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"This experience is even better shared" : Nanda and Hilbert-Jan in Ethiopia

Nanda and Hilbert-Jan, from the Netherlands, are volunteering together with VSO in Hossana, Ethiopia. Nanda is using her medical skills to support the local hospital. Accompanying partner Hilbert-Jan’s engineering background has come in useful helping its staff repair vital equipment.

VSO volunteering couple Nanda and Hilbert-Jan in Ethiopia VSO/Daisy Baldwin

Volunteering couple Nanda and Hilbert-Jan in front of an ambulance at Hossana Hospital, Ethiopia, where they are colleagues

Nanda is a medical doctor. Her training specialised in tropical medicine and international health.

She always hoped to work abroad in developing countries. After training she joined Medicins Sans Frontieres in 2013.

Just a few months before her first mission in South Sudan, she met Hilbert-Jan. Once back in the Netherlands, the two got to work trying to find a way for Nanda to work abroad again without being separated from Hilbert-Jan.

“It proved very difficult to find a place where we both could work, so we decided I should look for a job first,” says Nanda.

After attending a Meet VSO event, Nanda applied for a volunteer job in Ethiopia. Hilbert-Jan would join as accompanying partner, and hoped to be able find a job after arrival in country.

Partners and colleagues

Dr Nanda VSO volunteer doctor in Ethiopia VSO / Daisy Baldwin

Dr Nanda Blansjaar on duty in the Obstretics and Gynaecology Department of Nigist Eleni Hospital, Hossana, Ethiopia

Immigration rules change frequently in Ethiopia, so VSO offered to assist with finding him a volunteer role. This could help increase the chances of a residency permit being granted him.

“VSO discussed with my partner organisation, a hospital, if they could offer Hilbert-Jan a job as well. He is a biomedical engineer, and it turned out the hospital was in great need of one!

“As a result, we headed to Ethiopia not just as partners, but as a volunteer colleagues,” says Nanda.

Trading places

“We both quit our jobs in Holland to be here”, explains Nanda, of the steps it took to take up an 18-month volunteer commitment together.

“I left the town in which I studied and worked for many years. I gave up my rented house, sold the car, and most of the furniture,” says Hilbert-Jan.

“Getting rid of this stuff gives you the space and freedom to do whatever you want. Going to Ethiopia for example, not knowing what to expect. That is uncertain, but that’s also exactly the point of it!”

Daily life

Nanda and Hilbert-Jan are well settled into their new life. They live in a house on the compound of the local deaf school. They both receive a small volunteer living allowance, which they say is more than enough to cover the low-cost day-to-day expenses of life in rural Ethiopia.

“Most weekends, after a full week in the hospital, we just like to relax in and around the house.

"We watch movies. We roast coffee beans, in the traditional style, on a cook stove. We wash clothes, read, play board games.

“Occasionally we play pool with some colleagues from the hospital. After 9pm the town becomes quiet, and transportation scarce, so no late nights out!”

VSO volunteer engineer Hilbert-Jan Rosier VSO/Daisy Baldwin

Hilbert-Jan Rosier planned to join Nanda as an accompanying partner but found his engineering skills were in demand at the local hospital in Hossana, Ethiopia

Stronger as a team

“Being here together has many advantages,” says Nanda. “Most importantly, you’re not alone!

“My work is very difficult. If we were not here together, I don’t know if I would still be here.

“As a couple you can share the experience with a person you know well, acknowledge the cultural differences and offer each other emotional support.”

Advice for couples volunteering together

Both Nanda and Hilbert-Jan had the normal fears associated with relocating to a different country for a long period of time.

“This is Hilbert-Jan’s first time working and living abroad for such a long period of time. I was a little worried at first about this, but he adapted very easily. This life fits him perfectly.  

“Our main advice for future volunteers? Don’t worry, just go!

“Have confidence that your partner will also find a suitable job or something else to do. It is a nice experience, and even better when shared”

Find out more about volunteering as a couple 

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