Jess Hankins volunteered last year as a team leader with VSO ICS in Kwali, Nigeria, and is now back at university studying for a Masters in global development and gender. Here, she reflects on how the impact of ICS volunteers leads to sustainable change in the communities in which they work.
“It isn’t always easy to measure impact, given that it’s rarely about big, sudden changes, but rather the little things such as raising awareness, challenging mind-sets, and showing the way that lead to changes further down the line.
Even so, after ten weeks in Kwali we could see that our presence in the community had already started to make an impact in a number of ways.
Twice a week, we organised Inclusive Neighbourhood Spaces in a number of locations, encouraging children to return to and stay in school and engaging them in various topics to help them become active citizens.
In some Spaces, we saw attendance increase week on week. The children who came along showed a passion for learning, and were eager to contribute and ask questions.
The importance of contributing to society
We covered topics such as gender equality, sanitation and culture, issues they wouldn’t normally have the chance to discuss in school. The children demonstrated their understanding of the importance of contributing to society and getting along with those who are different.
One of the key things we witnessed was how well the children worked together in groups, collaborating and mixing with children from other cultures and backgrounds. They really embraced a team spirit.
On World Theatre Day, some of the children from our Inclusive Neighbourhood Spaces performed a play in the town hall about children’s rights. This gave them the opportunity to work on their public speaking skills in front of the wider community, and showed that they understood and could confidently express messages about their own human rights.
Community Action Days
We also ran Community Action Days, reaching out to women and children in Kwali. When we spoke about gender equality as one of the Sustainable Development Goals, seeing the nods and hearing claps of agreement from the local women was really encouraging. This affirmed to us, as well as to the men in attendance, that the message we were delivering was an important one.
Some of the women even stayed behind after this event to discuss getting together to take advantage of a business loan offered by our partner organisation. We were really pleased when they came to the office the next day for a meeting about this, showing that the impact was being felt straight away.
At other Community Action Days we looked at how to improve community health and wellbeing. We invited people to the local hospital, where a doctor talked to them about tuberculosis. There were lots of questions at the end of the talk, demonstrating how helpful and eye-opening it was to those who’d attended.
More active citizens
This is just a snapshot of the kind of impact an ICS team can have in a community in three months. I’m sure that volunteers also touch the lives of the people they meet in ways they don’t even realise.
We left Kwali knowing that the teams that follow us will continue implementing lasting change and this will create more active citizens amongst both volunteers and community members alike.”