Banbury woman shares eye-opening Kenyan volunteering experience

A Banbury resident, who spent 12 weeks working on a project fighting poverty in Kenya, is now calling on other young people to take the plunge and consider volunteering overseas.

Tuesday, 18th February 2020, 9:52 am
Updated Tuesday, 18th February 2020, 9:52 am
Coral (flower dress) with her placement team

Coral Reeves, 23, travelled to Kenya in September 2019 with international development organisation VSO, as part of the UK government funded International Citizen Service (ICS) programme, where she worked alongside young volunteers from Kenya and the UK.

She lived with a local host family so that she was fully immersed into the community and could gain a better understanding of the challenges people there face.

Coral said: "Within my community, persons with disabilities struggled to be accepted. Through the work of St Patrick’s school and the volunteers there, people living with disabilities not only grew in confidence, but learnt life changing skills they otherwise wouldn’t have gained.

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"Skills such as communication, entrepreneurship and self-hygiene will have changed the lives of those individuals involved. Prior to the volunteers and school, those living with disabilities were brutally removed from society and many did not reach childhood.

"Now, the community accepts that ‘disability is not inability’ and are more welcoming and understanding of those living with disabilities (and their families). I thoroughly enjoyed the whole of my placement, but the thing I look back most fondly on is the individualism we managed to get the students to show.

Every activity we planned and ran had a central focus on building confidence and expression within the students, and to encourage them to accept and embrace the wonderful individuals they were. By the end of our time there, students were able to disagree effectively, and get their own voice heard. "

Upon their return to the UK, all ICS volunteers undertake an ‘Action At Home’ project, ensuring that their new skills also benefit their local communities. Nearly 40,000 young people from the UK have participated on the programme since the scheme began in 2011.

Coral said: "My ICS placement was incredibly eye-opening. So much so that upon returning to the UK, I have a real passion to share my experiences with anyone willing to listen.

"I honestly believe that 99 per cent of people would benefit from the experiences I have gained as result of the programme, and want to ensure that as many people as possible know about the opportunity.

"I was fortunate in finding out about the programme from a friend that did it a few years ago, and now I wish to be that ‘friend’ to inspire others to undertake the adventure!

"Although I have always known I wanted to be a teacher, ICS has completely changed the ways in which I am able to interact and engage with people with disabilities.

"Moreover, it has greatly improved my ‘people skills’ in that, whilst on placement, there were multiple opinions from numerous social backgrounds and countless ethical differences.

She added: "Yet, the best ideas often came from a mixture of all of these ideas, and I believe these skills are priceless to have in life."

ICS is funded by UK aid, so young people 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, Coral raised £850 for VSO, which will ensure that communities in developing countries can continue to benefit from the work of volunteers.

Working towards the United Nation's Global Goals, a set of development targets that nations across the world have to achieve by 2030. ICS projects are working to achieve the UN’s 17 goals for sustainable development by 2030.

Everyone, from businesses to civil society to the UK public, has a role to play in making the Goals a reality, and ICS projects do this by supporting development work on the ground.

Felicity Morgan, director of ICS at VSO, said: “It’s really inspiring to hear about the fantastic work Coral 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.