Volunteer learns about history and culture while working with credit unions

I wasn’t looking to volunteer overseas when I came across the Capacity Building & Training Advisor role with the Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada (CDF Canada).  

Originally, I was looking for a full-time job in Canada, but the position intrigued me because it involved two of my biggest passions: adult education and international development. I had also never been to Africa and the opportunity to visit Kenya while volunteering in a role I was passionate about interested me. The living allowance was an additional bonus because I didn’t have to worry about my travel or living expenses while I was there.  

During my first two weeks in the country, I dealt with extreme jet lag, but I quickly adjusted to living in a new country while also exploring various aspects of Nairobi and Kenyan culture. The CDF Canada staff in Kenya were extremely friendly and I got to know them during my four months in the country. I was shown around and taken to different places within the city, including the Nairobi National Park where I saw a lion.  

Last day at the office for Lisa Vance (Capacity Building & Training Advisor volunteer) with the CDF Canada and ACCOSCA Nairobi staff.

CDF Canada also shares an office with the African Confederation of Cooperative Savings and Credit Associations (ACCOSCA) and I got to know their team as well as spent time with them. They were extremely friendly and supportive and on my last day in the office they participated in a going away party that involved feeding me cake directly with a fork – which I learned was a Kenyan tradition.  

I also enjoyed the work that I did. I was mostly located in the Nairobi office and focused most of my time on developing training manuals and other documents that could be used going forward. I was given the independence to find things to work on based on what I identified as the VOICE for Women and Girls’ program objectives and ACCOSCA’s needs, but this was something I was used to from my previous volunteer positions. Looking back, I wish I visited outside of Nairobi a bit more to gain a better understanding of credit unions in smaller towns and cities.  

While I was in Kenya, I also learned a lot about the nation’s history and culture, including gender equality, climate change, and credit unions and co-operatives. Before joining CDF Canada as a volunteer, I had never volunteered or worked with a co-operative or credit union and had not known much about them. I learned more about what they were in general and how important they were to Kenya and Africa.  

Overall, there were ups and downs during my time in Nairobi, but I enjoyed my experience and learned lots! 

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