Life on the Nickel (VSO Allowance)

Yet again I’m hustlin’, hustlin’, hustlin’
but I can’t seem to catch a dime.

Every two weeks at the head office in the centre of Addis, VSO volunteers receive their spending allowance. This is for extraneous expenditure, aside from our accommodation and meals. Things like daily travel to the office, toiletries, phone cards, bottled water and social events. It’s 840 birr. At an exchange rate of 28.6 ETB to the pound, we get £29.37 every two weeks, almost £60 per month, or about £2 per day.

To put it in context our monthly allowance is the average starting salary for a university graduate, or enough to pay the monthly wages for two maids.

1680 Birr per month can buy:

2 x large goats (ETB 800 each)
280 x 500ml bottles of water (ETB 6 each)
2352 x phone minutes on Ethio Telecom (ETB 50 for 70 mins)
622 x medium length line taxi journeys (ETB 2.70 each)

On a day to day level, 60 birr will buy:
4 x bottles of beer (ETB 15 each)
1 x pizza (ETB 60 each)
1.51 x tubes of chapstick (ETB 39.5 each)
22 x medium length line taxi journeys (ETB 2.70 each)

So, if you simply go to work and come home, it’s possible to survive on under 10 birr per day (30p), but taking into account regular expenditure (water/socialising/toothpaste/body wash) it’ll always be higher.

For example, yesterday I took a taxi to magananya (ETB 1.4), then to Haya-Hulet (ETB 2.70) for a VSO meeting regarding their annual conference. After the meeting, we found some more ICS volunteers and went for chips (ETB 25) at a nearby restaurant.

Afterwards I took the line taxi back to magananya (ETB 1.4) and then to Kotebe (ETB 2.7) to get to work. Met up with my counterpart and some volunteers from another placement who decided to use our internet connection. After that, it was another taxi to Magananya (ETB 2.7) and then one to Haya-Hulet (ETB 2.7) to meet with the integrated women’s empowerment program group for Woreda 8.

There was a good discussion on the strengths and weaknesses of the IWEP program, and how it can be continued as the official funding has now run dry. I took the opportunity to buy some handicrafts from one of the women (ETB 50), and then took a line taxi back to Magananya (ETB 1.4) and then to home (ETB 2.7).

It’s an above average day in terms of travel and spending, but not completely unusual. Total spending for the day: ETB 92.7 (Well over budget!)