Nazzy Amin is a returned International Citizen Service (ICS) volunteer with Restless Development, who is currently working for a sexual abuse organisation and as an Accountability Advocate. Here she gives us a glimpse into her placement in Nepal and her experience of being a young Muslim women volunteering abroad….
Yes, of course I’m a Hijabi, but how does my carefully coordinated head covering restrict me from working on grassroots projects or stop me from creating positive change in hidden communities around the world?
Three years ago between finishing my final year dissertation and the start to Ramadan 2013 , I decided I was going to step outside my little box of comfy-ness and take part in the International Citizen Service (ICS) programme with Restless Development. It was a voluntary role that placed me in a picturesque village in the Far West of Nepal, called Bagarkot, for three months in which I worked, ate, and trained with people I hardly knew. My parents thought I was crazy ( no surprises there) and all my friends, although rather fascinated by my new adventure, questioned how I would keep my modesty in such an alien environment. And yes, I also shared the same apprehension.
I had decided many years ago that wearing a head-scarf was a very important part of my identity, as a young Muslim women, but that would not be the only thing I would be defined by. I am creative, spontaneous and an avid tea drinker and believed the world had to see that. ICS seemed like a great programme from which I would not only have an ‘experience of a lifetime’ but would get to work on community projects from teaching children about issues like HIV/AIDS to setting up youth/women’s groups who would keep working on the projects to truly make the change sustainable. This in turn would provide me with the skills I needed to make a great employee no matter which career path I took (something I obviously kept reiterating to my parents in the quest for their approval). However, it naturally did cross my mind how I would keep my modesty whilst on placement, whether or not it would become a barrier whilst integrating with the locals and if my visible Muslim self would make people feel uncomfortable…?
Now reminiscing back, how wrong I was to even have these doubts. The people in the village embraced me with open arms, and as they predominantly followed Hinduism with very little knowledge about other faiths, were very much intrigued to learn more about the ‘cloth on my head.’ They would spot me from a mile; noticed times I did not make an effort to co-ordinate my scarf ( you can only imagine how carefully I had packed my luggage ) and even offered to help me ‘Halal’ a chicken ( LOL). The staff, volunteers and locals all respected my faith and truly made me feel at home. So there I was living amongst strangers who saw beyond my modest persona; having picnics with my host family who wanted to share every aspect of their life with me and teaching in a school that appreciated my presence. I perfected my hijab wrapping without a mirror; used my hoody like no tomorrow when getting up to brush my teeth at the tap; gave hijab tutorials to the village girls and spent endless hours telling the locals about my life back at home ( they loved my ability to make chapatti’s ).
The whole placement made me realise that I could rise above the stereotypes inflicted on young hijabi women that restrict them from reaching their full potential and it has immensely helped me shape my own identity. To all those hijabi-nista’s wanting to volunteer abroad and participate in the ICS programme my one liner to you would be: go teach the world about the beauty of your head covering and watch how you thrive amongst strangers who will most definitely become lifelong friends!!