Volunteer Stephanie with women Shea nut processors in Ghana
©VSO/Andrew Aitchison

Six inspiring volunteers still changing the world

Our research shows that 55% of VSO volunteers become more involved in social projects after their placements – and a third continue to work with individuals or groups they met whilst volunteering.

Here are six who are still dedicating their time to supporting communities they worked with whilst on placement: 

Paul Blackler: A taste of Africa

Former volunteer Paul Blackler and his wife Isaotu stand outside an office building, holding fruits and bottles of juice
Peter Devlin

Former volunteer Paul Blackler and his wife Isaotu launched socially-minded start-up, Hippo and Hedgehog

Paul volunteered in 2008 in the Gambia, working with the Ministry of Education. He met wife Isaotu whilst he was there, and the two have now launched a start-up with a social mission.

Hippo and Hedgehog aims to tailor African ingredients to the UK taste bud, and has just launched its first product – Baotic, which is a high fibre miniature drink made from Baobab fruits. 10% of profits will go towards developing Gambian communities.

Paul also raised £5,000 for female agricultural projects in the Gambia last year by running 100 10km events. The couple have also fundraised money for female co-operative vegetable gardens in Isatou’s home town, Basse.

Sarah Donachie: Supporting slum children in Bangladesh

Former volunteer Sarah Donachie

Sarah Donachie established the JAAGO Foundation UK to support children in Bangladesh

Sarah was part of one of the first groups of youth volunteers to work in the village of Mominpur in Bangladesh. She ran vaccination camps, built latrines and started a dairy cooperative as part of her placement with a group of UK and Bangladeshi International Citizen Service volunteers.

It was here she first came across the JAAGO Foundation, a charity which emerged after the founder started taking a whiteboard and rug into the slums of Dhaka to teach underprivileged children. It now works to improve education for thousands of children in the area.

Six months after returning from placement, Sarah was back in Bangladesh volunteering for JAAGO, and in 2015 she established the JAAGO Foundation UK to further support children in Bangladesh.

Stephanie Green: Shea butter from Ghana

Former volunteer Stephanie Green with some Ghanaian shea producers
Andrew Aitchison

Stephanie Green is a UK distributor of shea products made by women in Tamale, Ghana

Stephanie volunteered for two years in Tamale, Ghana, working with female shea butter farmers to develop their business and marketing skills.

Since returning, she’s become the UK distributor for cosmetics produced by these women, starting a small business selling hand creams, body lotions, soaps and other shea butter products.

Stephanie’s involvement has meant the women picking shea nuts for these products are being paid 15% over the market rate, and those producing shea butter from the nuts have received a 60% pay rise.

She and husband Israel, Finance Manager at TAMA Cosmestics - who she met in Tamale - hope to grow the business further and have received funding from the Ghanaian government to train thousands more women for the business.

Kevin Morley: Giving a home to vulnerable street children

Former volunteer Kevin Morley with some children at Saltergate Children's Home in Ethiopia

Kevin Morley's charity sponsors six children's homes in Addis Ababa

In 2007, after returning from two years volunteering on education projects in Eritrea, Kevin founded a charity supporting homeless children in Addis Ababa.

Saltergate Children’s Homes sponsors six homes, giving a home and the opportunity to go to school to many vulnerable street children.

The organisation received official charity status in 2015 and has a number of Kevin’s fellow returned volunteers on the board of trustees.

Julia Lalla-Maharajh: Fighting Female Genital Cutting

Former volunteer Julia Lalla-Maharajh with children in Ethiopia
The Orchid Project/Julia Lalla-Maharajh

Julia Lalla-Maharajh set up the Orchid Project to combat female genital cutting

After volunteering in Ethiopia, working on an education project, Julia’s life changed direction. Whilst at first she’d seen volunteering as a break from her career in the private sector, ultimately it led her to ‘transition into what I now call my second life’, she says.

On returning from placement, she set up a small charity to fight Female Genital Cutting (FGC), after seeing those affected in Ethiopia. 75% of girls here are subjected to the harmful practice. 

The Orchid Project has influenced the UN to set indicators for reducing FGC, and has worked with the UK government to organise events and summits on the issue. 

Julia has recently been awarded an OBE for her work.

Max Son: Sending postcards to strangers

A selection of postcards written as part of former volunteer Max Son's project
Max Son

Former ICS volunteer Max Son encourages people in the UK to write postcards to young people in Bangladesh

On returning from placement with VSO as part of International Citizen Service, Max wanted to do more to support the youth club members he’d been working with in Bangladesh.

Along with others on his volunteering team, Max asked members of the UK public to write postcards to the young people he’d worked with aiming to raise awareness of their work.

“For those couple of minutes they will reflect on concerns and interests they may share with a stranger across the globe, supporting the idea that certain concerns, topics and hopes transcend individual backgrounds, geography and politics.”

The group worked with universities, community centres and schools in the UK, as well as social media to spread the word. So far they've sent over 160 postcards to youth club members in three districts of Bangladesh. 

Read more

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©VSO/P Mathema

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two volunteers wearing masks stood infront of a group of women sat on the floor wearing masks
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Mojo smiling with her classmates
©VSO/Peter Caton

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