Earlier this year, our Impact International competition asked students and recent graduates to submit critical reflections on their experiences of volunteering abroad. To coincide with International Volunteer Day tomorrow, here is the winning entry from Emma Howes.
In the summer of 2015, I enrolled on the government-funded International Citizens Service (ICS) programme. For the duration of my 10 week placement, I volunteered with Y Care International in Ziguinchor, Senegal. This experience provided me with the opportunity to gain invaluable knowledge of working at the grassroots level of development. The placement significantly refined my key interpersonal and organisational skills, as well as maturing my awareness of development’s complexities. It also put the world of work into perspective, instilling in me a desire to join the charity workforce making a sustainable difference to our world.
Our team of UK volunteers worked on a variety of projects, all with the clear aim of improving the availability and accessibility to health care for youths. Crucially, we worked alongside Senegalese volunteers who had key knowledge of the local community. Working together created a sense of integration and avoided the “White Savior Complex” that can, at times, unfortunately occur in the development sector. Together, we built strong relations based on respect, which helped us to successfully surpass our targets. For example, we reached out to 2,171 youths with information on health issues, compared with our initial target of 720.
Through innovative and collaborative solutions, which valued the opinions of the community, we developed relations between the city’s youths, the local health authorities and the Mayor. In the long-term, these relationships will allow the necessary information to be collected to improve health care. Other highlights of the placement included meeting the Minister of Youth, where we discussed the needs of the young population and ways to alleviate various barriers to development.
What makes ICS different?
There is currently debate around “Voluntourism” and the rise of commercialism within the volunteering and charitable sector. Why should a volunteer have to pay hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds to work for free in another country? Research into volunteer tourism conducted by Victoria Smith and Dr Xavier Font suggests that the price of a volunteering scheme and its responsibility display an inverse relationship on a price-per-day basis.
ICS is a government-funded development scheme that offers the opportunity to volunteer, without a huge price tag, to 18-25 year olds ambitious to make a difference. ICS stands out from other programmes due to its comprehensive selection process, which includes an online application, followed by an assessment day and pre-departure training. This ensures that volunteers are fully equipped and suitable for the placement. Moreover, ICS promotes continuity and sustainability by running cohorts of volunteers throughout the year.
Each ICS volunteer attends a further training weekend on their return to England, in which their feedback is directly used to improve the projects in the future. Furthermore, each volunteer conducts an ‘Action at Home’ project, taking part in local social action for a cause they believe in. This stage of the process is critical in promoting active global citizenship. So far, I have volunteered at a Youth Worker Conference in Swindon, where I promoted Y Care International and the ICS scheme, and soon I will be giving a presentation to the next cohort heading out to Senegal in January.
If you’re thinking about volunteering abroad, the main piece of advice I’d like to give you is to conduct research into the impacts of different volunteering placements. Look closely into how money is used, how the project works with the community, and how it is monitored to ensure a positive, responsible impact on the local population.