Saskia Hardcastle volunteered with Restless Development on International Citizen Service (ICS) in India last year. Here she gives us her Top 10 Tips for future volunteers…
I returned from my ICS placement in India nearly five months ago. I learnt more about myself and another culture than I thought would ever be possible in three months. However, there is no use in me repeating what has already been said so well, by so many, about the skills that volunteering with ICS can help you to develop.
Instead, I turn to those smaller details of my everyday life on placement to give the most practical advice to future volunteers that I can think of.
Shoes. You don’t need four different types. Flip flops will be your best friend but they won’t last long. When your foot starts to wear through, you will wish you brought a third pair. Only take bulky shoes if you specifically need them.
Write. My journals kept me sane, and reading them back makes me laugh to this day.Sweat. You will sweat so much it hurts. Literally, your skin will be sore. Heat rash is not your friend, but talcum powder and Sudocrem are.
Hair. Dry shampoo can’t save you now. You’ll understand what I mean when you are literally sweating from your head. You’ll wash your hair a lot, and it’ll never feel clean. But don’t give up. Trust me, dry shampoo will never compare to that bucket shower at the end of a long, hot day.
Music. Sharing music shows who you are and breaks down boundaries. Not only that, but bucket showers become way more fun when you can sing along to your favourite songs at the same time. Be sure to pack a speaker.Portable chargers. The heat will make your battery drain at twice the speed. They are life savers on long journeys and will undoubtedly make you popular when you are out and about or at work.
Rain. The heat is unforgiving, but so is the rain. Years of complaining about English weather will quickly be reversed when all your energy goes into willing the heavens to open and to feel the coolness that follows. On one of our final days in the village, there was the most torrential downpour. Being soaked through in my saree and running to the safety of our dry youth centre is something I will never forget. Take a light rain coat or umbrella!
Host Families. If you are lucky enough to stay with a host family, embrace them fully and spend as much time with them as you can. They will be your best insight into the area, whether that is finding out new places to host awareness-raising sessions or looking for somewhere to buy a birthday cake for a teammate’s birthday. When it is time to head home, you’ll feel part of the family and wish you had three more months with them.Food. It is one of those things that will connect you to the people around you. Some of my favourite memories are of trying new local foods cooked by the national volunteers and our attempt at sharing one of our staple home foods – tomato pasta! Just like at home, you will have foods that you like and those that you don’t, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying something new.
Take a nailbrush. Yes, this is a minor one but if you have room, take one. It’ll keep your hands much cleaner than regular washing and it doubles as a pretty effective tool when washing your clothes by hand.
I really could go on forever but half of the fun is in discovering your own tips and tricks along the way.
Whilst this post is mainly aimed at future ICS volunteers, in a way I think that everyone could take something from it. Even if it is that dancing around to ABBA in the shower really can make you feel better.