This blog was written by Bob Lamin, our Communications Officer in the Sierra Leone Hub.
Volunteering isn’t important.
Most people in Sierra Leone don’t believe volunteering is important. But, I am somebody who believes in the unique energy and mentality of young people.
I first volunteered as a student presenter for SLBC 96.5 FM, the state radio station. We hosted a radio show called “Student Family Hour” talking about issues that affect students like violence, education and the relationship between students and teachers. It felt good because I was making my own contribution to shape the future of my country – Sierra Leone.
Every time I walked into the studio, I was excited. I became a role model for many young people. When I applied to be a Volunteer Peer Educator (VPE) at Restless Development (which back then was called SPW) it was this volunteer experience that helped me. It was a spring-board in my life.
After secondary school, in 2008, I applied to volunteer with the Restless Development Youth Sexual Reproductive Health programme, and I was successfully recruited after going through a tough selection process that lasted two days. After a week, I was invited to attend a month-long foundation training.
One week into the training, I was inspired and eager to volunteer in communities where I would support young people to make an informed decision with regards to their sexual and reproductive health.
The training equipped us with the knowledge and skills needed to deliver effectively on the objectives of the programme. The training was mainly facilitated by the staff of Restless Development with participatory approaches to increase our learning. We were taught so many new things, like community mobilisation, facilitation skills, and life skills.
At the end of the training, I was sent to work with my pair on a 9 month placement in Bauya village Moyamba District – which is in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone.
Volunteering is working for nothing.
Many young people in Sierra Leone think volunteering means working for nothing. They think the only benefit of working is money. They are not looking at the end goal, just at their immediate needs. But I believe that volunteering is not about money.
It is about contributing and helping other individuals and the community at large. Volunteering is also about gaining experience, learning new skills and expanding your network of contacts. It can also be the beginning of a career. I did not know it at the time, but my career began in the village where I was sent to teach sexual and reproductive health for Restless Development. I found that young people were faced with so many challenges. Teenage pregnancy was the biggest problem.
Volunteering is easy.
We were the first batch of volunteers in that community and as such many people misunderstood our activities. We were accused of promoting sex to the students. The trust was not there.
When I was volunteering with the radio programme, I learned not to hide the truth. If you hide the truth, people will suffer. So we called a community meeting to explain that we are here to help students make better choices. We are here to tell the truth about sexual health. Parents and teachers finally understood and started to trust us with their children.
I never ran away from these challenges, but worked hard to turn them into success stories. Through this unique opportunity, I contributed to addressing burning issues affecting young people and communities at large. It’s also helped develop my skills and I gained valuable working experience, which supported me to work with organisations like Marie Stopes, GOAL, the Girl Child Network, Craig Bellamy Foundation, and 4M-Solutions.
Today, I’m working as the Communications Officer for Restless Development Sierra Leone, a global development organisation with a very strong commitment to creating an enabling environment for young people to take on leadership roles. I know if it had not been for my volunteering, I would not be in this position.
But, it is not just a career path for me. Volunteerism makes me feel good. It gives me what Dan O’ Grady, the former chair for Volunteer Calgary, describes as a “private smile”.