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Portraits of Progress: 10 photos showing the beauty of volunteering across the world

Every year, thousands of ICS volunteers leave their home communities to work in 22 countries across three continents, bringing with them a passion for change, a drive for learning more about the communities they will call home for three months and an enthusiasm for global citizenship.

And many, of course, bring back a photo album full of memories of the human relationships they formed, the practical difference they made and the snapshot of a very different way of life they’ve experienced while volunteering.

At ICS we run an annual competition to find the very best of these photos. This year the competition has been fierce, with talented photographers submitting their favourite shots. Here’s the winners and runners up from the competition this year.

1. Overall winner (education)
Bangladesh, Greg Wallaker

children sitting at desks in their classroom

VSO ICS volunteer Greg, 21, captured this incredible moment during one of the school sessions his team ran on the border of a local community in Bangladesh. As the first cycle of volunteers working in the area, they faced a number of obstacles – but managed to create sustainable, lasting change.

“The little girl in the picture might symbolise that, amongst the fun and joyful distraction that comes with school, there still remains that beautiful, instinctual drive to learn and move forward, throughout the youth of Bangladesh,” said Greg.

2. ‘Voice’ winner
Zambia, Elizabeth Ascroft

young men dancing outside

Restless Development ICS volunteer Elizabeth, 25, was working with a team delivering sexual health and rights lessons across Zambia’s Central Province. She took this great shot of a group of young local men engaging with the session and supporting women’s rights.

“Grade 11 pupils raise their voices in our sexual harassment and early pregnancy campaign. The story behind this photo is to raise awareness of Zambia's re-entry policy (where a young female should not be excluded from education whilst pregnant and after giving birth),” Elizabeth explained.

3. ‘Enterprise’ winner
Tanzania, Hayley Pang

farmers holding bottles of chili sauce

VSO ICS volunteers like Hayley Pang, 24, were working with local entrepreneurs in Zanzibar to help grow their businesses, look at other ways to support their income and provide employment. In this picture are the three leaders of Mr Pili Pili, a chilli sauce start-up.

“Across the duration of the ICS placement, we have worked with a farmer group helping them to brand, produce, package and market some delicious chilli sauce they make with their own freshly grown produce. Before we left, we were sure to carefully select and hand over Mr Pili Pili to the farmers themselves. What a project to be part of!” said Hayley.

4. ‘People’ winner
Zimbabwe, Lydia Daintith

woman praying in church

In Zimbabwe, religion is central to local communities. Progressio ICS volunteer Lydia, 20, had her camera to hand when she snapped this beautiful shot of a local woman praying to the side during a church service in her host community.

“Religion is a big part of the Zimbabwean culture and this photo captures a raw, intimate moment between a woman and her creator,” said Lydia

5. ‘Environment’ winner
Bangladesh, Arran Williott

sun setting over a field

Tearfund ICS volunteer Arran, 20, was in just the right place at just the right time when he took this beautiful shot of the sun beaming down on farmland in his host community of Birishiri, Bangladesh.

“It is a day I remember very fondly, as it reminds me of the beautiful hospitality that was shown to us whilst we were there and how openly the entire community welcomed us into their lives,” said Arran.

6. ‘Education’ runner up
Uganda, Remi Bumstead

volunteer giving lesson on puberty in classroom

For Restless Development ICS volunteer Remi, his volunteering placement was a great opportunity to expand his skillset in teaching. As a team leader working in the Jinja & Iganga Districts of Eastern Uganda, the 26-year-old was helping to improve health outcomes for local young people.

“Each day my teams would go into schools and teach the kids about different aspects of sexual health. This was a class in a primary school about puberty. The best way to engage the students was to make the classes as interactive as possible,” explained Remi.

7. ‘Voice’ runner up
Ghana, Opare Emmanuel


young girls marching for inclusive education

VSO ICS Team Leader Opare, 22, submitted this incredible photo of a community march championing the importance of education for young girls in Jirapa, northern Ghana. He feels passionately about creating equal rights for girls, boys and children with disabilities.

“We decided to embark on a community march with the school children in the community school to raise awareness about the importance of girl child education and also promote inclusive education for all children in the community,” said Opare.

8. ‘Enterprise’ runner up
Ghana, Katherine Stone

woman sewing sanitary pad

Unemployment levels in the host community of Kumasi are as high as 65%. In this shot, Josephine, a local woman is seen participating in a community action day organised by her Challenges Worldwide ICS team. Katherine, 24, led a session teaching how to make reusable sanitary pads.

“These pads are the idea of the social enterprise SanEco, and tackle the problems faced with menstruation in developing countries. They offer a cheaper option to branded alternatives, meaning females in developing areas can finally continue with their normal lives whilst menstruating,” said Katherine.

9. ‘People’ runner up
Tanzania, Rebecca Louise Pearce

young girls carrying water on their heads

Rebecca, 23, on Raleigh ICS, captured this incredible, colourful shot of four 11-14 year-old girls carrying buckets of water on their heads to bring water to their families. It shows the level of responsibility that children in the small village of Mpangala carry from a young age.

“This photograph reflects a daily errand of some of the school girls. The taps all over the village had stopped working completely, meaning the girls had to travel about one mile to the nearest water source to collect water for their families,” she said.

10. ‘Environment’ runner up
Cambodia, Krishan Clark-Varma

a starry night in Cambodia

It was after a long day’s work on his VSO ICS volunteer placement that 23-year-old Krishan took this beautiful photo of the night sky in his host community of Banteay Char. Usually the night skies were covered in grey thunder clouds due to it being the monsoon season.

“I jumped up and looked out the window to see this draw-dropping gift of a sight. I sneaked out and got stung by the bees from nests living on the side of the house. Just imagine being there. That rare feeling of awe! Eyes lit up by the stars! Mind full of wonder!” said Krishan.

Don't miss your opportunity to see all of these photos in person. 

Portraits of Progress, featuring 20 of the best photos from the ICS Photo Competition 2016, will be on display from Monday 5th December to Tuesday 3rd January at the Susana Gallery, Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, SW1H 9NH. Entrance is free.

Click here to see the full 20 photos included in the exhibition!

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