I REMEMBER checking my emails late last summer while at work and scrolling down to read ‘Application Successful; VSO Nigeria’.
I started jumping around the kitchen, I could barely contain my excitement.
I had stumbled across the International Citizen Service (ICS)scheme the year before, while scrolling through one of my ‘work abroad’ Google searches. I couldn’t believe I had never heard of it.
ICS is an opportunity for young people aged between 18 and 25 to volunteer, like me, to help some of the poorest people in the world and learn valuable new skills at the same time.
It is a volunteering programme that is Government funded, so that you don’t need to fork out some ludicrous sum to a middle man to be able to volunteer.
Plus it gives you a safety net, as it works with so many globally recognised organisations, and, better yet, it tailors programmes to match the countries’ needs, so that you are contributing to making a positive improvement, such as working on Education in Nigeria where almost half of students who have completed grade six cannot read and as many as 72 per cent of grade six students from certain areas cannot read a complete sentence.
You need to do your bit and show charity commitment by fundraising to a set target to help cover costs, which is set by the organisation you are volunteering with.
However, you get such an excess of support from both ICS and your designated charity on ideas, tips and general motivation to help you reach your target that it should not be a daunting prospect.
I personally held two car boot sales and an open lunch, and offered private guitar lessons on a donation basis. I also contacted my local Rotary club, which was incredibly generous and supportive towards my project, and within two months I had my money raised.
After completing an assessment day in Kingston, completing my fundraising and meeting my 29 fellow, like-minded volunteers on a training weekend, I was ready for our projects to start.
It was a daunting experience stepping out of the plane into Lagos Airport. It was about 10pm, yet exceptionally hot and humid. We took a short drive to the hotel we were staying in for four days during our in-county orientation and I had never seen anything like it.
Lagos is one of the most populated cities in the world, with an estimated population of 21million. Figures scattered street corners, with gas-powered lamps, all huddled around a small DIY barbecue cooking up some ‘bush’ meat. Small wooden and corrugated iron shops lined the sides of the roads, which were all recently re-laid.
After four days’ experience of trying the local cuisine in the hotel restaurant and getting to know our ten Nigerian counterpart volunteers, we were ready for our ten-hour coach journey to the Oke-Ero Government area, Iloffa, Kwara State.
When we arrived in Iloffa, we were greeted by the local families who would be hosting us and taking us in for the next three months. I have never been so nervous, having already been told my counterpart volunteer, John, a 24-year-old Nigerian man from Nasarawa State, and I would be staying with a local chief.
So when a beaten up, 20-year-old Nissan Primera hobbled its way down the dirt track to outside the town hall where we were waiting for our families, my nerves had doubled to say the least.
Outstepped Chief Adeleye, in his mid-50s, wearing his favourite Agbada, a bright, patterned suit-gown with matching cap. He greeted us in his broken English, to which I prostrated, a kind of press up position greeting used as a sign of respect when being spoken to by an elder.
When I had stood up, Chief Adeleye and the other host families were all grinning from ear to ear. Jacob, a local education minister, approached me and called me Ayo, the Yoruba word for joy.
Ten minutes later and us volunteers and the ten local host families were laughing and hugging as if there was no language barrier and we’d all known each other for years. This was a tone set for the remainder for the trip.
I spent the next 11 weeks working in St Peter’s Primary School with my work counterpart Chogwu, a 24-year-old Nigerian women from Abuja, who is arguably the most kind-hearted, thoughtful and driven women I have ever met.
We worked with the pupils of the school as often as we could, having to accommodate the school’s timetable. It was eye opening and incredibly hard to accept some of the methods of teaching, with physical punishment being used regularly and the majority of both pupils and staff having a low, if not non-existent, grasp of English.
Yet a careful approach and wording of the situation meant we managed to bring an end to physical punishment at St Peter’s, proving to the teachers that praising good work was better than punishing bad.
We also set up a reading club, with previous cycles of volunteers gaining small Government grants to supply more reading books, as well as holding English lessons at the end of every day for any pupil who wanted to learn.
I feel our biggest achievement was that we managed to renovate two classrooms where the walls were falling down and windows would not shut, leaving the contents of the classrooms free to whoever wanted it outside of school hours.
We fundraised with the local churches, Government and people of power, and raised enough money to fix all windows of both classrooms, repainted both classrooms and built a small volleyball court for the kids.
I will still always stand by the fact I feel I learned more from my fellow volunteers, the community, my host family and the pupils of St Peter’s then they did from me.
I will always remember it as one of the best experiences of my life, making lifelong friends and meeting like-minded people along the way.
The ICS scheme is not for everyone. It is tough, you need to make sacrifices and be willing to self motivate, but for those with the drive and passion to make a difference, it is just a few clicks away.
Don’t miss out on all the latest breaking news where you live.
Here are four ways you can be sure you’ll be amongst the first to know what’s going on.
1 Make our website your homepage at www.worthingherald.co.uk
2 Like our Facebook page at Worthing Herald
3 Follow us on Twitter @Worthing_Herald
4 Register with us by clicking on ‘sign in’ (top right corner). You can then receive our daily newsletter AND add your point of view to stories that you read here.
And do share with your family and friends - so they don’t miss out!
The Worthing Herald - always the first with your local news.
Be part of it.