Archive for November, 2007|Monthly archive page


I know that rejection is a fact of life. You can’t always get what you want. Yes I stole that from the Rolling Stones. But there are some things in life that you think are given. Free refills (if you are from the South), wearing flip flops around Christmas time (again if you are from the South…or California), and Google’s strange ability to ubiquitously helpful. And until a few days ago, I thought that volunteering belonged in that category. Until I received this email.

Dear Ms.Mason,

Thank you for completing the UNV application. Given that the minimum age to serve abroad as a UNV volunteer is 25, we are unable to offer you an assignment. We encourage you to reapply at a later stage and in the meantime to check our links to other organizations that promote or are linked to volunteering at

If you wish to engage in sustainable human development activities via the Internet, join UNV’s Online volunteering service at

You may also wish to visit the WorldVolunteerWeb at to obtain a wealth of information on volunteerism worldwide. To be informed about volunteer news, events and organizations, subscribe to the newsletter at

With our best wishes for success in your endeavours,

UN Volunteers
At the Service of Peace and Development

At the service of peace and development. Now, I could understand if I was rejected for something related to a skill. But simply because I am not 25? Since when did the UN start practicing age discrimination? I thought that was reserved for American rental car companies. Apparently I was wrong. It seems that youthful goodwill is not accepted in service of peace and development.


Things I miss…

and feel guilty about missing, but miss nonetheless.

  • Washing machine
  • Bookstores
  • Walking alone at night
  • American television
  • Fast public transportation

Things I know already that I will miss about being here

  • Mango trees
  • The quiet of Sundays
  • The constant stream of wedding parties
  • The perfectly cool nights
  • The variety of things you can buy on a sidewalk (eg. crab, flowers, sofa, rugs, electrical adapters)

One step closer

This week, I received a surprising call from an organization here on Monday. They were hosting a training on combating stigma and discrimination for Mozambican NGOs working HIV/AIDS. The project director asked me if I would like to volunteer with note taking and other various odds and ends. I thought it would be a great opportunity not only for the prospect of additional work opportunities but also to observe the training in action.

I have seen other trainings before for various topics but this one was unusual for a number of reason besides just the language barrier. The lead trainer was a Canadian who has done hundreds of trainings across Africa. He was so animated and engaging with all of the participants. Everyday began with a warm up song that would often reoccur during the day as a transitional device or to bring the room back together after small group sessions. The training was interactive and physical because it was a training of trainers. The participants were pairs of trainers from their respective organization and were expected to return to their organizations to implement the lessons they learned.

While this sounds like a easy task superficially, the obstacles that I heard about from the participants made their task sound virtually insurmountable. One of the participants, who was very petite, worked with children with HIV and she told about one of her visits to the hospital. When she reached the ward to talk to the doctor, the doctor wanted to know why the organization had sent a child to look after children. Each of sessions focused on stigma that people living with HIV faced across contexts from their family, the workplace, the community, their place of worship and other social institutions.

Watching the afternoon practice facilitation sessions was particularly interesting. Here the participants practiced what they learned in the morning with their peers acting as the populations that they would encounter. Some organizations were obviously more advanced in facilitation before attending the training, but by the end of the week, it was clear that everyone had some innovative applications of the techniques that they learned. It was truly amazing to watch the increasing sophistication they integrated over the course of the week. However, the real challenge now is what will happen when they go back to their organizations to integrate discussion of stigma into current programming.

I found the experience interesting for my opportunity to learn more about the capacity building project that the organization does here. The participating partner NGOs receive training on a number of topics from stigma and discrimination to financial management. Some of the NGOs receive funding as well for applying knowledge gained in the training to their programming with the organization offering site visits and technical assistance for support. I do have a pretty good chance to have continued work opportunities with the organization as a consultant, but since nothing is set in stone, I am not referring to them directly here.

I have found that the waiting game here is the worst part of the job situation here. As each day passes, I go through bouts of anxiety about if I have made the right decision. I always come back in the end being glad that I am trying this. I think that it is better to try and fail rather than to always wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t come here. That said, the anxiety still nags in the most annoying way that only self-doubt can (particularly, my variety of self-doubt). I have started to apply to public health jobs in other African countries to give my rational side a backup plan. However, I very much want to stay here for a variety of reasons. Meanwhile, I am waiting for reality to catch up to my desires.

With change comes readjustment

The lack of hot water in my apartment and my landlord’s delay in correcting the problem has been taking its toll. At first, I told myself that I shouldn’t get angry that things simply take longer to complete here. When I arrived, I would carefully create a list of tasks to accomplish in a given day. It only took a few times of waiting in line for 2 hours only to run into the dead period of the day (12-2 p.m.) for me to realize that working with any sort of institution here was about long range planning and patience. However, I think that he has taken this a bit too far, as I have had no hot water since I moved in. The promises of rapid repairs and consultations have been forthcoming. Too bad I can’t say the same for progress. So, in light of this, I am adopting a new strategy in negotiations that will hopefully result in a speedy solution to the problem: Simply talk about the money that he stands to lose in rent without repairs. Money has been a powerful motivator for him with previous negotiations so I have good faith that this will work again.

I can say that even after a month of being here, I am learning to adopt new habits and break some patterns of behavior that I had before. After going out to dinner with a friend on Saturday, I thought that I would send a quiet evening at home.  My friend had told me about a party, but the odds were very high that I would know few or no people. At first, my gut reaction was to not go. The fear of actually having to be open to meeting people briefly took over. I know you are saying, “But you are living in a foreign country. Almost everyone you meet will be new.” I have a horrible tendency to acquaint myself with a few people, and then shut myself off from meeting others. This was one of the many things that I was afraid of with moving here and one of the things that I waned to stop. So to try to break out of my shell at little bit, I have made a promise to myself to not turn down any invitations that I get and to make a concerted effort to meet people. I figured that even making the minimal effort of showing up would pay off.

If I gain nothing else from my experiences here, I am learning to be more assertive in several ways, which surely will be helpful in the future. On another note, the abysmal performance of Yale in the Harvard-Yale game was so disappointing. At least they scored a touchdown in the end.

It’s been a long, long night

Last night was another one of those nights that I just couldn’t sleep. For as long as I can remember, I have gone through brief periods of insomnia and/or periods that I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep. They have never been related to stress or any other factor that I have noticed. Sometimes, these turn out to be productive periods of time. After all, if I not sleeping, at least I can get something out of it. I exhaust some time reading several items that had backed up in my Google Reader feeds.

One of the blogs that I read, Employee Evolution, focuses on Millenials (I hate this label) in the workplace. While I was aimlessly reading articles, I came across a survey to evaluate your character strengths. And at 4 a.m., who can resist? Normally, I don’t go for surveys. After all, how much do you really learn about yourself by determining which Harry Potter or Sex and City character you resemble?

The VIA Signature Strengths Survey ranks you on 24 character strengths. Knowing your strengths will allow you to capitalize on them more often. This is one of several surveys offered by the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center. So I answered all 240 items and here are my top 5 strengths.

  1. Love of learning
  2. Judgment, critical thinking, and open-mindedness
  3. Perspective (wisdom)
  4. Honesty, authenticity, and genuineness
  5. Fairness, equity and justice

What do you think? Does that sound like me? At first, I thought that the last two maybe should not have been ranked so high. After all, I don’t feel like I will pull a George Washington in the near future. But then I realized that the reason that these characteristics are so strong for me is that I seek them in other people. I admire people who can admit honest mistakes and don’t try to change themselves to fit others’ expectations. I avoid people who seem to give compliments only for self-serving purposes. (As any Yalie knows, there is always that one kid in section/seminar who says things just to get noticed by the TA/professor as some young genius.) My desire for fairness and equity has been an academic interest and a key and enduring component of my interests outside of the classroom.

This was the first time that I feel that taking one of these personality assessment types actually might have given some perspective to why I want to do the things that I do rather than handing me some arcane label such as INFP. Now if only I could translate those characteristics into a dream job…