Monday, February 13, 2017

‘A thousand miles begins with a single step’

In December 2015 I applied for ICS. I decided I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, do something different and hopefully make a difference. Although I enjoyed working for my local council, I had looked into voluntary work for a few months and after looking at quite a few options, I finally found International Service with ICS. This appealed to me because it promoted human rights which was really important to me, I could go to Africa which was something I’ve never done before, and I wouldn’t have to break the bank go, being set a fundraising target.

By July 2016 I was on my way to Tolon in Northern Ghana! Going away for three months I knew was going to be a big step. The longest time I had ever been away before was five days..... this was going to be a challenge! When I arrived in Ghana and I was with all the other volunteers, it was really easy to get along with them. They were like-minded people who have similar motivations as I had to going.
Attempting to cook at my host home!
Looking back now, I am so glad I did this. One of our main projects we worked on was helping communities register as co-operatives. From being on Ghanaian Radio, to working on livelihood projects, promoting sanitation awareness, and working with and learning from the Ghanaians every day, it was a great experience - like none I’ve ever had before. At one point, I was even singing a song that my host dad had wrote to my community; moments like that, seeing smiles on their faces singing it back to me was surreal but one I’ll always remember.

Me and my host Dad, Hasan
Of course it wasn’t always easy. Being away from my family was hard at times, and being in such a rural place was a big culture shock on arrival, and quite difficult to fully prepare for. However the volunteers on my placement looked out for each other and made it a lot easier. I found that once I started living with my host family and my Ghanaian roommate (who were both really helpful and friendly) and started getting stuck in working on project, I found my feet.

...attempting to dance!
I’ve never been a super-confident person so if I can do it, anyone can! I strongly feel that programmes like ICS are so positive for the volunteer’s personal development. I was even voted best all around volunteer by my team leader, so speaking from my own experience I had great personal development over the three months.

Me and my community
Another reason why I’m so glad I did ICS was it helped me gain some perspective and opened my mind about what a developing country is actually like. I was able to see through the stereotypes created back in the UK of developing countries. All the Ghanaians on my placement were supportive, positive, and would try to help you in any way they can. My host family had a brilliant work ethic which I genuinely feel inspired by. The children of my host home would always try to help me, and are always assisting their families. They would even try and carry my work bag to my room when I’d finished for the day! I felt like I built a really positive relationship with my host family.

I’d encourage anyone who wants to step out of their comfort zone and help a community to go for it! It’s a once in a life time opportunity to grab by both hands.

Harry Stephenson
Returned International Service ICS Volunteer
Tolon, Ghana

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