Across the world, ICS alumni are doing incredible things to support their local communities and make the world a fairer place. Alumni Bharat Thakrar and Innocent Grant reflect on how their ICS experience inspired a life of active citizenship.
Honoured by the Queen: Bharat’s story
Earlier this year, ICS alumnus Bharat Thakrar, 30, from Harlow in the UK, was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. The BEM is a prestigious British medal awarded by the Queen for exceptional ‘hands-on’ service to the local community.
Bharat was recognised for his voluntary and charitable services in the UK and overseas, including setting up his own charity, Poverty Pound, to tackle poverty in the UK.
“Words cannot describe how I am feeling right now. It is unbelievable to be recognised for my passion in voluntary and charitable services”, explains Bharat.
“Setting up my own charity has always been a dream of mine”, Bharat tells us. “My ICS placement in Lindi, Tanzania made me come back and decide to set up my own charity in the UK and get young people involved.
“For me, ICS was an absolutely incredible, life-changing experience. ICS teaches you a skill that you’ll never learn in a job, and it taught me a lot about myself. I learnt to be open-minded and adaptable and I learnt the importance of understanding the needs of community members”.
Tackling poverty in the UK
“I’ve done lots of charity work over the years and I think that now, more than ever, people need our help and support. Having the ability to help those less fortunate than ourselves and being able to provide a sense of hope for families and individuals is what motivates me in wanting to do this.
“Poverty Pound focuses on tackling poverty in the UK by providing essential items to those living below the poverty line. I want to get young people inspired to make a difference,” explains Bharat.
When asked if he’d faced any barriers to volunteering, Bharat shared his experience on the Harlow Youth Council. Between the ages of 13-18, he was elected to the Council to improve the image of young people in the local community.
“We had setbacks trying to set up a youth café and skate park in the community, and the authorities constantly told us it was impossible. But we persevered and never gave up – it took five years to set it up, but we achieved it.”
“You’re always going to get setbacks in life, but if you don’t try then you’ll never know if you can do it. My setbacks have taught me to never give up and to follow my dreams.”
A champion for women and girls: Innocent’s story
When Innocent Grant, 23, was awarded the ICS In-Country Volunteer Alumni Grant in 2019, it was a transformational moment for his work with his community in Tanzania. It enabled him to pursue an issue very close to his heart: advocating for young women and girls' rights.
Many of the women Innocent works to support in Mbghala, Dar es Salaam, are young mothers from very low-income families, many of whom earn less than a dollar a day working as sex workers. Witnessing the gender inequalities these women endured is what motivated Innocent to champion the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls through his advocacy work.
Community work as a turning point
For Innocent, getting to know women in the community was “a turning point” because it gave him “a sense of how to really impact their lives and change their life stories”.
Innocent’s ICS placement in Lindi, Tanzania in 2018 gave him the opportunity to work directly with his community for the first time. Using a human-centred approach helped him to understand the issues that really mattered in the community and brought him a sense of vibrancy in designing solutions.
“Engaging with local community members in Lindi was my turning point in the way I view things”, he tells us.
“Active citizenship days were among my favourite moments during ICS”, says Innocent. “I loved the moments that our UK counterparts shared the history of the UK on various issues and we shared Tanzanian history. We could then discuss what effective solutions work for these issues while sharing best practices from both countries”.
However, Innocent’s advocacy work on sexual and reproductive rights has not always been straightforward. He tells us that he has faced challenges because the issues he champions every day are a taboo in Tanzania and are not openly discussed or easily accepted by community members.
Despite the challenges of gender inequality and taboos around sexual health, Innocent insists that “these issues matter a lot, and they are issues that we need to keep speaking about”.
Youth are well-placed to help tackle these sorts of issues because “young people have transformational energy”, Innocent tells us. “They have talents to bring about change and it’s time to unlock our energy and talents to solve issues that matter in our communities”.
His advice to others is to “be confident, be flexible, and show a curiosity to learn about new issues. Love, be happy, be positive and be you. Doing all these really helps to unlock such energy and talents to lead and become game changers in our communities”.
Are you inspired to take action in your own community?
Sign up to a National Youth Engagement Network (NYEN), and join other like-minded young people making a positive impact in their communities.