Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Journey to New Delhi

This particular life journey began at the end of October/beginning of November of 2007, when my “dream” market job in Lancaster, PA ended on a somewhat down note. I won’t go into the particulars because it’s in other things that I’ve written, but needless to say, my time in PA ended abruptly and made me wonder what was next. After spending lots of time during 2008 moving around the country, first to CT for about six months, applying again to enlist in the Peace Corps and going through the medical and dental tests, where I discovered that I needed a root canal, applying and being accepted by World Teach to spend a year teaching English in China, and also spending a bit of time in CA visiting and for a memorial service for my friend David Stoner, driving cross country with my son Daniel in May in order to start a summer job in CA, how funny to think about this at my age, going to Chicago with my parents for Ben’s bar mitzvah and actually hooking up with a cousin and finding a place to live in L.A., really close to where Dan, Sarah and Ricardo were living, where I was supposed to live for three months but turned out to be a bit less than two, going for a job interview to Portland, OR and visiting my family in Seattle, going to New Orleans for a work week, then moving in with my parents in September-October in Orange County and taking them to Rachel’s bat mitzvah in NYC, going back to Seattle to do a bit more work and then travelling to Mobile, AL to do a presentation, and then spending the end of October through early February in Boulder, when the big “O” became president.

To say that I, at times, wondered where I was and in what time zone was somewhat of an understatement. Yes, it was all very interesting and I was able to play basketball in Waterford and New London, CT, Seattle, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Boulder, but as one can understand I did feel somewhat rootless.

But let’s go back to September-October, 2008 when I was again thinking about what was next. I decided to spend some time with my parents in Mission Viejo. Markets were a natural, but nothing seemed to be happening in terms of a long-term job. That fact that I had been accepted by World Teach made me think even more about an overseas opportunity even though Peace Corps just wasn’t working for me. I’d collected unemployment compensation from the state of PA, worked a bit in CT for a Chamber of Commerce, worked in L.A. and Seattle, while getting paid from a business out of New Orleans, so there was some money coming in, that combined with somewhat minimal expenses made things ok, at least on the short-term money front.

The Mission Viejo Public Library seemed like a great place to do research on maybe finally going overseas. I used the library as my office, and they had a great selection of movies. I found a wonderful international volunteering website for people 50 and over and went to the diversified programs category, where I found out about an organization called VSO Canada,

On first examination VSO seemed a bit like Peace Corps, but due to the fact that it is an NGO, I was hoping that it would be much less bureaucratic and as it has turned out this was very much the case. Another advantage is that the VSO is a network located not only in Canada, but also in the UK, Kenya, the Netherlands, the Philippines, India and Ireland. The average age, unlike the Peace Corps is older, 41 and all of their goals and definition of “development” seem to be much more in line with mine. I filled out the on-line application and very soon after had a call from a VSO staffer to really determine my interest. This led to an assessment day in mid-November in Vancouver and since I had already moved to Boulder I ended up flying from Denver to Seattle, where I was again able to visit my family, took a bus to Vancouver and stayed overnight. A week after all of my references were in I was notified that I was accepted as a VSO volunteer! The next step would be to do the medical and dental assessments and wait for an assignment which could take up to six weeks or more.

I decided that I would be pro-active and schedule my medical and dental appointments for early December. I found a doctor and my friends Robert and Michele, who I was staying with in Boulder, recommended their dentist, who turned out to be quite painless! (This is not an oxy-moron in this case).

By mid-December I had two potential assignments provided to me, one in New Delhi for two years and one in Nairobi for one year. Both sounded to be the challenge that I wanted to find during “my year of travelling dangerously”. Since I could apply for one the attraction to India, having visited in early 2006 and keeping rupees in my wallet for the time that I would return, this was somewhat of done deal. Always showing my public side of that laid back Californian, but working with the insides of a type A Easterner, I immediately filled out all of the paper work and sent it back to my Volunteer Advisor. I now had to practice my patience, especially being at the doorstep of the winter holidays.

Both jobs involved fundraising, one on a national basis, India, the other on more of a continent wide basis. Both involved working in agencies that work with people with disabilities-India, the 66 million people living with autism, cerebral palsy or Down’s syndrome, the Kenyan job working with people living with blindness. I had so much to gain with either job.

However, it was now up to the Indian employer to approve my application and accept me for their agency. It did take more than a few weeks, but finally during January I received a verbal acceptance from my volunteer advisor in Ottawa. Things were moving and within another few weeks the written acceptance came. The next step was to obtain my visa. While visiting family, again in Seattle, in early February, I over-nighted my visa package on a Friday to the San Francisco embassy. It was vital that I receive my visa, and passport, within a 10 day period, because I needed the passport to get into Canada. Fortunately it all worked out and the passport and visa were delivered to me while I was visiting friends in CT, just before I came to Canada.

VSO requires volunteers to attend two courses, one Preparing for Change, the other SKWID or Skills for Working in Development. Typically a volunteer will take the first four day course, return home until they know when their placement will be and then return to Canada for the SKWID five day course. Since I was on a very short time frame I’ve been able to take the course back-to-back, with a four day break in between.

This is why I'm now in India.

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