Eye opening – Heart warming – Rollercoaster
How it all began
Surrounded by law prep and revision, I dreamt about travelling and doing something with my life to help others – and then I discovered International Citizen Service. International Citizen Service (ICS) provides overseas volunteer placements for 18-25 year olds, led by VSO and funded by the UK Government, they are partnered with organisations that deliver these projects all around the world.
After anxiously awaiting the application response, I was invited to an assessment day at Raleigh International. Raleigh are a sustainable development organisation that aims to create lasting change through youth in four key areas; Livelihoods, Natural Resource Management, WASH, Youth in Civil Society. Travelling to London, I had no idea what to expect from the day and nervously arrived at the Raleigh office. The day itself was a lot more fun than I expected, we spent the morning learning about Raleigh as an organisation, and the options for the ICS programme.
A couple of weeks afterwards, as I sat in the university library I received an email to say that I had been accepted onto the Livelihoods project in Tanzania. My journey had officially begun; all I had to do was raise £800.
Two months later, travelling to London again, this time it was to spend a weekend undertaking intense training on the programme, cultural awareness and team building. The next time we were to see each other was at Heathrow airport, ready to start our adventure…
Arriving in Tanzania I was put into a group called Echo 7 which had a mixture of UK and Tanzanian volunteers who were going to be working on the project together, we had a week of training and some getting to know each other at base camp before it was time for our group to head off into our villages. The journey was made less enjoyable by the illness that I inevitably picked up (which you will see is a common theme in my travel diaries) but finally after over a day of travelling, we arrived in our village, Nymbili!
Nymbili was situated halfway up a mountain, with an incredible view of Malawi in the distance. Far away from home, it was an overwhelming drive up to our office; families, elders and kids all turned out in full force to welcome us to the village. After a brief introduction to the village elders, it was time to see our new home for the next 3 months. Rucksack on back, and mattress under arm myself and my new family, Mama, Baba, two little dadas (sisters) and my three Tanzanian counterparts Ernest, Godfrey and NurFlora, made our way to the house; a simple abode with no electricity. Although my host family didn’t speak English and my Swahili skills left something to be desired, they were welcoming and caring and made my Tanzanian adventure so much easier.
So, what is the Livelihoods project?
Unemployment rates in Tanzania are high, particularly amongst the Tanzanian youth which is defined as individuals aged between 16-35. The youth form a large part of the population and therefore providing opportunities for them is pivotal for the development of the whole society, an issue which the Livelihoods project attempted to address in the more rural communities in Tanzania, particularly those which lacked more formal opportunities to gain an education.
The Livelihoods project worked with the Tanzanian youth (aged 16-35) in a rural community. Along with providing them with resources, we taught basic business skills including how to conduct market research, SWOT analysis and presentation skills. We helped them develop their own business plans and prepared them to present – Dragon’s Den style – for an opportunity to get a grant to start up their business. This group then set up their own sustainable committee in order to continue to teach basic business skills to the community, particularly supporting widows and young people. This project was supported by the East African Dairy Development (EADD) who offered funding and lessons on effective farming skills to the young people.
The Experience… in a word limit confined nutshell
It’s so difficult to summarise the whole experience, every time I start to write one story, another ten stories come to mind but I’m not going to bore you with my endless anecdotes otherwise this post would be pages long. I’ve revisited my photo album and diary to remember all those little things that made up my whole journey so I will attempt to sum up how this experience impacted me…
I was in a group with an amazing bunch of people, who would have definitely never crossed paths if we had not gone through this experience together. I was able to learn about Tanzanian traditions and cultures, to see the beauty that was Nymbili as we went on walks around the village, being welcomed by neighbours who we didn’t even share a language with but treated us as one of the locals. I sat by a fire every night, eating chips with chilli sauce and laughed with my Echo 7 family as we were entertained by Baba Injection (a name given to him as one of the only English words he knew was ‘injection’ and therefore he would continuously call everything an injection in attempts to communicate with us) as he would joke around with us and welcome us to his home; this was my favourite part of the day as I looked up at the stars. Every Sunday I visited the market which would come alive with people coming from all of the villages around, and I would see what sweet treats I could buy to have a little comfort food (a bit of a change from the daily rice, beans and greens). With a lack of technological entertainment, we were left to make up our own form of entertainment, playing silly games that predominantly ended up being who could we annoy the most, we would talk deeply about our thoughts and beliefs, imagined what our families and friends were doing back home and comforted each other when times got a little tough.
No electricity, no phone, no access to the world outside of Nymbili. My ICS journey was definitely something special. I had the opportunity to bond with an incredible group of people, even though it wasn’t always easy and there was definitely a bumpy road, but I was very blessed to be able to become part of the community I was in. I learned new skills and met people that still impact my life to this day, even if they are unaware of it.
When you find yourself in a new environment it is not always easy to adjust, and spending three months in a different community can inevitably have its challenges. It’s very easy to get caught up in issues and exacerbate problems that should be easily fixed, and we were all guilty of doing it at times. There were cultural clashes, personality clashes, food that was definitely an acquired taste, the odd rat that scurried around my room at night and times when I missed my mom dearly, but it was all a learning curve and an eye opener to the world outside of my Birmingham bubble. It enabled me to understand how to differentiate a volunteer programme from a voluntourism programme, and to appreciate that the way of doing things that I was used to is not the only way of doing things.
When the three months came to an end I was left with a mixture of emotions. We held a graduation for the entrepreneurs; a celebration of everything that they had achieved with their hard work and dedication. They had balanced their busy lives with their business lessons, working hard to design business proposals, present to organisations for grants and set up their own committee to continue this knowledge benefiting their community. They had done it!
And now it was time for us to go…
I was ready to see my family and friends (and have a pizza) but I didn’t want this to be the end of my journey or a forgotten memory as I moved on with my life. It was difficult to adjust being home, especially after having left so swiftly after finishing my degree, now was time to start thinking about the rest of my life, a daunting thought at the best of times, but after this experience I knew I wanted to continue my work through development, community and empowerment.
So, from all of this, A Woman’s Wish was born. As part of the ICS programme we were required to run an Action@Home project of our choice; something to benefit our local community. Shahema and I decided to work together, bringing with it our differing experiences and knowledge to create something that, we hope, inspires, empowers and supports women from all around.
Fast forward to today. I hope you have enjoyed reading about my ICS journey, and what led us to A Woman’s Wish becoming more than just a conversation between two friends, but instead a reality between two sisters. Stay involved to hear more about our travels, and share your stories with us.
To find out more about volunteering opportunities with Raleigh International, follow this link!