I will make a confession. When considering PULSE, I had a lot of doubts. I remember the day I received the offer from PULSE team. It was end March, end of the working day, I was just about to finish my work. So when the email came, I opened the link, and it read – Kenya, Bungoma and Busia. With shaky fingers I opened Google maps to see where this place was. I opened Google Images to see how this place looked like. I opened Youtube to see videos from this place. And then I closed the laptop. I had made up my mind. I was not going. Me, who would probably be the only white woman in town. Me, who had never visited Africa before. Me, who was terrified by bugs or my own shadow in the darkness. Me for 6 months in Bungoma…How do you even pronounce Busia? So on this late March afternoon, back in Warsaw, that would be the end of a very short journey.
Now, many months later you know this was not the end of the story. What changed my mind? Well, small things and big things really. Eventually my curiosity was bigger than my fears. The more I talked to people, the more I got excited about Kenya, and the assignment. To a point where ‘no’ was not an option. I remember my first chat with Jim, the previous PULSE volunteer in Bungoma, who shared his perspective – ‘Oh, I hope you will go and live in Bungoma,’ he said with an excited voice! I was asking him where he lived, how he adjusted… He said something along the lines, ‘I was looking for a real local life experience, I wanted to live like a local, and I did, and it was amazing! So I rented a room in a small house, lived in the community, children were running in the morning to escort me to work, there were mice and lizards and cockroaches in my room.’ Now, the last, as you can imagine, was not the catchy phrase that made me decide, I would definitely resent living with lizards and cockroaches at that point of time, although I do now… The catchy phrase was – I was looking for … and this is what I got. It made me think again. About my motivation for this assignment, about why I was doing it and what I wanted to get out of it?
Now, that my assignment is coming to its end, I realize I am coming back to this question. And there’s one thing that crystallizes in my mind. It’s because I was so much in doubt and had such a big debate with myself in the beginning, I spent a lot of time to clearly define to myself, what I wanted to achieve and what I wanted to leave behind. And this helped me define the direction of my assignment, my work and my travels.
When I was coming to Kenya, I wanted different things. I wanted to learn more about communications in an NGO; to test myself how I can work in a completely different organizational culture; to see Save the Children’s team in action, and how they are doing their magic in the field. I also wanted to experience the diversity of cultural and social life in Kenya both as a local and as a tourist; to get a feel of the big city; to be part of community life; to see wildlife; to meet the Masai. I wanted so much. And I got more than I expected. Apart from extensive travels across the country as a tourist, working with Save the Children has given me a lot of excitement and satisfaction and a strong sense of purpose, both in my work and life here… I’ve learnt about Kenyan culture from inside out, being at the heart of our interventions, and seeing human stories that deeply touched my heart. On a professional level, I’ve learnt a lot about communications function as such, it’s been an immense learning on the job experience for me. I’ve also learnt the importance of teamwork, and the power of a strong team, so I’ll miss the Bungoma team, who became much more than colleagues to me. I’ve learned that under time pressure, with proper focus and support you can achieve a lot in a short time – the first 100 days have been enough for me to achieve majority of my goals. Today I leave behind a great team, with the sense of deep satisfaction from our achievements – quite a number of media publications, an extensive range of case studies, photo and video stories, and a team that is trained, committed and motivated, a team set for success…
Towards the end of my assignment, I’m thinking also more and more of my re-entry into GSK world and my key messages to the team. And I’m sure that among my colleagues there will be many spoken and unspoken questions. What if? How about me? Would I also dare? So, my question back to you is – What do you want to get out of it? As much as this is a personal question for everyone to answer, if you are considering an assignment like PULSE, with my experience, my message today is, you can have it all, if you really know what you want. Most of it is in your hands!