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 nearly 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 delighted 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."