Tuesday, August 12, 2014

International development comes from within

Today is International Youth Day 2014, and Holly is reflecting on the role of youth in international development, and the importance of volunteering for personal and international development. 

As today is the United Nations International Youth Day, it is fitting to discuss our most recent group reflection on the role of youth within international development, which was extremely interesting as it became apparent very quickly that the UK and the Ghanaian volunteers saw the topic in a completely different light.

To the Ghanaian volunteers when asked “where do youth fit in to international development?” the conversation instantly turned to what the youth do to help their own communities, explaining to us that the Ghanaian youth feel a large amount of responsibility to keep their communities safe and traditions alive. When questioned further, volunteering is also seen as a way of improving their own personal development. This is also fostered within the Ghanaian National Service; far from being military focused, it is instead a programme for young Ghanaians to volunteer for a year after completing tertiary education, with the government promoting voluntarism and providing work experience to each individual, and the state will subsidise the individual’s University tuition fees.

To me at first this seemed an alien concept; volunteering within the international development sphere with the aim of improving oneself. If you were to ask a UK ICS volunteer why they applied to the scheme, helping to improve the lives of others in the country you are visiting would undoubtedly be a more common answer than improving your own life.

But as the conversation continued, my view of the Ghanaian volunteers’ opinion changed to that of showing maturity. How can you help others when you haven’t developed you yourself as a person first? 

The youth in Ghana are given this opportunity through the year of National Service; each individual not only gains a more affordable further education but also develops their skills, hopefully in the industry they aspire to work in. A similarity can be drawn at this point to the UK youth and the ICS scheme; if you are willing to volunteer, then the personal gains will be plentiful.

Group Reflection run by Harriet on the role of
Youth in International Development

I therefore started to ask myself half way through our 11 week placement how my time at TradeAID and the ICS scheme in general has helped develop me personally rather than solely assessing the progress we have been making within the project itself. Instead of it being a selfish thing to discuss, it should be embraced. I will be bringing back to the UK with me a very unique experience of living in Africa for 2 and a half months; forming friendships with people from completely different backgrounds to my own, developing patience with ‘Ghana time’ when it comes to important meetings, working in an organisation who have very little financially yet accomplish so much, coping with the realities of slow progress because of the rain, a spoilt truck or illness, none of which I knew about when I landed in Ghana in July. To some these may seem very abstract examples, but all of the volunteers will come back with a first-hand experience of international development that can translate to helping others further.

ICS has given each of the young adults on this scheme the opportunity of living and volunteering in a different country, which has brought us all great personal gain. Yet that shouldn’t be seen as a point of criticism; all 17 of the UK volunteers will come back as better people, which equates to a better citizen, and each will have an awareness of the importance of international development.

Holly and Dave with the Vea basket weavers group
that the INCOME project supports

It was refreshing to hear our Ghanaian volunteers care so much about the community in which they live as well as the rest of the world, and there is no reason to believe this can’t happen in the UK too. We are all the next generation of decision makers, and attitudes must change towards international development. The current reluctance to allocate funds in governmental budgets and generous short term disaster relief aid is an attitude that has slowed real progress around the world, as shown by the extension of the Millennium Development Goals. 

There is very little awareness of the challenges faced within international development in the UK at the moment. Therefore if us, the youth, retain our awareness and remain passionate enough to act upon our first-hand experiences we can make significant policy commitments as the future decision makers. ICS have given us the opportunity to develop ourselves personally, and we are now equipped as citizens to sustainably support the lives of others further.

By Holly Roberts

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