26-year-old Bryony Sims from Bristol is a Raleigh ICS volunteer team leader on placement in the communities of El Jobo and Mango Solo in Northern Nicaragua, where volunteers mentor local entrepreneurs. By sharing new business models and practices, they are helping empower these entrepreneurs to improve their standards of living. Bryony tells her story:
“Like many people in their mid-twenties I was working in a job that I had taken so that I could afford to go the pub more and go on better holidays. Tired of working in a corporate environment, I took to Google in search of an answer and I came across the ICS website. I applied because above all other projects I had seen before, I felt like I could use my skills to support other people and maybe make a difference.
“My first impressions of Nicaragua were that it was like no other country I had seen before. It has an incredible landscape and its culture, people, and even use of the Spanish language are all beautiful and uniquely Nicaraguan.”
Supporting young people
“Our main aims in the project are to support, mentor and train young people in the development of skills they need to start their own businesses and to increase young people´s access to the finance they need to start their own enterprises.
“We have been running weekly training sessions for the young people in both communities. The sessions have been focussed on the structure of business plans and the development of important skills such as leadership, sales, creativity and accounting.
“We´ve also been doing one to one sessions to support entrepreneurs with obtaining funding. This for me has been one of the most rewarding parts of the project because you can share ideas and really get a chance to bond with the entrepreneurs on a personal level.”
Seeing the difference
“I can see the difference we are making in the course of the lives of young people we have been working with. Two of them now have their own bee colony, and are selling honey and even mentoring other potential apiculturists.
“People in the community are snapping up the second-hand clothes sold by three sisters who, five months ago, were going to work on a pig farm. It has been really amazing to have had a part to play in these stories.”
Leading a team
“One of the best things about being a team leader is that you get the chance to encourage and then witness young volunteers gaining new skills.
“The thing I found most challenging in the beginning was taking a step back and allowing the team to lead the project. Sometimes I have had to bite my tongue and allow the team do things their way, even if it´s not the way I think things should have been done.
I think it´s important to remind myself that it is as much their project as it is mine.
These things might sound obvious but I think they´re really easy to forget in the moment, especially if you feel under pressure. In the first few weeks the volunteers dealt with the shock of their new surroundings – some complained and others got upset but over time our team have integrated with the community beautifully.
“They are now fully adapted to their Nicaraguan homes and collecting water from the well, hand washing clothes, eating rice and beans with a spoon, communicating in two languages, and living and socialising with people from vastly different cultures.
“All these things that just three months ago probably sounded completely alien to them are now a part of their everyday life.”
“It has been great to work in a team with Nicaraguan volunteers too. It´s really inspiring to work with young people who feel strongly about supporting people in their own country. It can be difficult – sometimes the cultural differences can be huge - but on the whole I couldn´t imagine this experience without the cultural exchange. One of the saddest things about the project ending is separating from the in-country volunteers.”
My Nicaraguan family
“I now have a family in Nicaragua. My host family have been amazing and so welcoming. My mother, Elimabec, is always looking for ways to make sure I feel comfortable and even though my two brothers annoy me sometimes, I do love them. I don´t always understand Elimabec and that gets in the way of conversation occasionally, but we keep trying to communicate even if sometimes it´s just through facial expressions, guess work and hand signals.”
My ICS experience
“I´d recommend ICS to anyone who likes a challenge. It is hard but extremely rewarding.
“Nothing worth doing is ever easy.”