International volunteering for 18-25 year olds

Action at Home blog

The time spent overseas is just one part of the ICS programme. All ICS volunteers complete their placements back home by using their skills and experience to give something to give back to their own local communities. Read on for some great examples of what they've done.

May 29 2015

Deborah Lowe volunteered as a Team Leader in South Africa with Lattitude ICS on a health education project in local schools. Here, Deb talks about what she’s been up to as part of her action at home

Where and when did you carry out your action at home?

"I am a volunteer at my local food bank in St Anne’s and I volunteer on average six hours a week on a Tuesday and Thursday. I started in April and go in every week. I also signed up to Amnesty International and I am now a member of my local branch - Lytham St Anne’s and Blackpool Amnesty Group".

Tell us more about it! What did you do, how did you do it and what impact do you think it might have had?

"At the food bank, I greet and meet clients and interview them to determine their level of need and often signpost them to other agencies. I also check in and date donated food and bag up the food provisions which are given to the clients. I know from their response how grateful they are to know that they don’t have to worry about how they and their family are going to eat over the next few days and the relief is very evident. It has taken a lot of courage in the first place for people to come to the food bank, for most it was in desperation. They are so thankful to have the support and for someone to listen to them as most have many other issues."

Since February, as a member of my local Amnesty International group I have attended their monthly meetings and AGM. I have written to my local MP to increase the awareness of the importance of retaining the Human Rights Act and I attended the launch of the Asylum Justice Project in York which aimed to look at ways of creative campaigning to raise awareness of the use of detention in the asylum system and changing public attitudes. I spent the day in my local town centre campaigning about ‘Breaking the Silence: Stop Torture’ and talking to passers-by about Amnesty International and raising the profile of four victims who had suffered torture and encouraged members of the public to sign up to urge the respective Governments to release these people from prison". 

Why did you choose this action?

"I decided to join my local food bank as I knew from my previous experience working in health how important these organisations are and food is so essential to survival wherever you are in the world. I saw a lot of poverty and lack of food on my placement so it made sense to approach this type of organisation. I also wanted to become more of an activist (which doesn’t come naturally to me) and after seeing and hearing some awful human rights issues while on placement I joined my local Amnesty International when I returned to the UK". 

How does your action at home relate to your ICS experience?

"My placement highlighted to me how fortunate I am because of the country where I live, the people that I know and the opportunities I have been given. This was why during my placement and learning more through the Active Citizenship sessions I decided I would sign up to Amnesty International and be more of an activist on my return to the UK. I wanted to raise awareness in my country of the many global issues which are not upheld by the Human Rights Act through my Amnesty International work".

May 22 2015

Dolly Ogunrinde volunteered with Skillshare ICS in Lesotho in 2014.

Since returning from her placement, Dolly has been elected Women's Officer at her Uni (University of East Anglia) and has campaigned for women’s sanitary products to be sold at cost price in the shops on campus. Dolly recently won 'Inspirational Women Student of the year' and her story was featured in the Guardian 

"Gender relations played a big part of my placement in Lesotho. I stayed in the semi-rural village of Roma where my host mother was the chief of the village. She was an incredibly inspiring woman who organised a march through our village to raise awareness of ending violence against women on National Women’s’ Day. When I returned home from my placement I felt inspired and I knew that I wanted my action at home to be gender related. As Women’s Officer at my university I ran a caucus where women students could voice their concerns about what they wanted to see change within the University Union. The issue of sanitary products came up and I was shocked to discover they are currently being taxed as a luxury item when we all agreed that they are a necessity. In the next union council I presented a motion to mandate the union to sell sanitary products at profit free price. Now sanitary products are sold for as cheap as 49p in our union shop and it is something I am very proud of". 

May 15 2015

Andrew volunteered with Tearfund ICS in Rwanda. Inspired by the communities he lived and worked in during his placement, Andrew threw himself into local projects when he came home. Andrew learned loads of new skills through his Action at Home activities and discovered a new passion for caring for others - something he is now pursuing as a career.

Throughout my ICS placement with Tearfund in Rwanda one of the things that really struck me was how the people in the local communities would support one another in times of need. The community spirit in each village reminded me of the kind of community I have only come across within churches in England. When I returned home their example inspired me to want to get involved with projects that address the needs of the community in Woking, my hometown. 

I joined a church as soon as I came home and within a week I joined a team from that church working on a project called the Woking Lighthouse. This project aimed to renovate a derelict four storey warehouse in the centre of town and transform it into a community centre addressing the many and varied needs of the people of Woking. I volunteered full time for three months. This mostly included working with homeless people, addicts and vulnerable women although no two days are the same. 

The pinnacle of this was managing the preparations for the food bank that I was given temporary charge of for the last eight weeks. It became fully stocked, organised and ready for its opening. We received donations from near one thousand individuals and two local newspapers wrote artciles about it. 

I had never been involved in anything like this before. The closest thing I’ve ever done was helping to lead a team of students assisting people coming out of nightclubs while at university in Birmingham, but that was just a few hours each week, not all day every day. The whole dynamic is different when there’s enough time to form proper relationships, suddenly a quick fix won’t do, it’s all about long term change.

Aside from all the practical skills I’ve picked up from renovating the building (how not to spatter yourself with paint while using a roller, how to fit a sofa through a slightly-too-small door frame etc.) I’ve learned a lot from loving people I’m ashamed to say I may have previously avoided. I now have friends who are homeless, friends in prison and friends who are alcoholics, and I now understand their difficulties so much better. 

I was dleighted with how things came together in time for the planned opening date of the food bank and it was fantastic to see the progress made by individuals we worked with. However, there is still a lot more work to be done as renovations continue at the Lighthouse and new projects open.

I am now an active member of my community in a way that I wasn’t before. Having volunteered in the Lighthouse I am now so much more aware of the problems faced by my community that I cannot ignore them as I did previously. I don’t see this as yet another chore though, I find the work done at the Lighthouse very fulfilling and I am delighted to be able to make a difference. 

From being involved in this project I have decided that caring for people is something I’d like to do professionally, but I’d like to have a bigger skill set than “good intentions”. I'm now studying nursing, although I could be tempted to return to local or international community development in the future.

For anyone worried about or daunted by their ‘Action at Home’ project, I would say it is best to get as involved in your local community as you can, depending on the amount of time you have to give. Going to your local church to see what outreach projects they are trying to run could be a great place to start.

April 29 2015

Phillippa volunteered in Togo with Y Care International ICS. To show people the positive side of Togo and combat the misconceptions of hunger and poverty highlighted in the media she organised an exhibition day that gave people a chance to learn more about Togo and international development.

"The layout was in a large open plan room, with a projector on a continuing loop showing photos in the corner, a table full of Togolese food, and all the items that I collected in Togo spread around the room. Each item had a short summary of what the item was, how it was used, what it meant to me, and what it meant to the Togolese. eg. colourful clothing. I used extracts of my diary to give it personal emphasis.

"Activities around the room included getting young people to actually have a go at pounding fufu (staple West African food) using the traditional technique. The best thing was that the guests then all got to try it (most of them hated it!). I made sure that I left important information around the room to ensure every person knew the reasoning for each station. For fufu they learned about its importance as a staple food, where it originated and why it is now used so widely around the world.

"I then gave a presentation to the audience and told them of my ICS experience and why shedding a positive light on Africa could improve its development just as much as basic aid. I also emphasised the fact that current changes in development goals are going to shape the world forever, and the role that they will play in it. This allowed people to see the connections between their lives and the lives of others abroad."

By running an event like this Phillippa was able to give people an interactive hands on experience of what Togo was really like and what she did. She also highlighted the importance of 2015 and the current changes taking place with new global goals and talks on climate.

"I learnt personally how much people like to learn, and how much they want to be educated on the unknown. I think people want to make a stamp in the world, but like to know how."

April 15 2015

Yolantah volunteered with VSO ICS in her native Zambia. She had already been volunteering for seven years around HIV and AIDs awareness with Contact Trust Youth Association (CTYA) before her ICS placement. 

She drew on her existing skills as she worked with her team to increase awareness of the sexual and reproductive health services available to local young people in the area they were based in. They introduced Youth Friendly Corners – a safe space for young people to gain access to sexual reproductive health information and services.

Following ICS Yolanta was determined to give back to her local community while continuing to volunteer with CTYA. Along with another ICS former volunteer she successfully applied for funding to introduce the same concept in a local clinic.

"The skills and knowledge I gained from ICS allowed us to start  the youth friendly corner quickly, and the clinic also provided us some of their volunteers to assist with the day-to-day running. I have volunteered daily with the Youth Friendly Corner for a year, and have been able to gain crucial experience towards my goal of becoming a social worker. The Youth Friendly Corner has become a much-used service in my local community, and has led to local youth feeling empowered to access the health information and services available to them."

Yolantah also helped create the Livingstone ICS alumni group, that supports ICS volunteers when they return from placement as well as helping to select new volunteers.

"This has been a great way to continue my relationship with VSO and make sure that young people across Livingstone know that ICS is a great way to develop much needed skills to prepare people for work. I also focused my Action at Home activity on promoting ICS in schools around Livingstone, holding talks in three high schools to encourage them to apply once they had finished school.

"I am so glad I applied to VSO to take part in ICS. It helped me open my mind, and empowered me to implement new ideas to my local community. I have been able to develop skills that I did not know I had, while also discovering new skills which will help me gain the experience needed to gain employment. VSO ICS has helped me discover what I want to do in life and become a social worker, and this is what I am now aiming towards!"

April 1 2015

Progressio ICS volunteer Elam Forrester spent her ICS placement living in a rural community in El Salvador. Most of Elam’s work out there was with women’s rights associations, which aim to educate Salvadorian men and women on human rights and gender equality, and help train women in skills that could turn into a source of income. Through photographing the work of these organisations, Elam aimed to tell a different story from what is familiar. “Before leaving for El Salvador, most of what I heard about in connection with the country’s women concerned the shockingly high femicide rates – women being murdered simply because they were women,” Elam said.

Through her work, Elam aimed to challenge what are often negative preconceptions of life in El Salvador. Instead of familiar images of drugs, gangs and violence, she has captured strong and striking images of community, work and family life in full swing.

“My experience of living in a rural community in El Salvador was far removed from what I expected to encounter,” she said. “I came away from my time there greatly inspired by the spirit and passion of the people I met and their commitment to fighting gender and social inequalities despite their difficult history.”

“But going there I’d never encountered anyone who was fighting so hard against gender inequality. My photographs show women, and men, who are really taking hold of their situation and are determined to become self-sufficient.”

As part of her Action at Home, Elam organised a 2 week photography exhibition at Rich Mix in London to showcase some of the photographs she had taken. Her Action at Home project quickly evolved into something much bigger than she had first anticipated. The exhibition also included music and drama performances, a panel discussion, a number of Central American organisations, and representatives from the Salvadoran Embassy.

Returning home, Elam says she had a greater awareness of the issues surrounding women’s rights, not simply in the developing world, but in her own neighbourhood. “My experience in El Salvador made me reflect on my own community in London,” she said.

“In Tower Hamlets, where the exhibition was held, many women face similar challenges. I wanted the exhibition to give an opportunity for a larger conversation about women’s rights in Central America and beyond.” Elam got a lot of great publicity for her cause, including having her photos featured with an article about her placement in Justice Magazine.

Equipped with her photographs and the knowledge she discovered on placement, Elam managed to empower the women of El Salvador by sharing their stories in her own community to raise awareness.

March 18 2015

Raleigh ICS volunteer Dillon Haldane spent his placement in Tanzania working on water and sanitation projects. He was struck by how difficult it was for the local villagers who had to travel long distances to collect water every day.

For his Action at Home back in Glasgow Dillon decided to raise awareness of the difficulties some people in Tanzania and around the world have accessing clean water. To highlight the difference in living conditions he started Walk2Water and walked a seven mile round trip every day for week to collect 12 litres of water a time.

Dillon uploaded a series of videos and shared them on social media, as well as getting his friends and family to accompany him on his walks. He also ceated a Facebook page so people could easily follow his progress and set up a JustGiving page and raised £220 for Raleigh International.

March 4 2015

Lattitude ICS volunteer Monier Salem  from Newcastle travelled to Malawi in July 2014 for a 10 week placement. He was part of a team of UK and Malawian volunteers working in a rural community to help improve access to primary education. This involved supporting teachers as well as supporting the construction of basic amenities such as toilets, sanitation systems and the repair and construction of school blocks.

Monier (second from left, front) attending a nursery committee meeting in Sangilo

Monier had been motivated to apply for ICS after previously completing National Citizen Service (NCS). His experience on NCS opened his eyes to volunteering and led him to become more active in his community. On the ICS programme Monier had another opportunity to give something back to his community as part of his Action at Home.

Monier (second from left) completing NCS in the Lake District

After returning from Malawi, Monier joined his local youth council to represent teenagers from the ages of 16+ who have been brought up in care, who he knows can have limited opportunities.

For his Action at Home Monier wanted to enable young people brought up in care to be able to participate in NCS and attempted to renegotiate the £50 programme fee. Working with the local youth council he approached Headliners, an NCS delivery organisation that helps young people voice out their issues via media, to address this. Monier’s application for funded places was successful and now 10 places have been awarded through the local youth council.

Monier reflected that undertaking his Action at Home has strengthened his team work, leadership and communication skills. He also felt a huge sense of achievement that he has been able to have a positive impact on the lives of others.

He plans to continue to support this and inspire others to apply for NCS and ICS.

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ICS staff and volunteers