"I am learning everyday."

Nollaig Hulme is the SERVE Monitoring and Evaluations officer based in Zimbabwe. Nollaig sends a postcard detailing first impressions.

Nollaig Hulme at Young Africa office (Jan 2023)

I have been in Zimbabwe for a little over 2 weeks now. However, when I look back my journey here began in late 2017 when, as a college student, I decided to sign up to the SERVE Volunteer Programme.

Fast forward to July 2018 and I am volunteering at the Young Africa Campus in Beira, Mozambique with SERVE. From there I continued working with SERVE by volunteering in Vietnam in 2019 and being involved in ‘Think Global Act Local’ and the ESC funded Global Goals project.

I then became SERVE’s GCE and Volunteer Programme Coordinator. Since my first introduction to Young Africa through SERVE in 2018, I knew I wanted to get more involved. So, when the opportunity arose to become SERVE’s Regional Monitoring and Evaluation Officer based at the Young Africa International Hub in Harare, Zimbabwe, I knew it was not an opportunity I could pass up.

Which brings me to now, writing this from the Hub in Harare where I have been welcomed with open arms by everyone and feeling like I have been here a lot longer than 2 weeks. I have gotten straight into work at the Hub and visiting two of the YA centres in Chitungwiza and Epworth. In my first week here I spent a day visiting these centres and collecting the beginnings of what will turn out to be Impact Stories for students who have just enrolled as new students in Young Africa.

Hearing stories from the students about what they have endured so far in life can very rapidly put things into perspective for this eager westerner who has chosen to move here, as I am reminded that this country has one of the highest rates of unemployment at 95% (from anecdotal evidence) and to not take my position and privileges for granted.

While many of my friends back home in Ireland emigrate to Australia/New Zealand/Canada, I am very thankful to be able to do something a little different and spend time here.

Nollaig Hulme with students and their Machine Shop teacher John at the Young Africa campus in Chitungwiza

I am learning every day, not just about development work but about Zimbabwean history and culture. I thought I had a good grasp on it already but there are some things you can only learn and experience by being here.

My colleagues have been teaching me Shona and about Zimbabwean life, bringing different local food into the office to try. Despite my experience so far being full of positives, there has been some challenges too.

Moving to a new continent by yourself is difficult, but then there is the addition of getting exposed to some of the challenges of everyday Zimbabwean life – the lack of electricity to name just one. Although I am lucky enough to not be affected as much by these issues as those young people we work with on an everyday basis.

2023 is a big year for both Young Africa and SERVE. Young Africa are celebrating their 25th Anniversary and SERVE are celebrating their 20th Anniversary, which also means YA and SERVE are celebrating 15 years in partnership.

It is quite the monumental year to be involved in both and to celebrate all that we have achieved and what is yet to come.

You could say that my decision that day in the UCC library to sign up to the SERVE Volunteer Programme has been quite life changing and I look forward to the opportunities and challenges that I am about to have here.

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