International Citizen Service - VSO

Posted by Jeff Riley on 9 April 2013

Faradh Maharoof, a student from Queen Mary, University of London has written for us about his preparations before departing on a three month internship in Malindi, Kenya. Faradh's piece really gets across his enthusiasm and resourcefulness and underlines how this kind of project can make a real difference to everyone involved - including the volunteers. We hope we can persuad Faradh to send us an update from Kenya. Until then read his post and get some inspiration and information.

The International Citizen Service (ICS) is a government funded programme that gives young people (18-25) an opportunity to volunteer abroad for three months. Run by six of the most respected names in international volunteering, the programme empowers young people to work within communities and help tackle poverty.

Why did I apply to the ICS programme? I find it hard to pinpoint one defining or single reason as to why I applied for the ICS programme. What I am sure of is that my decision to join this programme stems from an empathetic nature and my many travels and holidays in the developing world. From a young age my travels to countries like Sri Lanka, India, Mongolia and even China have enabled me to witness the profound depth of poverty and the glaring inequalities that exist within our global society today. These collective experiences have often left me frustrated and angry, at having to witness such a struggle while being placed in the shoes of a helpless onlooker. Seeing so much deprivation has instilled in me a long standing desire to take arms in the fight against poverty and this is a fundamental reason for my commitment to this programme.

Such underlying feelings have also led me towards a career in international development and it is an area that I have been taking a number of steps in. However, I am just starting out and I view this programme as wonderful opportunity for someone like me, as it allows young people to develop skills, knowledge and experiences. I hope this experience can help my career aspirations in the long run. One more factor that drew me to this programme was the opportunity to immerse myself in another country, another culture and another way of life for three months; and make a real difference while doing so. I found the ICS programme better able to provide a more comprehensive volunteering experience. They only take on projects that have been specifically requested by local authorities and communities, and are run by six of the most respected charities in international volunteering. To be able to work and learn in such a committed environment was too good to turn down.

The journey before the journey Once you have gone through all the emotions of being accepted onto the ICS programme, with the charity you have been assigned to, the next few months before departure can feel like an eternity. Despite being a mere two weeks away from my scheduled departure date, I cannot help feel impatient and restless; I sense that this will continue until I step onto the plane, where these emotions will be replaced by nerves and apprehension. The ‘pre-departure’ period is dominated by three main responsibilities, fundraising, vaccinations and the training weekend.

Fundraising Initially, the idea of having to fundraise £800 was daunting, especially considering that I have never engaged in this kind of activity before. However, the ideas and support provided by the VSO fundraising team have been wonderful, and most, if not all of my fundraising ideas, came as a direct result of the support and ideas they provided. I found that planning ahead and taking into account a number of different fundraising strategies were crucial to my success.

My two main strategies were to organise charity events and get donations from friends, family and colleagues. While the latter approach has provided me with the majority of my funding, I found the former approach to be an enriching experience. By organising a number of charity football matches, mini-marathons, and social gatherings I was able to raise awareness, and importantly gain a better appreciation of the organisational skills and commitment needed to succeed in the international development sector.

I should also inform you that I have just been granted £300 from Jack Petchey Foundation. I was aware of a number of different grant options, but hadn’t applied to any as I was unsure on how successful I would be pursuing this strategy. It seemed a bit far-fetched but after a conversation with my fundraising officer I decided to apply for the Jack Petchey Foundation’s Volunteering grant, in fact I just made the deadline. How well it turned out then. I applied to the Jack Petchey Foundation as I had known them from a very young age, over the years I had become well aware of just how much they invest in the youth of London and just being able to apply and meet their eligibility criteria was a humbling experience. To actually receive their support, and such a generous amount of support, has left me speechless and I cannot begin to express how grateful I am for this.

Overall, the fundraising has been a positive experience and one that is designed to test your commitment to the programme. I would encourage everyone on the ICS programme to take on board all of the support and advice provided, as it helped me reach my target. During the experience I was able to network with some wonderful people, all of whom provided me with ideas and support that have been helpful to my cause. Among them are two journalists who have helped put my project on few local newspapers, and I am truly grateful for their help in both, raising awareness of the ICS programme and also encouraging more young people to take part.

Vaccinations The vaccinations, all eight of them, have been the least inspiring part of the pre-departure process but also a very important part of it, without them you cannot take your place on the programme. I am not particularly scared of injections; I have never had a phobia of needles, or clowns for that matter, but the notion of eight injections did leave me slightly uneasy. I have always been a bit naive as to their importance and despite travelling on a regular basis; I have only been vaccinated against a couple of the major threats. Therefore I am grateful to this programme; in the sense that it made me do something I would not have done so otherwise, which is to take my health more seriously when I am travelling.

Training weekend Another compulsory component of the pre-departure process is the training weekend, which is held in Birmingham, London or York. My weekend took place in Birmingham, fortunately in one of the nicer parts of the city, and I had to opportunity to meet around 15-20 other volunteers. It is vital to attend on the training dates provided as you will have a chance to meet a few volunteers who will be travelling with you to the same country and undertaking the same project. It is one of the only ways before departure whereby you have the chance to meet and get to know your teammates. Otherwise it can be a case of heading off into to the unknown, with the unknown.

The weekend itself is a very informative experience and it is run by two return volunteers. Their sessions cover everything from footwear to healthcare and are designed to prepare you for the three months abroad. Be prepared to do your fair share of singing, dancing, running and presenting during the weekend as the sessions are quite engaging. Factor in the drinking and socialising that follows the conclusion of each day and the weekend has the capacity to be ever so slightly tiring. Nevertheless, it is still an immensely enjoyable experience, one that allows socialising with likeminded people and the transfer of important information.

Pre-conceptions I haven’t really had the time to be nervous. The last few months have been frantic; currently I am undertaking an internship at the Democratic Progress Institute, as a fundraising and development intern while also holding onto my part-time, weekend job at the John Lewis Partnership. Having to work seven days a week is highly taxing, but by managing my holidays effectively and having the luck of the long Easter weekend, I have been able to recharge my batteries at timely moments. This has enabled me to stay committed on both fronts, but I haven’t had the luxury of thinking about my Kenya adventure for a prolonged period of time.

I am unsure how close the trip came to being called off due to the recent election violence, but I was informed of another volunteering team in Kenya being withdrawn due to safety concerns. This worries me endless, as I feel like I have so much to learn and experience from the whole three months and the thought of not going, or coming home early is my biggest fear at the moment. But I have taken the bigger picture into account, which is the shocking and unacceptable spate of violence that has unfortunately cost a lot of innocent lives.

Food poisoning is something that I have pretty much accepted is going to happen at some point during my three months. From information passed down to us and hearing experiences of other volunteers, it seems almost inevitable. 7 out of 10 volunteers are supposed to experience it. So there is possibly not much I can do, other than prepare for the worst. Sunburn is another hazard that has the potential to make life very uncomfortable. Though it has never been an issue for me I will still be taking the necessary precautions, especially after hearing some of the horror stories the VSO nurse had to share with us. Furthermore, living in an environment that has more bugs than you are used will take some adjusting, and while simple bites and bruises are to be expected, I am rather more concerned about malaria. I didn’t realise it was so easy to catch!

Final thoughts I still cannot believe I am going! In a conflicting way it seems to have happened so fast, before I knew it I am preparing for three months in Kenya, but at the same time the last two months have dragged. So I am glad that I am on that final stretch where I can start concentrating on packing and learning phrases in Swahili.

On a final note, I could not be happier with the choice of going to Kenya. On my application form I opted against selecting any charity, country or project preferences as I didn’t want to reduce my chances in any way. Naturally this meant that I had no idea as to which region I will be travelling or which type of work I will be undertaking. However, having only dreamt of going to Africa, I could not be happier with the choice of Kenya. We also seem to me be near the coast, and the thought of being a stone’s throw away from the beach is sending my excitement levels through the roof. The project theme is educational and disability needs, which are areas I look forward to learning more and gaining more experience in. Disability is an issue I feel strongly about and the fact that the welfare system we take for granted is almost non-existent in many parts of the world is something I have read about and even witnessed on a number of occasions. Therefore having the chance to help people that may not necessarily be able to help themselves is an experience I look forward to. We will also work on environmental issues at some point and this is an issue that I have come to love through my A-levels in Geography.

While I am excited about the project and the three months ahead, I cannot help feel that there will be plenty of challenges, good and bad, in the times to come. Therefore, I hope that the combination of experiences will help me learn more about the world of poverty and gain a better understanding of the struggle people in other parts of the world face on a daily basis.

Topics: Working abroad, international development

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