Travel broadens the mind and young Scots are taking up the opportunity to find out how with international voluntary work.
‘Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” The words of William Hutchinson Murray, a Scots mountaineer and founding trustee of the John Muir Trust, should be inscribed on a card and handed to every young Scot who embarks on the global development programme of the International Citizen Service (ICS).
It takes a degree of boldness to travel on your own to the world’s poorest countries and spend three months in the service of others far less fortunate than yourself, but the rewards, as veterans of the programme testify here, are more than worthwhile.
Funded by the Department for International Development, the ICS is looking for Scots to work alongside volunteers from developing countries on long-term projects in countries like Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone and Nepal. ICS is open to everyone, with no-one excluded on grounds of cost and, while each volunteer is expected to raise funds as part of their trip, they will be assisted by professionals in how to reach their goal.
The ICS programme covers flights, visas, travel and medical insurance, medication and vaccines, food and accommodation and a minimal allowance, while overseas and volunteers will also receive extensive training and support. ICS is looking to give almost 900 young Scots the opportunity to volunteer this September-October or December-January for 10-12 week development projects.
As Susanne D’Arcy, ICS’s recruitment manager, says: “We’re urging 18 to 25-year-old Scots to apply so they don’t miss out on this incredible experience. We’re looking for those with the motivation to make a difference to the lives of others, and who are looking to broaden their horizons and develop skills likely to appeal to future employers.”
• To apply, or for more information go to www.dfid.gov.uk/ICS or contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 8780 7400
Katie Allan went to Burkina Faso
‘The people I met were so welcoming and so friendly. They are friends for life now’
In the small rural town of Reo in Burkina Faso, a landlocked nation in western Africa, Katie Allan, 25, from Stewarton, East Ayrshire, worked for three months developing an extensive knowledge of the shea nut. Allan, a social science graduate, spent her time with a women’s union called Union des Groupements Feminins/Ce Dwaane Nyee (UGF/CDN). Founded in 1978, its aim is to enable its members to become active participants in the social and economic development of their community.
“Ce Dwaane Nyee translates as Strength Through Unity,” Katie says. “UGF/CDN co-ordinates the collection of shea nuts, and the production and sale of bulk-order shea butter. The members are achieving economic independence and changing their position in society. One of our key objectives was to develop strategies for marketing their products.” They created a website and Facebook page, a leaflet about the organisation and its products for potential buyers, and a listing in an African trade export directory.
The experience was transforming for Allan, who is returning to college in September to complete a course in administration and IT with a view to a career in the development sector. “I had the most challenging, but rewarding experience of my life. The people I met out there were so hard-working, so welcoming and so friendly towards us all, they are friends for life now, and I am hoping to go back next summer to visit them. ”
Ben Kirley went to Sierra Leone
‘Much unites us no matter where we’re from’
After three months living as part of “Mama” Kosia’s extended family and even having a little baby boy named in his honour, the hardest part of Ben Kirley’s three-month spell promoting the democratic elections in the previously war-torn nation of Sierra Leone was finally saying good-bye.
The 22-year-old graduate spent from January to April trying to inculcate communities with the idea of freedom of choice and the means to fight back against the intimidation which took place at elections. “We held community meetings where we used drama and audience participation to convey our messages and let the community take ownership of the themes, namely freedom of choice and freedom from intimidation during elections. We visited several towns and also went on local radio twice,” says Kirley.
Yet it was the love and affection he received as part of living for three months with a local woman who had lost relatives in the fighting and who was caring for an extended family of nieces and nephews aged from two to 20 that made the most impact. “It was an intensely personal and emotionally enriching experience,” says Kirley, who comes from Crieff. “For the first time I could step outside of my own background and see how different life can be – how lucky I am in some ways. Equally, I learned how much unites us, no matter where we are from. As my ‘Mama’ said to me, ‘We are all the same.’”
Emily Gaunt went to Philippines
‘I have vastly improved my confidence’
If Emily Gaunt, 22, has to point to the worst moment of her three-month stay in the Philippines educating locals about the benefits of proper waste management, it would probably be developing food poisoning while on a clapped-out bus whose battery was bust and whose driver was anxious to reach home before nightfall as the headlights were broken.
“Throwing up again and again while on a moving bus wasn’t much fun,” says Gaunt, a graduate in cell biology. “But it least it didn’t last that long.”
Her happiest moment was celebrating her birthday with the Reyes family, with whom she lived in Hagonoy, left, between January and March this year.
The event was celebrated with karaoke and the present of her own bingo set: “The Reyes family loved their bingo”. In between was the rewarding experience of teaching primary pupils about the need to separate waste before collection.
The idea was that by teaching the pupils they, in turn, would teach their parents. “Proper waste management is a particular problem in Hagonoy as it is a coastal town which in certain areas regularly floods, this means that ensuring waste is properly disposed of will reduce the chance of food and water contamination.”
The challenges of the work were great, but so were the rewards. “I have vastly improved my presentation skills and my confidence in speaking to large groups,” says Emily, who lives in Glasgow. Other highlights included “a hard trek to see the rice terraces and doing aerobics in the town square”.
Sam Adams went to El Salvador
‘I hope the work I did has made an impact’
If there was one figure who made Sam Adams’ three months in El Salvador special, it was a little boy called Marvin. “We were laying concrete for the new floor of a small church and I remember him running around everywhere, having fun and anxious to help,” says Sam, who returned last September after an adventure she could only describe as “life-changing”.
A graduate with an HNC in social care, Sam went to El Salvador to work on a range of projects aimed at spreading awareness of HIV/AIDS as well as tackling the insidious effects of domestic and gang violence. She helped to run workshops, redecorated local churches as well as a “Violence Against Women” charity shop and set up activities that would help to steer local youth away from gang culture and crime.
Although she did not speak Spanish, Sam was inspired by the children who were relentless and determined to communicate and get their point across as well as understand what she was saying. She was just 19 when she travelled to central America, and she recommends the experience to any young person: “People worry about going on their own, but they shouldn’t. If you went with someone you knew you would not have half the experience you get by realising that you can cope on your own.”
Asked if her work had made a difference she said: “I hope so. Their lives and the work they do to help each other and the kindness they showed me was unconditional. I can only hope the work I did and the time I spent benefits them and has made an impact and difference to their lives the way it has to mine.”
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