Of the 365 days allocated to me this year, I spent 85 in Oke-Ero Local Government in Kwara State as a volunteer with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) on the International Citizen Service (ICS) programme.
I spent the night of Christmas Eve discussing the evils of the society with my grandmother. In particular, we discussed a friend of my dad who had recently been murdered on account of money (the story is definitely more complicated). Money and the desire for it pushes people to carry out such despicable acts. However, in the face of all these, we have people who while they desire to make money and be prosperous, have not allowed themselves become slaves to it. They are people who volunteer for little or no money at all.
This post is supposed to be about my experience as a VSO volunteer but please before I continue allow me to celebrate my ICS colleagues and more importantly every other volunteer out there. The world is a better place because of your efforts. Twale!
I’ve always known about VSO but if not for the Volunteer in Nigeria post about the ICS programme, I may have missed this opportunity. VSO-ICS Youth Volunteering Programme is a youth-centred community development programme, conducted in partnership between International Citizen Service (ICS), Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) and their implementing partners. The three-month programme brings together young people (aged 18-25) from the UK and Nigeria. Each team will typically consist of 20 young people, with equal numbers coming from the UK and the host country. In carefully selected communities, volunteers work in placements fully supported by their implementing partner organisations and two full time VSO/ICS programme supervisors. Together, in cross-cultural counterpart pairs, volunteers live with host families and work in the host communities. The type of work varies depending upon the needs of the community, but can include service delivery, advocacy work, and peer-to-peer education programmes.
I sent my application, was invited for an interview and subsequently selected to be on that cycle of the ICS programme. We went through intensive training. In fact, at some point it became quite ‘belabourous’ for me- but it was needed to get everyone to understand and be able to function properly. The training involved understanding the organisations we would be working with, the work we would be doing and more.
There were 2 teams, one was assigned to Lafia in Nassarrawa State and the other (mine) to Oke-Ero in Kwara State. My team was to work on improving the standard of education in schools that had been identified by the partner organisation (Olive Community Development Initiative) as places that really needed help. A pair of volunteers were assigned to each school.
There was no one-size-fits-all formula we had been given to use for the schools. We had to visit the schools and work out a custom made solution for the problems of the school. My school was a Nomadic School. My partner and I worked out a plan that would help the school, students, teachers, parents and the community.
A typical week would consist of training illiterate parents on ways by which they could help improve their child’s level of education, training teachers on ICT and different teaching methods, speaking with some parents in the Fulani settlement to send their kids to school, one-on-one sessions with the kids who were doing poorly in schoolwork and extra-curricular activities for the kids such as games, experiments, clubs etc.
At some point I began to feel I was not doing enough to help improve the standard of education in that school but at the end of the programme I saw a marked difference and improvement in ALL of the kids and that was such a high for me. Kids who didn’t even know all the letters of the alphabet had as a result of our work moved to the stage where they knew 2/3 letter words, their confidence had greatly improved, the teachers had adopted one of the methods of teaching we showed them and generally the kids became happier kids.
Asides work in my school, the whole team carried out joint projects like renovating a school, building a makeshift bridge, sports day, HIV/AIDS awareness campaign& testing, and breast & cervical cancer awareness talks. Other pairs assigned to other placements (10 in all) recorded success stories in many areas too.
I faced some challenges which were downright frustrating then but with all I was able to achieve, they are all negligible now. The main challenge was that of being a victim of ‘racism’ in my own country. My team was made up of 10 Nigerian and 10 UK volunteers. Being treated by my own people as a lesser human being than the white person was infuriating and a big turn off.
After it’s all been said and done, if I had a chance do this again I would do it maybe with a few modifications though. I did not just add to some people’s lives, I have become a better person as well. 85 days living in a village was definitely one of the highlights and high points of my year.
To apply for the next cycle of the ICS programme, download the form here. Completed forms should be submitted to the VSO-ICS Team at No 14B Banjul street, off Monrovia street, Wuse 2, Abuja OR by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Deadline is January 2, 2014 (4:30pm).
Have you experienced racism in your own country from your own people? What was it really like? The #JusticeForAlice story has prompted us to ask these questions. Please leave comments.
A thrill of hope
The weary heart rejoices
For yonder brings
A new and cloudless morn
Fall on your knees
Oh ye with angel’s voices
Oh night divine
When Christ was born
And as many as received Him to them He gave power to become the sons of God. John 1:12