International volunteering for 18-25 year olds

Meet Jean Luc

Jean Luc Habimana from Rwanda volunteered with Tearfund ICS. Following his placement, he applied to the ICS Alumni Grant Fund to support Tanzanian refugees using the skills and experiences he developed while volunteering. Jean Luc photographed the work of the refugees and entered his photo in a competition run by the EU – and won!

Jean Luc's story

"I heard about ICS from a friend who knew someone else who had volunteered on an ICS placement and had a great experience. I applied because I would like to be an activist and make the world a better place. When I read the description of what ICS does and how I could empower my own country through working with other young people, I felt this was an opportunity I couldn’t miss!"

My placement

"I volunteered in Bugesera Nyamata, in Eastern Rwanda. My team mainly participated in projects supporting self-help groups - small groups of people, generally with low means of living, who join together and get some small agricultural projects to work on with the same goal of developing their skills and become self-reliant.

"Some examples of projects are making 'kitchen gardens' for each other, making collective tree nurseries and most importantly, saving regularly for the future in the group. We were involved with delivering some sessions about important everyday issues such as sanitation, nutrition and the environment. We were also involved in some physical work like digging and making the gardens.

"I also got an opportunity to get involved in projects concerning primary schools. I helped to train teachers in IT as it's my field of study.

"The best thing about volunteering with ICS is that it is actually a cross-cultural kind of service. When different cultures and different ways of thinking come together everyone goes home with new ideas of ways of doing things.

"However, one of the challenges of working with the UK volunteers was those differences in culture. A funny example about me is walking. UK volunteers sometimes preferred to walk to field visits but unfortunately in Rwanda people only walk because they don't have money for transport. That is something that challenged me for a while, but something I am glad of as now I really do love walking. Challenges are meant to leave us with a lesson, and they did for me."

My Action at Home

"I had the chance to start my Action at Home activities with a few other volunteers. While we were in the middle of these activities, we really wanted to do something more. We were already thinking of starting a project of teaching people in Rwamagana how to make energy-saving cooking stoves but we hadn't figured out how to do this. Then, on the day we got our certificates, the ICS Rwandan staff told us about the alumni grant and we immediately thought that we couldn't miss the opportunity.

"At the time, one of us was living close to a camp of refugees from Tanzania, and explained and convinced us how we could support them, as they were really vulnerable. We found out the best way of helping them was giving them the kind of healthy and nutritious food they don't get from government aid. So we approached ICS staff, applied for the grant, and got it.

"We started by making tree nurseries for the camp with vegetable trees, fruit trees and normal trees for planting in front of the house. We also started up five self-help groups, in which members started regularly saving small amounts of money for the future. We also helped the members of the groups by delivering weekly learning sessions mainly about savings, teamwork, sanitation and nutrition."

The EU photo competition

"I took a photo of one of these group planting their kitchen gardens and entered it into a competition run by the European Union. And it won! I got the chance to go to Brussels to see where my photo was being exhibited and received a new camera. My trip to Brussels was an unforgettable and awesome experience. It was my very first flight ever, and even my first time to leave Rwanda. I experienced lots of new things such as going on trains, metros and trams.

"I had a chance to meet other professional photographers, young leaders from all over the world with striking ideas for the world’s future and also met high profile people from European Union. It was such an amazing trip for me.

"I couldn’t believe my picture was going to be seen in the gallery but when I entered the gallery on my first morning and saw a lady looking at it and reading my story, I really had that awesome feeling of achieving something great. I also was glad that many people came to me asking what the project was about, and the way they congratulated me when I told them what we achieved with the project."

My message to others

"Volunteering is the most efficient way of being useful to the world, without expecting any tangible returns. I want to encourage all young people with a wish of changing the world to be a better place not to hesitate, but to go for it. By volunteering not only do you get to contribute to help others, but you also learn many many things. Volunteering is full of challenges yes, as the rest of the world is, but challenges are the things that make us grow in different ways. My experience is an example of this. ICS has been a huge learning experience for me and I can’t be thankful enough for having had the opportunity to join it."