Ashley Richards from Wales will spend the next three months in Ilesha, Nigeria doing voluntary work. Before Ashley left Europe on June 12th we wanted to know, where his motivation of doing voluntary work in Africa comes from, what it has been like preparing for the trip and what he expects from the experience. During his stay in Nigeria, Ashley will write a column on History Campus.
Q: Ashley, what is your motivation of doing voluntary work in Africa?
A: I remember that the prosperity of Europe and the freedoms and liberty we enjoy today was paid for by its involvement in the slave trade. My own country Britain committed atrocities across Africa, and in some small way I hope to pay a part in making amends for that. Less idealistically though, I would be content with knowing that at least one person lived a more comfortable life due to work I was involved in.
Q: How did you find your voluntary placement?
A: I shall be travelling and working for the charity VSO ICS, which is mostly funded by the British Government, more specifically the Department for International Development. VSO stands for Voluntary Service Oversees, and nowadays it is one of the largest and most respected international development charities in the world. Through its partnership and affiliation with ICS (International Citizenship Service) it operates in ten different countries, spanning Africa and poorer parts of Asia. It only works with communities that have specifically asked for their assistance. That made me feel that they would be doing worthwhile work that would benefit the communities. I had been almost scared away from schemes such as this when reading about ‘voluntourism’ schemes, some of which build houses or schools that have been improperly built and fall apart, costing the local communities dearly to clean up.
Before selection I had to attend an assessment day, which operated like an informal interview. Fortunately I have the privilege of working for them. Although I say working, all our living expenses are covered by a small allowance, enough to live on, so it is technically on a voluntary basis.
Q: How do you fund the trip?
A: The charity asks us to complete a fundraising before the trip. It is not only for financial purposes but also to show our commitment to the cause. For my fundraising I began with climbing Pen-Y- Fan, which is the second tallest mountain in Wales, and asking friends and family to sponsor me. Doing this raised four hundred pounds, almost half the money I had to raise which was a very good start. Thanks to the wonderful generosity of my family, friends and even a few strangers my raised amount steadily raised of my Just Giving page.
To have the final push I needed I arranged for a bake sale in my former comprehensive school, which my friends had to staff due to legal issues; people who are not students cannot give out food in the school without special licences. Never mind, they raised ninety-three pounds between them and did exceptionally well, perhaps me staying away even helped the cause! Word spread amongst my former teachers and they all made donations as well. Finally, I made my target by completing a second bake sale in a local supermarket, raising another thirty pounds. The final donation came from Rhys, who will be remembered by those who attended the History Camp last year in Olsztyn, Poland.
Q: What other preparations have you had to do before leaving Europe?
A: The preparations have not gone as smoothly as I would have liked; when travelling to Nigeria you must take all the relevant vaccinations and as one of these was live- yellow fever- it made me rather feverish for a few weeks.
My placement begins on the 12 th June, when I fly out to Abuja, the capital of Nigeria. During this day I shall also complete my pre-placement training. This is when I will meet the rest of my team members that I have not already met during my weekend training in Swindon. On my previous training weekend we explored what international development meant, how to be sensitive to cultural differences, how to solve disputes and various other skills all of which will also hold me in good stead for the rest of my life. It was a brilliant weekend where I met some brilliant people I am still in contact with, and a few of them I will be fortunate to be working in the same community with!
Q: What kind of work will you do during your stay?
A: During my placement I will be working with local communities to increase the interest the youth population have in farming and agrarian issues. In Nigeria over half of its population is under the age of twenty five. With the nation boasting the largest population of any African nation and having the most fertile land, the charity and many local experts believe that enthusing the youth of the nation will unlock its economic potential.
My first week will consist of in-country training, where we shall receive training that is specifically tailored to our host nation. Once this is completed we will go through something called in community orientation where we will get to explore and understand our HQ town, where we will be doing most of our work.
Q: What do you hope to experience and learn during the three months?
A: I hope to do good work and genuinely improve the lives of those less fortunate. On a more personal level I hope that the experience allows me to learn as much as I can about myself, and that this will hold me in good stead for the future. I hope that viewing the desperate poverty of some of those in my community allows me to develop a greater sense of gratitude for what I now take for granted. For example, I have had to make plans to have a back up electricity supply and several batteries for my electronic devices as the supply of electric is not guaranteed. As a European this is unthinkable, I have always had electricity, hot water and food. Some of those I shall work with will not be so lucky.
Furthermore, I hope to develop skills that will allow me to contribute more to society when I return home and begin my university studies in the capital of Wales, Cardiff, in September. During my placement I will stay with a host family. This is a local family that has been paid an allowance for the expense of having you stay in their home and they do it for the opportunity to learn more about your culture, which is amazing. I cannot wait to sample the local cuisine, which we were shown pictures of in training and I have to say it looks amazing. I am also told that many rural communities do not have Western toilets, meaning most homes use squat toilets. Although this is a grim thought we were assured during our medical talk that they are actually the healthier option of the two, who knew?