A young woman from South Norwood has returned home from a 12-week charity visit to Kenya and called on other young people to consider volunteering overseas.
Maya Thorpe-Mott is 19. Having just got the A level grades she wanted at St Philomena’s, she’s shortly off to study psychology at Manchester Met, but during her gap year she travelled to Kenya in January with international development organisation VSO as part of the government-funded International Citizen Service programme, where she worked alongside young volunteers from Kenya and Britain.
She lived with a local family so that she was fully immersed in the community and could gain a better understanding of the challenges people there face.
ICS volunteers, aged 18-25, work on long-term projects that seek to end poverty in some of the poorest countries in the world. The scheme offers young people the chance to gain valuable new skills while working on projects that make a genuine difference to the people and communities they are supporting. Those aged 23-35 can apply to be ICS team leaders.
“During my time in Kenya, our project was centred around female empowerment and inclusive education,” Thorpe-Mott told Inside Croydon.
“It was apparent that many people were unaware of what inclusivity in education meant, as well as there having a lack of support to help women to build their businesses.”
The young Londoner conducted sessions with schools and women’s groups that highlighted drug abuse, peer pressure, quality education, HIV/AIDs and first aid. “Within the women’s group that I worked with, we taught the members simple bookkeeping methods so that they could control their income and expenses, while selling their goods in the local market.
“I really enjoyed how friendly the people in the community were, as it was so helpful and warming being able to create a good rapport with them. It was phenomenal that the team I worked in were able to complete two special projects for our placement.
“One of them was building an energy-saving jiko for one of the schools. A jiko is a type of construction where food is usually cooked above an open fire.
“Despite none of us ever doing this before, we decided to create a large one for this school so that not only it would help the cooks making lunch easier each day, but it was also a structure that would reduce the amount of smoke directly released into the environment.
“The other special project was for the women’s group I was working with. We had a wooden table built for them to sell their goods in the market on market day, as beforehand they would have to sell their items off the floor, and some of them usually got damaged throughout the day.
“I believe my biggest achievement and most favourite part of the experience was the last peer education session that we conducted at an all-girls’ secondary school. After doing a lesson on peer pressure and self-confidence, it was a fantastic opportunity to empower the next generation of strong women. It was so endearing to see their confidence grow and felt that the aim of the overall three-month project was going to have a long-lasting effect.”
On their return home, all ICS volunteers undertake an “Action At Home” project, ensuring that their new skills also benefit their local communities. More than 15,000 young people have participated on the programme since 2011.
“My ICS placement was truly an eye-opening experience and made me even more passionate about female rights, as well as the necessity to actively do my part to help reduce my own carbon footprint. Before ICS, I was very unsure of my own strengths and lacked confidence in what I thought I could achieve.
“However, I have come out the other side as a much better public speaker, as well as gaining a little more independence. It is so important to be an active citizen, as activeness it what passes on knowledge and effectively creates change. I would encourage anyone to apply for ICS as it is such a rewarding and unique experience that allows you to walk other paths of life.”
Because of the way ICS is funded, young people wishing to volunteer don’t need cash, qualifications or work experience to take part, just the desire to make a difference to the lives of some of the world’s poorest communities.
Before she left for Kenya, Thorpe-Mott raised £800 for VSO, which will ensure that communities in developing countries can continue to benefit from the work of volunteers.
Felicity Morgan, the director of ICS at VSO, said: “It’s really inspiring to hear about the fantastic work Maya did on placement. We’re incredibly proud that UK aid is supporting young Brits to bring about positive change in some of the world’s poorest communities. As an organisation working on the frontline against poverty, VSO sees how people across Britain play an important role in delivering UK aid.
“From the NHS and Army helping end the Ebola crisis, to the millions who generously donate, and the contribution we all make through taxes, together we are all making the world a fairer, safer place.”
To find out more about ICS or to apply, visit www.volunteerics.org.
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