unpaid leave finishes in october. I did enjoy PNG a lot and I hope this is obvious from my entries but I am glad I don’t have to go to this stupid room at the college anymore.
However, I will miss the people of Kavieng, my fellow volunteers there, VSA and from “Australian Doctors International”.