Hannah is currently finishing up on her placement with Restless Development in India. From tips on what to pack, her thoughts on international development, and what she’s learned, she reflects on her ICS journey so far.
My journey as an ICS volunteer began at my selection day in January 2017, arriving (late) to the central London venue because, after living as a student in London for one and a half years, I thought I knew better than the Central Line at rush hour. A hectic day full of meeting new people, being interviewed, having group discussions and learning more about a placement with Restless made me realise just how much I wanted to be part of it all, returning home to wait for the email that would either confirm or deny my chances of taking part in ICS.
Fast forward to today and I am writing this whilst sat in our Youth Resource Centre in Thiruvalangadu, South India. It is the beginning of week 11 of placement and it’s high time that I reflected on my journey so far…
Personal accomplishments on placement
One of the most valuable aspects of an ICS placement, in my opinion, is the onus put on individuals to think independently and take valuable steps towards becoming an active citizen. To me, this is beneficial because one cannot even begin to change the world without choosing first to search themselves and discover the ways in which they can develop personally. ICS enables young people to bring their expertise and talents, cultivating them within the context of their placement community and using their new and improved skills to facilitate placement activities with excellence.
One way in which I was able to utilise pre-acquired knowledge was in the context of raising awareness of breast cancer among young people in our local community. At home in the UK, I volunteer with a charity named CoppaFeel! whose main aim is to tackle late detection of breast cancer among young people. I delivered sessions to all 50 national and international volunteers in our cycle at top-up training a couple of weeks ago. I have also delivered a session at a women’s group in a neighboring village and last Wednesday the team and I delivered a session on breast cancer awareness to a class of 200 college students.
I have loved having the opportunity to spread this life-saving message whilst on placement and have even been approached by my fellow international volunteers about possible symptoms. My greatest hope is that all those that we have reached will share this information with their friends, family and colleagues so that, together, we can put a stop to late detection of breast cancer.
Spreading the word
Another area that I have been allowed to flourish in as an individual is within my role as Media Lead. While taking on this role I have headed up all aspects of our team’s communication channels to show both Restless and the wider public what we are doing on our cycle.
I have found this venture to be successful thus far – I have even been in contact with volunteers that will be taking part in the next cycle and I have been able to answer their queries about everything from team dynamics to how much mosquito repellent to bring!
What I’ve learned on placement
Development has to be a labour of love – there is no quick fix.
When we arrived in Thiruvalangadu we were all so eager to start getting down to work on our placement activities: I think we all realised quite quickly that the weeks were going to fly by and we didn’t want to miss any opportunity that came our way. Initially this mindset caused a lot of frustration, for myself especially.
We started placement while the local schools were still on summer holidays which meant that we couldn’t get permission to run school sessions. At the time this seemed like a huge obstacle standing in-between us and a changed world – dramatic, I know.
“Indian Timing” is a real thing and something that any international volunteer has to get used to. Everything takes a lot more time than you expect it to. We felt disheartened at a number of things – a lack of school sessions, low attendance at our Youth Resource Centre sessions – and felt like the community didn’t even feel our presence.
The realities of development work
Two weeks into our placement, we did a community clean up for World Environment Day, filling 10 bin bags full of rubbish and triumphantly taking them to the bin. Only to turn around and see that what we had achieved was merely a small drop in our village’s ocean of litter. I say all of these things to emphasize that playing a part in development must be done for enjoyment and not reward because sometimes you will not be able to see any reward, especially while you are in that moment.
However, hindsight is a beautiful thing and I am now able to see how much we have contributed to Restless’ efforts here. The college session we facilitated earlier this week encapsulates, for me, what all of this is about. The session was about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed upon by the United Nations in September 2015.
It was really well received by the 105 college students present, but what made me the most proud was the feedback the students left when the session was over. Many of them commented that because of our session and the things they have learnt that they will start to make changes to their lifestyles that will reflect the SDGs. They also stated that we are the generation that can change the future: for me, that’s what development is all about.
No, an authentic realization that I can’t be in control of every aspect of my life. As somebody with a background in positions of leadership and a very competitive spirit, I pretty much decided from day one that I was going to make sure that this cycle in Thiruvalangadu was the best yet. Nothing and nobody was going to stand in the way of that.
My team mates have taught me so much – we are all from rather different walks of life and learning more about them has been an invaluable experience. My national counterparts have taught me how to laugh when things go wrong, how to avoid being ripped off by tuk tuk drivers and how to do hospitality the right way. My international girls are like my family, we bicker like siblings, scold each other like parents and ultimately we know when it’s time to sit down and play cards together whilst gorging on junk food after a difficult day of placement. I will honestly never forget these 12 weeks for as long as I am able to walk on this beautiful planet.
“It’s the friends that we meet along the way that help us appreciate the journey.”