“A humbling experience” | Rebecca Ryan, a Kiwi in Zambia.16.05.2014

I read about Accounting for International Development (AfID) in Financial Management and started to visit its website regularly. I then attended one of its volunteer workshop days to get a better understanding of the sector. That experience inspired me even more to follow my dreams and volunteer my accounting skills for a good cause.

I’d already travelled extensively in Africa and always hoped that one day I would return there and do something useful, especially as I had done volunteer work in the past. The opportunity to do so arose when my post was made redundant. 

I was fortunate that AfID was able to find the perfect assignment for me at the right time at MicroLoan Foundation Zambia, a not-for-profit organisation with a charitable ethos. Its aim is to alleviate poverty, sickness and sexual inequality in some of Zambia’s poorest communities, principally by offering loans, financial training and mentoring to economically marginalised women in rural areas.

Some women make their living by selling goods such as fruit and veg, kitchen equipment  and clothes, while others work as hairdressers and tailors. Many spend their income on  school fees for their children and the orphans they care for, as well as on providing for the  basic needs of their families.

I arrived last October as the interim finance manager. This was a senior role, so at times I was also acting CEO. My main tasks were to ensure that the accounts were up to date, staff were paid on time and our clients’ loans were properly accounted for. I was responsible for budgeting, regulatory reporting to the Bank of Zambia – and anything else that came across my desk. The work was highly unpredictable, often taking me out of my comfort zone.

Someone once told me that as a volunteer I should never underestimate how useful my skills would be – and this has proved so true. I was able to hit the ground running and get things done in a timely and organised way, helping colleagues with Excel, assisting with recruitment and strengthening the accounting records. If there’s one thing I’ve found in Zambia, it’s that the principles of accounting here are no different from those anywhere else I have worked, so my skills have been easily transferable.