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ICS through the lens: Tom's documentary on development

Nine months, three groups of volunteers, two countries, and hundreds of hours of filming and editing later and documentary filmmaker Tom Greenidge’s ICS journey is almost over.

Not one to settle for just the challenge of being a team leader on an ICS pilot health programme in Malawi, Tom also set himself the mammoth task of producing a documentary.

Following his three months as a volunteer in Zimbabwe and his return to ICS as a team leader in Malawi, 27-year-old Tom’s documentary is almost ready to be released.

We caught up with Tom to find out the challenges of filming abroad, what his ICS placement taught him about development and what’s next now he’s back in the UK.

Started with disaster

“It’s funny, it all started with a bit of a disaster story,” explained Tom.

“While I was in Zimbabwe, I held the role of visual media co-ordinator for the team, and it was my intention to make a documentary while I was out there.

“I put a lot of time and effort into it and got loads of footage, and then moved it all to an external hard drive. But somehow in transit back to London it got swiped from my suitcase.

“I lost pretty much everything. I was gutted, devastated. I'd put so much effort into filming it. But I moved on eventually! So it was nice to go back and have that second chance in Malawi.”

Tom worked alongside a team of UK and in-country volunteers
Tom worked alongside a team of UK and in-country volunteers

Following the work’s transformation

Tom had a career in video production before starting his ICS placement, but said he had started to lose interest in his job and needed something that would challenge him.

Placed with a child protection programme in Zimbabwe, Tom’s team helped the partner organisation to deliver a range of workshops on sexual and reproductive health to a wide group of children.

“Three months is a short time in terms of these children's lives. But seeing their engagement with the information we were presenting and their enjoyment of just being in a safe space where they could be themselves was very special,” he said.

“Since I've been back, I've tried to follow the project online and it has grown and grown. The work has really continued and transformed into something bigger, which is great to see.”

Tom's team needed to make sure the project was sustainable
Tom's team needed to make sure the project was sustainable

A question at the back of everyone’s mind

With his past projects covering everything from the independent music industry to a disabled athlete’s road to glory, the recurring focus of Tom’s work is people.

“I find people interesting. I feel that everyone is interesting in some way, everyone's got a story to tell. I'm interested in that aspect, and how that can relate to wider themes too,” he said.

Tom explained that part of his desire to document his experience was to prove the impact and sustainability of the fellow ICS volunteers’ work while on placement in Zimbabwe.

“I think it’s a question that's at the back of everyone's mind,” said Tom.

“And for those who don't know ICS or who've never done anything like this before, they might have some preconceptions on whether volunteers are actually going away for a holiday.

“That's why I really wanted to emphasise the fact that we are doing important work, it is needed, and it is having an impact, slowly but surely.”

ICS volunteer Tom and group in Malawi
'Our work is having an impact, slowly but surely', said Tom

Progress, impact, development

After returning to the UK last year, he couldn’t resist the urge to head back out, and at the start of 2016 he set off for Malawi to begin a six month placement as a team leader.

Tracking the second cycle of volunteers from April to June, Tom’s upcoming documentary follows the group’s progress, the impact on the community and the volunteers’ personal development.

“Filming was quite difficult this time. ICS is pretty intense, and as a team leader you've already got a lot of stuff to do anyway, so finding the time to get the camera out wasn’t always easy,” he explained.

The group were joining a brand new project in Nkhata Bay in the north east of Malawi. Working with a national NGO, they were in a unique position to raise the bar for future ICS volunteers.

“It was daunting but also quite exciting to be the first volunteers to go in there and start it up. We were reaching out to young people with drug abuse, teenage pregnancy and sexual health problems,” Tom said.

ICS volunteers working at a laptop
The volunteers were helping to deliver workshops on sexual health

‘The aim was sustainability’

Part of Tom’s group’s work came through the form of delivering school workshops and working with parents to discuss those issues and how they can aid conversation with their children.

The other element of the team’s placement was organising awareness events with health professionals, training local young people and parents to facilitate their own sessions.

“The aim was always to make sure it was sustainable once the volunteers left so local people can continue the work,” he added.

“I certainly did see an impact over the six months I was there. And our results definitely showed an increase in knowledge. People were certainly learning more information.

“It came from the small things like seeing shy kids blossom in confidence and become more sure of themselves, to the bigger things such as individuals in the community not being aware of what's good and bad for their health and having their eyes opened on how to live positively.”

Tom shooting the documentary in Malawi
Tom is an award-winning documentary maker

But after scooping the Best Documentary Award at the British Independent Film Festival in 2011 and picking up the coveted title of Best Documentary Director at Portsmouth International Film Festival in 2014, Tom says he’s got no grand plans for this particular film.

“I just want to get it out there. It's mainly just for me and the volunteers who were part of that journey. It'll be up online and I'm just going to try and take it from there,” he added.

Now back at home, he’s landed himself a job working for The Challenge, who run the National Citizen Service programme – something he never pictured himself doing before ICS.

“I'd worked with young people before – helping out at drama clubs, working at a summer camp in the US while I was at uni and I really enjoyed that, but ICS made me consider it as a career for the first time,” said Tom.

“It was quite a tough decision for me to do ICS and a lot of people really questioned what I was doing when I gave up a full time job and gave up living independently.

“And I questioned it myself, especially when I came back and I experienced that reverse culture shock. But since going back as a team leader has opened my eyes.

“I definitely made the right decision.”

Tom went away with ICS as a volunteer to Zimbabwe and to Malawi as a team leader. To find out more about his work, including latest updates on the documentary, click here to visit his website.