SKills for Working in Development (SKWiD) is CUSO’s ‘Volunteering 101’ crash course for volunteers preparing to head into the field. I just returned from my course, an intensive immersion that covers an amazing array of topics and an interesting selection of participants.

Held over 5 days at CUSO headquarters in Ottawa, here’s a Harper’s index-style review of the experience:

Volunteers in the course (new/returning): 12 (7/5)
University degrees held by those volunteers: >20
Volunteers’ countries of birth: 7 (Burma/Myanmar, Cameroon, Canada, Colombia, Indonesia [Dutch citizen], Ecuador, Jamaica)
Approximate number of times the phrase “when I was in Ghana” was uttered by a single person: 143

Meals shared with 6 or more other volunteers: 12
Meals eaten as far away as possible from other volunteers: 3
New books each volunteer was given during the course: 4
Pounds those books add to luggage: 2.5
Kilometres walked between hotel, course, dinners & ‘needing air’: 42
In-class hours: 48

Destination countries: 6 (Myanmar, Cameroon, Jamaica, Guyana, Peru, Nicaragua)
Destination continents: 4 (Asia, Africa, North America, South America)

It was interesting for me to note how much I learned about myself (who irritates me and why; how much time I need with others v. on my own; how clear am I in asking for what I need; how much extra work is my implicit communication style for me and others; how can I move from avoiding conflict to dealing with it effectively) when the focus of the course was very much on skills we will need ‘in-country.’ While the added poundage of books provided is a consideration, I’m grateful for the references to take with me. No one could possibly take it all in during the course. Culture shock, inter-cultural communication, gender equity, safety and security … it’s a whole lot of big topics to cover with little release. I will say though that our facilitators were absolutely excellent – energetic, generous, calming.

Because I’m a dork, here’s a little Google map of where we’re all leaving from and roughly where we are headed (many of us will be in the capital cities of the countries we’re working in, but I’ve kept it fairly non-specific on purpose). What I mostly notice on the map is how few Western Canadians are represented. C’mon, Westies, let’s go!

Click to explore in Google maps