Volunteering overseas in Nigeria with International Citizen Service

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Application and pre-departure

I had graduated over a year ago and was about to turn 23. I had been working with a local charity in Sheffield for over a year (which I absolutely loved) but it was time for a change. I was getting seriously envious of all my friends who were off travelling the world and having amazing experiences, and as happy for them as I was, I decided that it was time to stop envying them and join them.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t earning millions, and living away from home meant that rent and feeding myself (and socialising slightly too much) had eaten into any money that I could have potentially saved for travelling. I began to think of ways that I could see the world, do something useful and afford it. During one of my many wistful google searches along the lines of ‘how to travel for free’, I stumbled across the ICS website (http://www.volunteerics.org).

Working for a charity, I was familiar with NCS (National Citizen Service) but was unfamiliar with ICS (International Citizen Service). ICS initially seemed like the version of NCS available to those who were aged 18-25, and who wanted to volunteer abroad to become active global citizens. 90% of the ICS programme is funded by the UK government’s department for foreign aid, and around 10% is funded by the individual volunteer. This has sparked some debate among critics of foreign aid, various articles have sprung up with provoking headlines ‘UK tax payers funding luxury gap year experiences’ and the like (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/9076851/Gap-year-holidays-that-reveal-the-madness-of-overseas-aid.html). I understood these reservations, I had them myself. I was well aware of the damages of ‘voluntourism’ and had seen many dubious photos of friends posing with armies of children and building schools, despite having no prior experience in the area. These schemes, no matter how well meaning, seemed like volunteering for the sake of volunteering and to capture some cute photos for social media. Surely the cost of flights, vaccinations, food and accommodation could be better spent on employing local tradesmen to do the job?

With this in mind, I did my research before applying for the ICS programme. VSO is the leading agency for the programme, and you can chose to volunteer with a particular country or not specify a preference. I decided that I wouldn’t mind where I got sent, I hadn’t travelled outside Europe so had a blank slate to work from. As long as I could be useful I really didn’t mind.

Thankfully, after attending an assesment day at the VSO headquarters in London, I was offered a placement in Ikorodu, Lagos State, Nigeria. The placement was from 6th February 2016 until the 29th April 2016, so 12 weeks in total. I was informed that the placement was conditional upon me getting all my vaccinations (paid for by ICS), attending a three day training weekend in Cardiff, and fundraising a minimum of £800.

Fundraising

I was a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of fundraising £800, and it had been the one thing that could have put me off signing up to volunteer in the first place. I had already done two big sponsored challenges while at university (two hitch-hikes to Eastern Europe) and I was unsure the same friends and family members would sponsor me again. However, I had around 5 months to fundraise, so had plenty of time to think of lots of ideas. I did a sponsored ‘Dry December’, set up an Ebay charity shop, and did a sponsored swim (24 miles in a week). In total, I got £1011.81 in sponsorship, which was incredible and I was so grateful to all my friends, family and colleagues for their support.

In Country Orientation (ICO)

On the day of departure, three teams going to Nigeria met at the VSO offices for some final training before we got a coach to Heathrow airport. The flight was around 6 hours to Lagos, which wasn’t too bad, especially as it was an overnight flight. We arrived early in the morning and got our first experience of Nigeria. The heat was overwhelming, and everything was so busy. We were met off the airport by the very friendly and energetic VSO Nigeria team, where we had a two hour journey to the NYSC camp in Sagamu. Having never travelled out of Europe before, the trip to the camp was an experience. Firstly, there didn’t seem to be any lanes on the busy roads, there was a constant sounding of horns and people were travelling hanging out of vehicles or carrying crazy amounts of things on motorbikes.

Arriving at the NYSC camp in Sagamu, we met the Nigerian in country volunteers for the first time, who were to be our counterparts and colleagues for the next three months. We had our first experience of pure water, where all the drinking water comes in plastic sachets, you bite the corner and drink from the bag, there is a knack for balancing a bag of pure water on the floor so that it does not spill over.

I was so interested in seeing all the lizards and scorpions, as well as termite mounds over eight feet tall.

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The girls’ dorm in the Sagamu NYSC camp

The activities in in-country orientation were intense, and revolved around the theme of team building, and getting used to each others’ cultural differences. We learned what to expect in community, as well as learning about the work done by previous cycles.

In-country orientation also featured a party on one of the nights, which was my first introduction into how much Nigerians love to dance!

 

Some of the team in the NYSC camp
The street where I was staying with a host family in Ikorodu

A video from my time in Ikorodu

(To be continued)

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