Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Volunteering: A Worthy Cause

It all started one afternoon when a friend called and asked me if I was interested in volunteering. I could not give a definite answer because I didn’t have an in-depth knowledge of what she was talking about as her hurried explanation spiced with over excitement still did not convince me. After our conversation, all I got from the thousand words she said was "ICS" meaning International Citizen Service which is a scheme run by International Service in Ghana. I reluctantly applied as a volunteer since there was no harm in trying and besides there was no formal skill or experience needed to be eligible to apply. Besides, it sounded like a good opportunity for me to engage my time since I was awaiting admission to University.

One fateful evening after series of missed calls, I tried to call back but no one picked up. I became furious, I thought a viable opportunity has slipped past my reach. A couple of days passed with no hopes of getting called again and I heard my phone ring I pulled it out and it was the same number. After an introduction and a hearty congratulations by the caller, I was asked to attend an assessment workshop. After that call, I was preoccupied with so many questions because this was going to be my first voluntary experience. But as the common slogan in ICS goes, you should Challenge yourself to Change your World.

This reminds me of a quote by Benjamin Franklin: “What is going to give light must endure the burning.” On that day when I got there, the place was already half filled with vibrant, lively Ghanaian youth from all regions in Ghana and the atmosphere was very contagious, I immediately dropped my cowardice and anxiety and got myself ready for whatever the assessment will be. It was a learning process as every activity had me stretch beyond my limits, one of which was a group challenge- we were to use a paper to create a giraffe with limited materials and subsequently with one hand. After minutes of team work, yes! We made a paper Giraffe! (As seen in the picture below - ours was obviously the standing Giraffe).

Paper Giraffe made by my team during the ICS Volunteer assessment.

It was at this juncture that I had to change my rather negative approach of seeing things as IMPOSSIBLE; under no circumstances did I believe that this objective of using a paper to come out with a giraffe could be achieved. 

The journey itself began when I got another congratulatory call to come for a pre-placement training. For me, that training made me aware of what I was getting myself into for the next twelve weeks - my project was in a new environment, I was to live with a new family (host family) as well as work and live with a non-Ghanaian! Ok, this is too much to handle all at once!

As it is still fresh in my mind I can recall it was also difficult to really understand the UKV since their English was in slang. I became demoralized and bored because this was a very great challenge but looking at the inscription above challenged myself by saying I can do this. Finally when myself and my team reached our project community, Bolgatanga, we were  all  still looking strange and could not say anything about one another. Within the second week the integration within the team became a tool for my motivation, for which I owe a big acknowledgement to our selfless, dedicated, tireless, hardworking and experienced leaders Anna and Tom.

ICS-TradeAID Team Leaders, Anna And Tom

Today my success story to the whole world is that my journey started from unknown to known and from there to knowledge gathering and now experience sharing. It is with this journey that I am able to write this blog, something I could not do six weeks back. It is nice to share such an experience and it is also obvious that I should share a little advice with friends. The impact of volunteering to an individual I can say based on the fact that volunteering affords you the opportunity to learn from people no matter the age, gender or socio-cultural background. And in life, building healthy relationships is crucial to one's success. Networking is another amazing benefit of volunteering and we can learn new skills unashamed of making mistakes while doing so. It is also very important as volunteers unknowingly create a better and enabling environment for others, they create healthier and more empowered communities and generally improve the livelihood of people.

Me typing my blog at the TradeAID office

As an ICS volunteer, right now, I am not only glad my friend called me that day but also that I overcame the uncertainty and applied to join the ICS scheme and I have dedicated my time to work with a wonderful set of people who give back to the society. This experience has given me a clear focus on my desired career path. Volunteering is an excellent gateway to the workforce as this has given me the privilege to gain new skills and expertise. So when next you hear the word "Volunteering" do not hesitate to come on board as this undoubtedly is a worthy cause.

Your blogger is Zulaiha Kamaldeen

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