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Tom Ketteley in Kazakhstan - update Nov/Dec 2006

In the Summer 2006 issue of LSE Magazine, final year student Tom Ketteley wrote about where he thought he would be in five years. Click here to download original article. An update on his time in Kazakhstan is below - and to keep up with Tom's progress, read his blog at http://ketteley.blogspot.com| 

So where did I end up working? After accepting the placement with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) on their Youth for Development scheme, my skills and experience were matched to a placement in Kazakhstan. I have an eight month contract working as a volunteer NGO Development Advisor to youth organisations in an isolated industrial city in the north of the country. My placement is supporting the development of a regional network of volunteer centres as well as being a champion for youth. No two days are same and some even verge on the surreal!

Most of this month has been spent working around the theme of HIV and AIDS in preparation for World AIDS Day. After assessing the current HIV and AIDS awareness campaign within the town I delivered a workshop on interactive training methodology to educational workers from each school as well as the coordinators of the volunteer peer education programme we have set up in the volunteer centre. I have also coordinated the celebrations this year which included seminars by the peer educators, a concert and a Love Disco.

Soon after my arrival I relocated to the local government office where I have settled into the rhythm of work life there. In general I work without an interpreter in my day to day dealings, by circumstance more than by choice. However the benefit of this is I can now communicate freely in Russian - it was a choice of sink or swim really! Fortunately I brought my laptop so I can work independently although material resources are poor and office equipment like the photocopier and printer rationed which had made me discover new ways of economising and working when resources are limited.

I enjoy a lot of autonomy in my work and I am thankful for this. Generally the focus of my attention is directed by the wishes of the volunteers however, I must deal with competing demands made upon my time also by VSO, the regional network of volunteer centres as well as the local government. As the only foreigner and first international volunteer in the town I enjoy an almost celebrity status - and so often I find myself being on the judging panels of contests or invited somewhere as a special guest.

I have found it difficult adjusting to working in a manner where results are not quantifiable. The motto of VSO is 'Sharing Skills, Changing Lives' and, by its nature, development work is often qualitative so I have needed to reassess how I personally measure the success of my work.

At LSE I was aware of the 'LSE brand' but when I was soliciting for a corporate sponsor for the volunteer network from international companies working in Kazakhstan I often found myself speaking with LSE alum or with people who knew LSE well and conversations about Houghton Street were sparked up when I passed out my LSE email address. Indeed I am grateful for the help that LSE alum have given me while I have been working here.

I am gaining so much from this work and I am sure that following the relative freedom, breadth and varied scope of my work it will be difficult to adjust to a more routine working life. The VSO experience of being immersed within a local community working directly with local partners has been more challenging emotionally than I expected and while I expect my career to lead me to work abroad again I doubt it will ever be at such a grass roots level.

And the future? Well another few months here. My aim is to ensure as much of my work here is sustainable much of my time will be spent developing systems to ensure this happens. Then my intention is to take up my deferred place at UPEACE in Costa Rica to study International Law and Human Rights from August 2007. But I heard a quote which I think is worth sharing at this point which goes 'the most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don't!'