Last year, VSO reached more than 4.5 million people with support to gain secure livelihoods, education and improved healthcare. Behind each statistic lies a story. A new VSO initiative aims to tell more of them, by empowering local staff and volunteers as storytellers through training and mentoring.
From volunteer to storyteller
Nicholaus Jackson Ambwene first joined VSO as a volunteer with the International Citizen Service (ICS) youth programme in 2017 in Tanzania.
His experience was so positive that he decided to re-volunteer with the same programme, this time leading a team of youth volunteers.
Nicholaus says, “ICS made me who I am today. I learned and gained a lot from the programme. I have increased my leadership skills, teamwork, communication and much more. It increased my spirit of working so hard to make sure everything is well achieved.
“Later I got the opportunity to work for VSO as a project officer. It’s been a great opportunity for me, opening up new ways of learning and developing in my career and personally.”
"I was struck by his energy and positivity"
It was while working as a VSO project officer in Mtwara, Tanzania, earlier this year that he came to know an inspiring young man called Khamis.
Having always had an interest in storytelling and media, Nicholaus jumped at the opportunity to take part in a VSO pilot to train local filmmakers to tell authentic stories from the field.
“It was my dream to have mentors and people who will guide and show me a way to become a film producer and director. Finally I found support that helped me have more confidence around what I’m passionate in doing.”
After taking part in a storytelling training programme, Nicholaus knew immediately whose story he wanted to tell through film: Khamis.
Khamis Mohamed Khamis is a 19-year-old electrician in the coastal town of Mtara. In the film, Khamis tells the story of a difficult childhood, in which his father left, having been unable to accept this child with albinism as his son.
School was difficult, with Khamis experiencing discrimination and teasing from fellow students and teachers alike. He eventually dropped out after completing just two years of primary school.
Life was hard, and could have remained so, were it not for a VSO project, Youth Economic Empowerment, which was offering marginalised young people in Mtwara a route to vocational training.
Youth unemployment remains a real challenge in Tanzania. Although the country has been through a period of rapid economic growth driven by discoveries of iron ore, coal and natural gas, this growth has not translated into productive and decent jobs sufficient to alleviate poverty. One of the key challenges is lack of employable skills.
For Khamis, without a formal education, the VSO project was a lifeline. He successfully completed his training as an electrician and gained some seed capital to start his own small business, which is growing, winning municipal and private contracts.
Nowadays, Khamis says he has increased in confidence through the project, so much so that he is now a youth council representative for his ward:
“I’m like a bridge to raise youths’ voices, connecting them with the local government,” explains Khamis in the film.
It’s increased Khamis’s networks further, indirectly helping his business to become more known and successful. He’s also gained confidence as a communicator, and is passionate about sharing his message:
“I would like to tell the community leaders that [having a disability] doesn’t mean we can’t do anything. We can. If there are people who are discriminating against people with albinism, that’s not right at all.”
Icons of their communities
Thanks to Nicholaus’s film, that message can now be heard far beyond Mtwara.
Nicholaus says, “I hope the film will touch people and change people’s mindsets in the community. Khamis’s story is a direct example that being ‘disabled’, as people see it, does not mean people are unable to perform a great variety of activities, and to become icons of their communities. Of course, they need chances to show us what they are capable of doing.
“In making this film I wanted to show the real meaning of creating lasting change through volunteering, and to promote the value of inclusion. It is through the efforts of Khamis, as well as VSO staff and volunteers, that he now has the skills to survive.”
Until now, although good practices and methodologies have existed across the volunteering sector, there has been no globally agreed set of standards. Together with the International Forum for Volunteering in Development, VSO has launched the Global Standard for Volunteering.
Volunteering is too often badly misunderstood. Too often, it is seen as a “worthy” activity undertaken by people with time on their hands. However, it really is a fundamental part of any country’s development journey and when done properly, it can be a powerful tool.
In 2017 Mike Barnes, an ex-primary school headteacher, joined VSO’s Unlocking Talent project in Malawi, providing students with tablet computers loaded with local language courses in numeracy and literacy. Read how he helped improve learning outcomes for thousands of children.