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Why supporting young people will always matter to me

The International Citizen Service (ICS) photography competition captures the impact and experiences of youth volunteers working in some of the poorest communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  Over 300 people submitted photos, and 20 of the best are going to be shown throughout the year. 

We’re excited to debut the finalists this year at POP Brixton from now until 4th December 2017. James Boyle, Community Investment Manager at Makeshift- the people behind POP- was also a VSO long-term volunteer and shares his transformative experiences in Sierra Leone. 

"I’d been a youth worker for a while before my placement, and the chance to go Makeni in Sierra Leone for two years in 2007 to work with youth groups as a 24-year-old after university was really exciting.

As I’d just finished studying my degree in international development it was a great opportunity as well.

I didn’t know much about Sierra Leone other than it was English speaking, was wealthy in minerals  and diamonds- and of course the civil war. I didn’t realise how my life might be impacted by it.

James while volunteering in Sierra Leone
James while volunteering in Sierra Leone.
I like youth work because it might feel like you’re not getting anywhere- but then there is a small spark. An interest that a young person starts to have, or they start to take notice in what you’ve been saying to them.
James Boyle

I was working with youth groups in and around Makeni to help them evolve their  income generating activities, from new farming techniques to setting up  businesses. We got these groups to link up and work together and build supply to market chains. I remember a visual impaired woman on the outskirts of town, who bought charcoal from villages further in the bush. We connected her with youth groups to sell the charcoal in town. Starting a business was one of the few ways young people could get ahead and working with others in the youth group was a fantastic way to be creative, build ideas and join forces.

James Boyle on placement in Sierra Leone

Over the two years I learnt about ways to get people to see the bigger pictures and opportunities around them. I developed ways to be patient and have appropriate expectations of my own and other’s achievements.

I feel like I learnt more as a fresh 24 year old than I could ever impart on others while on placement.

Since then, I’ve had an insatiable need to live and work abroad again - and ride a motorbike. My confidence grew ten fold. That includes talking to strangers, they nearly always turn out to be interesting.

Just as importantly, I met my partner Diya who was a fellow VSO volunteer working on a human rights project with CDHR. We were in the same house (Sadiq Khan once came to visit!) and enjoyed each other’s company so much that we continued to see each other back at home. We now have a lovely daughter, Naila.

Participating in youth-focused programmes like ICS can really broaden a young person’s view on the world. It helps us understand our own place in it. Almost everyone I know who has had such an experience now works in social sectors; charities, teaching or community work. It’s also a good fun and an adventure. If we are not here to help out each other and society around us for future generations, then what is the point.

I now run a volunteer management programme in London, helping local business owners to share their skills in the local community. They are always asking for ways to give back. I help to engage them with the community around them. It gives me a huge sense of fulfilment.

Pop Brixton is proud to be supporting local young people to get the most of the opportunities around them, and the ICS photo competition is a great example of pushing themselves to do something new. The pictures from their adventures and experiences are stunning."


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Funded by the UK Government.

ICS is funded by the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), which projects the UK as a force for good in the world, including reducing poverty and tackling global challenges.

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