When you think of the word ‘family’, what comes to mind?
For us – it’s our host families around the world, supporting ICS volunteers to get used to a new community when they’re tens, hundreds or thousands of miles away from home. For the United Nations’ International Day of Families, we spoke to 13 ICS volunteers to find out what they discovered when they found home in a new community.
1. Steven Blows
Raleigh, Nepal, 2018
This is Bipin and Bijendra. They were my host brothers while I lived in Makawanpur District.
Family holds a strong meaning to a lot of people so it’s hard to imagine that you can call someone who doesn’t speak the same language as you family. But my host family were exactly that. They always put me first and we cried when we left each other.
My fondest memory was coming back to the home to play a game of chess or football after a hard day of work. This burst of energy was exactly what I needed. At the start of my placement, I was beating them at the games. Come the end, they were teaching me.
2. Ross Graham
VSO, Kenya, 2018
This is my host family – including birthday boy Rick! – and a few volunteers.
The shot is of Rick’s 12th birthday which we celebrated as a family. What followed this was the traditional Kenyan celebration of soaking the birthday boy in water!
Living with a new family away from home was a privilege. They treated me like one of their own. I loved my time as an ICS volunteer and a huge part of that was having such a great home life, looked after by my counterpart Otuke and my host dad Baba Joe.
3. Jessica Law
VSO, Kenya, 2019
This is Monicah Karuga, my counterpart, and our host mum, Mama Helen.
Living with a family made me feel a part of the community and really settle into life in Kenya. They were great at teaching me about the culture and being there to look out for me. I’ve gained a second family who I love dearly and still keep in contact with now.
We cooked and ate together every single night. My mama taught me and my counterpart how to cook her recipes and loved watching us give them our best shot! We had a lot of fun together.
4. Hiba Hussein
VSO, Nepal, 2018
In this photo, I’m holding my host mother Sita Adhikari.
It was very daunting moving into a new home but she was the kindest and most giving mother I could have asked for. She never let me go hungry, insisting instead that I eat more and more! It’s easy to start missing your own family while away so having that sense of belonging was perfect.
As a family we would often walk down a steep hill to get to the outdoor showers where we would wash ourselves and our clothes. This was my favourite activity to do with Sita, as she’d teach me how to clean clothes using soap and a rock, and would smile and applaud me for my efforts.
5. Cre Ya
VSO, Nepal, 2018
Here’s me and my UK counterpart Ellie. We’re like sisters now. This photo was taken after our ICS team had finished painting the hall at a local secondary school, something we'd got involved with on top of our placement work.
Living with a new family away from my home was quite difficult but as time went on it was good. It was a totally new experience for me. I’ve really enjoyed spending time cooking with our host family and seeing how they celebrate different Nepali festivals throughout the year.
6. Jessica Rachel
Raleigh, Nicaragua, 2015
In this framed picture – which we left to our host family as a gift – you can see my host father Jaime holding his daughter Dairén, as well as my host mother Aydes and my fellow ICS volunteer Awo.
Living with them was probably the hardest thing I have ever done! Being dropped into a tiny remote village when you speak extremely little Spanish and are completely out of your comfort zone was incredibly daunting – but I can honestly say it was the best thing I’ve done so far in my life.
One thing we did together as a family were arroz con leche (rice pudding) nights, where Aydes would make a huge batch and we’d eat together. It really felt like a connection to home. In return, I’d cook some makeshift Welsh cakes for them, which was my way of bringing a bit of my home life to them.
7. Johanna Wragg
VSO, Cambodia, 2017
I’m an only child and my parents are divorced, so although my extended family are large we live far apart. On ICS, I found myself surrounded by this huge family living next door to each other. They spent lots of time together, and welcomed me with warm smiles and fun.
The only downside was the bugs and critters we shared our space with. But one day, my counterpart Pisey told me to ‘think of them as friends’. I looked at them with a whole new perspective from that day forward. Suddenly they didn’t matter.
I think about this magical place and people every day, and have plans to revisit Cambodia, Pisey and our wonderful host family next year.
Restless, Uganda, 2019
Here’s me on the right – next to Anita, my counterpart, Andrew, our host brother, our host mama, Aggie, and another UK volunteer, Anisha.
The day this was taken we’d just come back from church. We’d been to our host mama’s church twice while we were on ICS, and it really helped us bond as a family. But this particular day was a special service – as the last Sunday of the month was dedicated to women.
Living away from home took a little adjustment, but my host family was the best part of the whole ICS experience. They now have a very special place in my heart. We were welcomed with open arms, cared for, cooked for and loved throughout our time in Kitimbwa.
Restless, Nepal, 2018
From left to right are UK volunteer Lydia, our host mum, Āmã, Nepali volunteer Divya, our host grandmother, Hajura’āmā, Nepali volunteer Purnima and UK volunteer Rukaiya.
This photo was taken outside our house. We all lived together under one roof. Āmã cooked us two amazing meals each day, and in return we shared our favourite music and tried to learn the language. I have so many memories of the laughs and fun we had each evening over dinner.
One highlight from my time spent with them has to be going to a local wedding. It was raining so hard that day, and we all ended up dancing in the street soaking wet. It’s one of my favourite memories from ICS.
10. Megan Shinfield
Raleigh, Nepal, 2018
I’m stood here with my host mum, dad, grandma and counterpart Bishwash. They asked us to call them mum and dad instead of their given names. It immediately made me feel welcome.
Living with them was incredible. I discovered a new culture and way of living, and sharing it with them made my ICS experience more amazing as I felt connected to the people the project impacted.
A highlight was definitely celebrating two Nepali festivals together!
11. Sarah Shaw
VSO, Nigeria, 2018
So this was my huge family! In the shot is my host dad – two host mums – and a bunch of children that I don’t have room to name here … including the new-born baby Amir!
When I arrived on my first night I met my pregnant mum. I asked many times when she thought the baby was coming, but they never knew – it was bad luck if she did. The mother was a sullen woman and obviously in a lot of pain. At 1am one night, I was woken to shouts of ‘Auntie Sarah, the baby!’ I shot up and all the children were huddled outside her room. She’d just given birth on the bed.
I peeked my head around and saw the little one wrapped up on the stone floor. I was allowed to come in to see him and to take a single photo. When I came out, all the children rushed to look at the photo. That’s how we met our little baby brother. It was truly a moment I’ll never forget, as he shares the same birthday as my grandad – and it was the first time I’d seen the mum smile.
12. Jennifer Rhodes
VSO, Philippines, 2015
Sat down from left to right next to me are Nessa, tatay (that means dad), and Faye (my counterpart). Standing behind us are Homer and Albert.
We did so many things together. I remember cooking them dinner one night, spicy chicken pasta. They like spaghetti to be sweet. So you can imagine my horror when I served up dinner and the kids pulled out a bag of sugar and sprinkled it all over the food like it was cornflakes!
My host family shared everything with us and I found it so hard to leave them at the end. I’m still in touch with them and planning to go back.
13. Leanne Keast
VSO, Nigeria, 2016
So in the pic is my host sister Ezinne, UK volunteer (and now best friend) Ele, my counterpart Simdi, lecturers and host parents Mr and Mrs Allu – she insisted we call her auntie – and their amazing children, Michael, Chimamanda (Chi Chi) and Roy.
We’d just got back from a special service at church that we’d attended in our matching clothes – auntie had these made up for us as a gift before we left.
We were all very nervous about living with another family in a different country (even the Nigerian volunteers). But now I’m back, I couldn’t imagine not having lived in the community.