Photo by Anna Ashbarry

Challenge yourself, push your boundaries: communicating change through volunteering

By Anna Ashbarry in Nepal

Anna Ashbarry volunteered with Restless Development in Nepal. This is the first in a series of blogs and photo essays that Anna will write for the We Are Restless blog. 

A budding writer, videographer and photographer, Anna’s experience in Nepal was a springboard into writing and capturing stories of people and issues.

This blog features a video created and edited from her time as a placement reporter as well as photography.

What inspired you to do ICS?

I have volunteered and fundraised in my spare time since the age of 18 as I love helping others. Following a career in photography and time spent travelling, volunteering took a back seat in my priorities.

I was looking at the UCAS website to look at other career ideas and opportunities as well as photography.

This is where I saw the ICS advert. I had never heard of ICS before so I decided to do some research.

After my research I knew that doing a placement overseas was something I would have really loved to do. I sent an inquiry by email and within a couple of days I was filling out the application form. I was so excited when I had the interview invite to London and I really enjoyed the selection day. The people I met there were so inspirational and I was really looking forward to my journey ahead!

Credit: Anna Ashbarry

Why did you choose to volunteer on ICS with Restless Development?

What I love about Restless Development is their passion for youth power and sustainable development. They are so passionate about having the voice of youths heard and making positive change.

Before ICS, I had never heard of Restless Development, but now I tell almost everyone I meet about them!

What made you want to be a placement reporter?

I have always had an interest and passion for both photography and videography. In my spare time I have written personal travel blogs and as I love cooking I have written recipes and baking tips. But writing is something I never saw myself taking any further as I had no experience and definitely lacked confidence.

Whilst going through my pre-placement training, I received an email about becoming a placement reporter. I applied as I love writing as well taking photos and videos but I never thought I would be successful in my application. I was so excited when I heard the good news!

Where were you for your placement and what issues did you work on?

My placement with Restless Development was in Nepal. While I was there, myself and my team were mainly working in schools giving school sessions and setting up youth clubs. We also worked in the community providing awareness raising events and workshops.

The main issues we were addressing were sexual rights, sexual health and child marriage. In our school sessions we created lessons and activities through non formal learning techniques in topics such as adolescence, puberty and gender. In the community, we raised awareness of child marriage by organising rally’s and making posters.

Along with her Nepali counterparts, Anna helped lead sessions focused on ending period stigma (Credit: Anna Ashbarry)

How did your placement impact the community you were working with?

The main impact we had was on the school. We spent the majority of our time there and we really bonded with the students and teachers.

Along with country volunteers, we gave sessions on sexual health. As sex is such a taboo subject in Nepal, lessons like this aren’t really taught at all.

We also conducted most of our sessions in English. As the children were studying English for their exams, this really helped them too.

The community mentioned to us that we were the first agency to go to them with a sustainable approach. They had charities occasionally help them with building toilets or painting the school, but Restless Development were different.

They told us that they were the first to go in with a plan for a long-term change – for sustainable outcomes. As Restless had never been in this community before, it made the experience even more rewarding.

Did you work on your own or in a partnership with a national volunteer?

In our community, we had an all female team. There were 4 international volunteers and 3 national volunteers. We definitely wouldn’t have made as much of an impact in the community without the Nepal volunteers.

They were incredible at integrating with the community and assisting us with our culture differences. We formed great partnerships and still keep in touch today.

Did you find working alongside another reporter advantageous?

Lila was my reporting buddy. She is from Nepal and was studying arts in university. Lila loves writing, reading and drawing. She was an amazing reporter and I most definitely couldn’t have done my reporting tasks without her!

There was a huge language barrier for me as Nepali is very difficult to learn. Many of the locals didn’t speak much English at all.

Reporting was quite difficult for me as I couldn’t get involved in the interviews as they were all in Nepali. Lila then translated all of our interviews for me and she did an incredible job. Nepali can be very hard to translate and so Lila had quite the task.

Anna and Lila became best friends

What difficulties did you encounter being a placement reporter?

As I had never done any case study writing, any interviewing or any reporting, I was totally out of my comfort zone. This combined with the language barrier left me feeling nervous about completing the tasks I had been assigned.

Our Nepali counterparts were incredible at mixing with the locals and helping me track down stories of positive change. Combined with the amazing support from the UK team, within a few weeks I was in my reporting element!

What stories did you uncover?

Whilst I was on placement in Nepal, Lila and I set up 4 in depth interviews with local community members. In each interview the same issues were brought to our attention. These included child marriage, early marriage and a lack of opportunity in not just the community, but the whole of Nepal.

Many youth in Nepal marry very early and drop out of education to stay at home and help with house and farm work. Education isn’t always a priority for parents or children. In families where education is a priority, youth move to Kathmandu or out of the country to gain employment or to study.

Credit: Anna Ashbarry

How do you think the individuals whose stories you collected will gain from people hearing their stories?

Before I heard these stories and took part on the ICS placement, I was completely unaware of many issues within Nepal. Through being a placement reporter and working as an ICS volunteer, I learned so much. I have shared my knowledge and my experiences with my friends and family and they too have said that they were unaware of these issues.

I think that these stories will raise so much awareness and will encourage people to work together to help solve them. These individuals may now feel that their voices are being heard by such a wide community. Sometimes that is all someone wants – their voice to be heard.

Students from the school march for climate action (Credit: Anna Ashbarry)

Did they collaborate with you on your projects in any way?

We interviewed the vice principal and his younger cousin who was a teacher at the school. We also interviewed our hosts dads and a local business owner. The vice principal and teacher, Bishal and Umesh, were very heavily involved in our projects within the school.

They helped allocate our lesson times and supported us with setting up youth groups. They were keen to get involved in non-formal learning such as playing games and organising sports activities.

Our host dads gave lots much advice on stakeholders in the communities and they introduced us to many of them. The local business owner was very passionate about the environment and so we invited him along to the school to take part in a rally and give a speech at the event.

How did your placement impact you?

Going on placement to Nepal has really impacted my life in so many ways. To start with I learned so many skills that I will carry with me forever. I also learned so much about team work, about other cultures and about sustainable education and development.

During my placement I created these incredible bonds with such amazing people. It’s amazing to know we have all worked together to achieve something truly amazing.

What did you gain from being a placement reporter?

I now have a lot more confidence in myself when it comes to writing thanks to my time in Nepal. I have also learned lots of new skills when it comes to conducting interviews and writing case studies. Combining these with my photography and video skills will hopefully allow me to keep continuing raising awareness within sustainable development.

Students march for climate action (Credit: Anna Ashbarry)

What new skills have you gained?

I have gained really strong communication skills, knowledge of new software, so many writing and interviewing techniques and also a whole new appreciation for journalism and documentary-making.

What are you doing now?

Since I returned home from Nepal, I am freelancing as a photographer as well as creating my own writing projects. I am still working on my placement reporting tasks and have now been invited to become a guest blogger for We Are Restless. I am also still in my Action at Home phase so I am doing lots of varied volunteering roles.

Did your placement and time spent with Restless staff inspire you to take action on issues you care about now you’re home?

From start to finish the Restless staff have been completely inspirational. Many staff that have conducted the training sessions have been young women around my age. This has really impacted me personally. Everyone has been so supportive and I really feel like I can achieve my goals.

What are your ambitions going forward? Especially in terms of building on the skills and experience you gained as a reporter.

As I am in my mid twenties and I didn’t go to university, I have been indecisive about what I would like to do as a career and in my personal life. I have tried many different things and I have sometimes struggled to find what I really enjoy doing or what I am most passionate about. For me, being both an ICS volunteer and a placement reporter has given me the realisation that I love helping others as well as creating content.

Combining these two passions would be ideal. My ambitions are to keep on volunteering, to carry on meeting amazing influential people, to keep searching for new opportunities and to travel. Ideally I would love to become a member of a communications team for a non-profit or to be a freelance content creator for charities.

I love taking videos, photos and writing about my experiences as well as telling the stories of others. I am really looking forward to finding the right path for my future and I hope with this interview I have inspired others to do the same.

(Credit: Anna Ashbarry)

Recently Anna featured in The Chester Chronicle where she spoke about her ICS placement in Nepal as well as her Action at Home working with local charities


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Challenge yourself, push your boundaries: communicating change through volunteering

by Anna Ashbarry Reading time: 8 min