International volunteering for 18-25 year olds

Posted: 22nd of March 2017 by Emily


22 year old Jamie from Merthyr Tydfil, Wales had never considered volunteering before. Then a stay in hospital gave him time to reflect on his life and what he wanted to do. Bored of his 9-5 job, an advert he saw online inspired him to make a change and volunteer overseas.

Jamie’s story

Having worked full time since leaving school, a collapsed lung lead to Jamie spending three months in hospital with little to do. He started to think harder about his future. An ICS Facebook advert caught his attention and he applied right away. He says:

“I worked since I was 16, through a load of different jobs, working in a garage, with mechanics, worked in a supermarket then went to college and studied construction.

“I thought about getting stuck in a routine of doing 9-5. The concept of going somewhere else, challenging yourself and being able to help other people really appealed to me.”

Following his recovery Jamie left hospital and went back to work. However before long he was on his way to India with Pravah ICS, hoping for an experience that would stay with him when he returned home.

The volunteering project


Jamie and fellow volunteer Sukanya doing a survey with residents in Rajasthan

Jamie’s team worked on a number of different projects, one of which was with young people in two schools, giving lessons on issues important to their futures and their community. He says:

“We tried to steer away from the curriculum because they can get taught that. But we were teaching them things like future planning, and how to practically problem solve.

“We did health and hygiene, we did discrimination, and the environment. I never thought I could see myself as a teacher.”

The team also worked at a youth club to encourage the young people to tackle problems themselves, and extended that approach to the community they were working in.

One challenge for the team was dealing with negative perceptions of western volunteers in the community. This stemmed from the work of volunteers from another organisation that had previously been there. Jamie says:

“When we first got here I remember someone saying, ‘oh it’s just more white people, the last time white people came to the village they went around and picked up litter, they took some photos and then they went.’

“Obviously we didn’t want to be like that, so everything we did we had to get the community involved with us. It was all about saying, if you want this done, get a group of you together and do it.”

Jamie’s placement had its challenges, with noisy students outside the classroom at one of the schools sometimes making it hard to engage with the attentive class inside. But there were high points too.

“One time we were doing a problem solving session. We were taking the sheets back, and a child came up to me and said ‘thank you so much, this has really helped me to understand how to overcome my problems.’

"That was like a really high moment for me. I’ll never forget that.”

Looking ahead

The ICS team found that the best approach to development wasn’t always the most direct. Jamie explains:

“You can’t go into a village and say you’re doing this wrong, this is how you should do it. You can only just try to set an example, and see if people follow.”

Now a firm believer of the impact that young people can have volunteering overseas, Jamie also has an understanding that there’s no quick fix. Lasting change can take time.

“It brings a spark into the village. So much happens, and things evolve around you. Things fall into place, everyone tries to help, it’s really good.

“But it’s too soon to see a big change right now. Maybe like six months, maybe a year into the programme you’ll start to see a change.”

Now full of new found confidence, Jamie is back in the UK but already has plans to volunteer overseas again in the near future. He also wants to go to his local youth club and tell them about his ICS placement.

To anyone thinking of applying for ICS, this is what he has to say:

“I think I’d just sign the forms for them – just say get out there – do it! If it was someone who knew me before I came out here, I think they’d see a big enough change in me to know it’s the right thing to do.”

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