For Matt Morrison, an ICS placement in Burundi was the starting point on a journey that would see him studying development in India, supporting refugees in France and working with the homeless in his hometown of Watford.
Matt already had an interest in international development when he signed up to volunteer with Tearfund, but it was whilst on ICS that he saw extreme poverty up close for the first time.
“I went to Burundi in the summer before I started at university,” Matt explained. “One of the things my team worked was an agricultural project with very poor rural communities in and around the town of Gitega.
We worked alongside local people to support them in building kitchen gardens, which are essentially layered gardens shaped a bit like big wedding cakes! This is an effective way for families to become self-sufficient and grow crops without having to worry about land, as they can build these gardens right next to their house.”
Passing on knowledge
A highlight for Matt was discovering that these agricultural skills were being passed on.
“We returned to one of the villages to find that a local person we’d worked with had shown his neighbour how to create a kitchen garden, who’d then built one for himself.
The great thing about this project was that we weren’t doing it on our own. Tearfund has links with local churches, and we worked with them to establish these projects.
They already have a good understanding of community needs, and we knew that they’d ensure that people in the villages remained fully involved in managing the gardens when we left.”
Understanding development issues
Straight after returning from his ICS placement, Matt went on to study international development and found himself regularly drawing upon his time in Burundi. He also had the opportunity to take an overseas module in India.
“During my time at university I was able to use a lot of my experiences from ICS. Many of the modules were quite theory-based so it was great to have a practical understanding of how things really work at a local level,” said Matt.
Supporting refugees in Calais
Like many recent graduates, Matt didn’t have a clear path in mind after finishing university but he did know that he wanted to continue making a positive difference. Appalled by the ongoing refugee crisis, he spent some time volunteering in Calais, France.
“If I hadn’t done ICS, I don’t think I’d have had the confidence to just take the initiative to identify something I believed wasn’t right and to try and do something about it in a small way.”
Working with the homeless in the UK
When the camp in Calais was closed last November, Matt returned home to Watford and began job hunting. A position came up for a support worker at New Hope, a local homeless charity, and he decided to apply.
“I didn’t actually know much about support work,” Matt admitted, “but having worked with marginalised people in Burundi, I was interested in supporting marginalised people in the UK, too.”
Matt now works with homeless men and women of all different ages, from a wide range of different backgrounds.
“We ask them to think about their future goals and then set them targets to work towards. We try to give people as much responsibility as possible, but understand that they can’t do everything by themselves so also offer them tailored support as necessary.
I get a lot of joy from seeing people progressing, working towards recovery or just finding the right support that’s going to make a difference to them. It’s a great opportunity and privilege to work with this organisation.”
Looking ahead to the future
Acknowledging that he didn’t expect to be back working in Watford after university, Matt said that he is happy nonetheless with the path he’s taken, and that ICS has played a big part in his choices.
“I think that having an understanding of the world we live in is so important for understanding ourselves. It puts everything into perspective and enables us to make choices that are not solely for our own benefit but also for other people.
I may move into international development in the future, but at the moment I’m embracing the here and now. ICS makes a positive difference for communities around the world and also for those who’d like to better understand global issues, enabling them to learn and grow from their experience.”