I can hardly believe that this is happening, but in less than three weeks I will be flying to Bangladesh on a four-month placement as a voluntary Team Leader.
How did it happen? At the beginning of this year I made a resolution, posted on my Instagram:
Overall 2016 was weird. Great for me personally but disastrous for politics, war, and so much more. It got me thinking, and my resolution for this year is to turn my privilege of travelling into something more than just amazing experiences…
I want to use it to educate and enlighten, to promote peace and tolerance… To care more for the environment and contribute to the communities I visit.
I had an amazing year in 2016, having travelled to New Zealand, Australia and Hawaii over the course of six months. I loved it so much. But hearing about all the tragedies in the news had left me feeling uneasy and dissatisfied. It felt unfair. It felt unfair that I was using all the privileges of a wealthy western life to simply have a good time abroad and I wanted to change this.
Basically I wanted my travel to be more meaningful, more useful. I didn’t want it to always be about me, the traveller; I didn’t want it to just be about collecting awesome experiences for myself and so on. I wanted to help and make a positive impact on others as well.
How? I’m not a doctor or nurse, I’m not experienced in working with NGOs or fundraising. I’d love in the future to write or photograph for NGOs, but I’m still a long way away from that goal. This blog is definitely one way in which I use my travels to help other people, and I love doing it so much, but I still wanted to do more.
What was my other biggest asset, then? Time. I could give my time to other people…
For the following months there was radio silence on my new year’s resolution front, but behind the scenes I was on the case…
I found a government scheme that sponsors UK citizens to work abroad for three months as volunteers. It’s led by the company ICS (International Citizen Service). If you’re 18-25 you can be a volunteer, and 23-35 year olds can be team leaders. It was exactly the type of thing I’d been looking for and I poured my heart into my team leader application. Two months later I’d passed their assessment day and was just waiting to find out where I’d be sent to. After a slight change of dates, I found out I’d be heading to Bangladesh, in the Khulna area, in partnership with VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas). So exciting!
What I love about the ICS scheme is that it couldn’t be further away from voluntourism. The communities they work with have asked for help, the placements are long enough to have a proper impact, and there’s a real emphasis on creating globally active citizens. Volunteers live with host families, generally from very poor backgrounds, and work with volunteers from the country too, giving them an extra level of integration and involvement.
I guess I’m a little nervous at going. I’ve lived in very basic conditions before but I’ve either had fairly easy access to luxuries like the internet or chocolate, or only been in truly basic conditions for a short amount of time – like two weeks or so. Four months feels different. But it’s a challenge I’m really looking forward to, and I’ll be updating my blog with my progress when possible – keep a look out! You’ll be able to find all my updates under the new category Volunteering in the top menu of my site, under the main category ‘Adventues’.
So I leave on 9th September. I’ve become a human pincushion for vaccinations and have spent a long time wondering if any of my clothes are appropriate to wear in a country where modesty is paramount. Let’s just say my backpack is very light and I’m going to go shopping there…
As you can imagine, I won’t be able to post or update my blog as often. I’ve planned ahead a bit and scheduled a bunch of posts but replying to emails or comments is going to be a different story! Apologies in advance, I promise that I’ll catch up when I get the opportunity.
Then, all going well, my goal is to do a volunteer project every year (though four-month ones will be a stretch!), including smaller community-level projects that I come across at home and abroad, even if it’s something as simple as litter picking for the day. And of course I’ll be keeping my blog and you fabulous readers updated with everything I do.
P.S. Just got my Lonely Planet Bangladesh guidebook through the post today. It’s a pretty pathetic 190 pages long – about half the size of the one I bought for New Zealand! Their city guides are longer than this… Bangladesh is one of the least visited countries in Asia and the page count reflects it. I’m going to create some of my own guides and stories :)
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