When I graduated from the University of Kent in 2010, I knew exactly what I was looking for and felt secure in knowing where I wanted to go next. After investing more time and energy in actually getting my career kick-started, it wasn’t long before I had realised that it wasn’t making me happy. I suddenly felt lost. I had left my job without having anything in place but when a friend suggested I look for work in the charity sector, I felt that drive coming back.
Trawling through job search engines, I finally came across a post from the International Citizen Service offering a fully funded placement abroad working in community development and asking for no previous experience, only a passion for helping. My mother cynically said, “There must be a catch”. As I went through the application form and spoke to an application offer who patiently answered all my many questions, it became clear that I had found a brilliant opportunity. Then the nerves came as I left them with my information to make a decision on which of the many placements suited me best…
‘I am delighted to inform you that you were successful and we would like to offer you a place on our Zimbabwe programme.’ Zimbabwe? I knew nothing about the place apart from the political controversies and I started to get a serious case of the butterflies wondering if I had made the right decision. However, when I think about my expectations I had leading up to the experience, I remember being convinced that I would make a real, positive impact. I had no idea that the people I worked with in my community would in turn make such a massive impact on me.
Mavis is a nurse at the clinic in Madlambudzi (Ndbele for ‘village of the goat-eaters’), my community placement, and she really made me feel at home. My in-country counterpart, Ashley, and I often used to go over to the clinic in the evening after our various work in the community. Mavis would kindly offer to make us a meal in the outside ‘kitchen’ which was a corrugated iron and brick shelter that had this welcoming glowing orange light from the fire to which the clinic’s adopted dog, cleverly named Clinic, would wander dangerously close to.
The more time with Mavis, there more I became amazed at how hard she worked. Even making the daily meal is a serious workout. She told me during an interview I conducted with her that in her work she was sometimes expected to deliver babies by herself alone in the middle of the night without running water or electricity. How is this even possible? Listening to Mavis and her daily struggles was making me feel guilty for voluntarily leaving my career as a teacher. In Zimbabwe, where unemployment is now beyond 80% nationally, being a teacher is one of the only stable jobs in the country even if it means being separated from your family to make permanent residence at a school at least whole day’s journey away. I learnt a lot about what it truly means to be strong and resilient from the people I met during my time.
View Mavis’ interview.
The 10 weeks went too quickly and it was the hardest thing leaving my community, my new best friend and the other national volunteers as well as the staff I now call family. After many tears and hugs, we international volunteers had to depart by coach the start our journey back, all the way already reminiscing about our time and all the stories we had collected from our different placements.
Touching down in the UK then saying another goodbye at the arrivals zone was another difficult moment. Despite this, all volunteers involved have kept in contact and we all have such a supportive network as well as receiving support from ICS itself. This support has led me to my job now which has given me a fantastic chance to gain even more experience in this sector.
Not only have I now successfully managed to gain some invaluable experience for my professional life, but I feel I really connected with this area of Africa and its people. I’ve also grown more confident in my own skills and abilities. My advice to anyone who has an appetite for challenge, who genuinely cares for others and who wants a life-changing experience, is to apply without hesitation.
Faith Allen is a Kent graduate who now works for Skillshare International. At the moment, they are recruiting for young people 18-25 for February and summer departures with people of 23 years and older having the opportunity to join them as a team leader.
To take the first step towards this exciting opportunity click here. You can also call 0116 254 1862 and speak to Faith, who went on an ICS placement herself, or Joanna, both are University of Kent graduates.
You could be overseas in the new year spending three life changing months Lesotho, Botswana or South Africa with Skillshare International and the International Citizen Service. International Citizen Service (ICS) is a UK government funded development programme inspiring a generation of young people to make a difference to global poverty. Anyone who is aged 18-25 is able to apply. To take part you won’t need qualifications, experience or cash – just the passion and determination to make a difference. If you are over 23 and have experience of working with young people, you can apply to be a team leader. There are different departure times during the year.