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‘Development is about hearing everyone’s ideas’: Evelyn’s story

Before I volunteered with VSO ICS in 2015, I was completely lost.

I had no sense of direction, no focus, and the future for me was blurred. Although I’d graduated from university, I didn’t know where to start from or what to do with my life. Then one day, I saw an advert for VSO ICS and I applied. It marked the beginning of a new me.

After ICS, Evelyn secured a job supporting rural cocoa farming communities
After ICS, Evelyn secured a job supporting rural cocoa farming communities

I just had to fight my fears

I was called for an assessment. It was different from any interview I’d ever attended. Before ICS I was the kind of person who’d try to hide in the crowd to avoid speaking. But we were all forced to talk in the training. I had no choice other than to fight my fears.

I was taught to believe in myself and to know that I had the responsibility of making a difference in our world. We were taught that each one of us had a say and that everything was team work. I learned that no single person knows everything in development and that all ideas should be heard.

These are ideas that I’ve carried through into my work after volunteering. As a Community Development Facilitator on VSO’s Cocoa Life programme, I never underestimate the abilities or knowledge of the community members I work with. We share ideas and have open discussions. They’re the ones who take the lead and it is they who take ownership over their own development.

Evelyn delivers a session to a group of local women in a rural cocoa farming community
© Evelyn Okorley
Evelyn delivers a session to a group of local women in a rural cocoa farming community

Bread baking and snail farming

As a result, the economic situation of the 11 communities I support has greatly improved. Community-led groups have been formed and trained to establish their own financial support base and to learn enterprise skills like bread baking and snail farming.

Women are now the backbone of their families and are taking leadership positions. Children are back in school.
Evelyn Okorley
VSO ICS volunteer, Ghana
Evelyn Okorley

We’ve helped them form village savings and loans associations (VSLAs) to enable them to save and access loans to invest in their businesses. A lack of capital to support businesses in these communities is now a thing of the past. Women are now the backbone of their families and have been empowered to take up leadership positions. Most children are no longer out of school.
 

Through joint trainings and workshops with other local villages and partner organisations, my communities have gained knowledge on best practices and established networks to kick-start this change process. They work towards their own development knowing no man is an island.

'The farmers I work with now know the better life they seek can be offered by themselves'
© VSO / Nick Adatsi
'The farmers I work with now know the better life they seek can be offered by themselves'

The better life they seek can be offered by themselves

ICS taught me that knowledge and awareness are very powerful tools for development – tools far more powerful than physical infrastructure. The farmers that I work with in these rural cocoa communities now know that the better life they seek can be offered by themselves.

Today, I stand as a proud and refined product of VSO ICS: an active citizen fully equipped and renewed in thought to create a positive impact in my world.

Evelyn delivered this message at the launch of the Ghana Youth Volunteer Network in early 2018.

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Funded by the UK Government

ICS is funded by the UK Government's Department for International Development (DFID) which leads the UK’s work to end extreme poverty.

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