For the latest instalment of ‘Humans of Project Trust’, we spoke to Returned Volunteer John Murton (Zimbabwe 90/91) about his work year overseas and the path in life he has taken since.
“I went to Kawondera in Zvimba communal area in Western Zimbabwe from 1990-1991. Along with my Project partner, Alex Jacobs, I worked as a secondary school teacher in the local school, teaching Maths, English and Geography. It’s difficult to list the number of skills I picked up: there were so many. They ranged from the mundane (cooking, managing a budget, making new friends), through skills that most 5 year old Zimbabweans already knew but which were new to me (pumping water, squatting on a toilet, tucking in a mosquito net, squeezing onto a full bus), to the sort of skills that few 18 year old’s acquire. All of this was done alongside my long-suffering partner Alex and numerous other Project Trust volunteers across Zimbabwe. Alex and I came from quite different families and so our relationship wasn’t always the easiest, but putting us together was probably inspired: inevitably I did a lot of growing up in a short time (sorry Alex!). I went to university a lot more rounded than I would otherwise have done so. And with a lot more tie-died tee-shirts. The skills remained, but the tee shirts were gone by the end of freshers’ week.
John (1990) near Kawondera Secondary School in Zvimba Communal Land, Zimbabwe.
“After my gap year it seemed inconceivable that I would do anything other than work in some international context. I’d spent my entire childhood in a small town and, having seen the world outside, I was keen to carry on travelling. It was natural to study geography at university. This took me to Kenya for my research and, when my supervisor offered me the chance to do a PhD in Kenya afterwards, it didn’t take 5 minutes to decide to accept that offer and turn down the job I’d been offered in management consultancy. After my PhD, the Foreign Office was a natural step: I like to argue – not entirely in jest – that Diplomacy is simply applied geography.
Climbing atop Sani Pass in Lesotho. Digby Symonds holding the camera.
“I’m currently based in Kinshasa, where I am the British Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s a great job and it genuinely helps when I am able to tell people that I’ve been working in Africa on-and-off for 28 years (crikey!). Not many diplomats have done anything like Project Trust and, in an African context, it’s been a real help. The UK spends over a million pounds a day in DRC and it’s important that we’ve some understanding of what goes on beyond the Kinshasa bubble. Before DRC I was in Kenya (as Deputy High Commissioner), Mauritius (tough gig), NATO and Japan.
There will be plenty of time to get to University or the world of work. But do do something structured like Project Trust. Working in a restaurant for nine months and then going backpacking for three is fine. But you’ll never learn a tenth of what you’ll learn if you do a whole year working somewhere remote overseas. Project Trust is honest in saying that you will learn far more from your hosts than you will help them. But if that helps set a percentage of volunteers up to study and work in fields where they can subsequently be of use, then that’s very much worth doing.”
Canoeing down the Zambezi with Henry, Zimbabwe 1990