The power of youth volunteering: Eight years of impact in eight ICS projects

We celebrate eight of our favourite moments of development impact through youth volunteering.

Since 2011, more than 38,000 young people from 28 countries across three continents have taken part in our youth volunteering programme, International Citizen Service (ICS).

Thanks to their work, more than nine in ten of our partners say their organisation is now better able to create change. This month, we celebrate eight of our favourite moments of ICS impact.

1. Teaching the parents of Deaf children how to communicate together for the first time

In Kenya, many see deafness as a curse. Parents are often ashamed to have a Deaf child, and as a result, Deaf children are often kept at home and out of education, play and social interaction. We set about to change that with a project bringing British and Kenyan Deaf volunteers together.

The volunteers taught 450 local community members Kenyan Sign Language – including to hearing students so they could communicate with their Deaf classmates for the first time. They also registered 35 previously unidentified Deaf children to receive support from the government.

ICS volunteer Asher Woodman-Worrell, 28, was shocked when he first met Deaf primary school student Victor. “He couldn’t sign at all, he couldn’t speak – he had no way to communicate whatsoever,” he explained. “We were the first people that ever taught him any sign language, and he was so amazed.”

Read more about fighting discrimination against Deaf children in Kenya

2. The child marriage prevention committee that stopped three weddings

Kate Weaver, 29, and her team were surprised at the control men had over women in the rural Bangladeshi community of Durgapur where they volunteered. From what was cooked to the women’s behaviour in public, many aspects of society were run by men.

Child marriage is common in rural Bangladesh, with three quarters of girls married before the age of 16. “It was pretty visible,” said Kate. “You would see very young wives around the community. But when you asked them how old they were, they would say they had forgotten.”

So volunteers set up a child marriage prevention committee – made up of village elders to youth club members – with the idea being that anyone could report a planned marriage to the committee. A year later, three weddings had already been stopped and the girls returned to school.

Read more about tackling early marriage in Bangladesh

3. The law graduate living with disability and teaching young people about aspiration

Khe Ouk, 25, is from Cambodia’s Battambang province. Born without fully formed limbs, this determined law graduate hasn’t let his disability stand in the way. Through ICS, he’s been working with young Cambodians to support them into the careers they aspire to get into.

He’s in a team of four volunteers – two Khmer (the main ethnic group of Cambodia) and two British. For two years, ICS volunteers have worked with student councils in local secondary schools to teach students how to write CVs and then to pass that knowledge onto their classmates.

Ouk’s been working with volunteers like Makara to tackle the huge migration of young Cambodians to Thailand for work. She said: “We have to do it cycle after cycle – this kind of work takes time. We have to engage and inform people again and again. People just don’t know about opportunities here.”

4. Teaching teens to open up about violence through craft

At the end of their ICS placements, the work didn’t stop for volunteers Gladys Muthara, 29, and Susan Waruingi, 26. A grant fund available for alumni helped them get their own project off the ground – craft sessions for teenage victims of gender-based violence.

The pair ran sessions in the slums of Nairobi, showing them how to produce woven paper stars while starting to talk for the first time about their personal experiences of violence. And in 2018, after a year of workshops, they took 7,500 of the stars to the Commonwealth Games in Australia.

“A year before, I was in a violent relationship,” explained Gladys. “I’d always struggled to talk about my past. But I felt a huge relief as I weaved the stars. Over time, I started feeling free. I’m sure Susan and I will continue fighting gender-based violence as volunteers for years to come.”

Read more about using craft to tackle gender-based violence

5. Three groups of volunteers coordinate to provide clean water to 500

In the rural village of Owuram, Ghana, a 2km walk to the nearest clean water source was part of daily life for the 1,800 residents after their community’s well stopped working. Seeing their own host families affected by the broken borehole, the volunteers set out to repair the well.

An initial assessment put the repairs at GH₵4200.00 (£860) – an amount the volunteers lobbied the local government, unsuccessfully, to stump up. Undeterred, they made the decision to raise funds on their own – continuing to fundraise through the next two cycles of volunteers until the repair was complete.

“I have seen the contribution of these volunteers in the community from the first cycle until the borehole was finally fixed,” said local chief Nana Baffour Safo Kantanka. “They deserve applause and our community is grateful for everything they have done.”

Read more about how ICS volunteers ensured clean water for 500 people

6. The Indian children sending their school bags to politicians to make a point

In Umerdha village, in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, getting a decent education is almost impossible – thanks to huge distances to be travelled to school and poor teaching standards. For girls, it’s even worse, due to the threats of sexual harassment on the journey in.

So ICS volunteers decided to do something about it. They got 11 children to send their school bags to local politicians, including in the bag a personal letter from the child outlining the problems they face, as well as drawings, hand paintings, and a photo of them.

The team followed the campaign up with individual meetings with five of the politicians. “They were all very enthusiastic about the project and spoke at length with the children about the issues,” said volunteer Ruairi Kerrigan. “One district official even invited us to his home!”

Read more about the children's campaign to access a decent education

7. Tackling disability stigma through goalball

We brought a mixed team of visually impaired and fully sighted volunteers from the UK and Ghana together to teach the Paralympic game of goalball in rural communities. Ranging from complete novices to professional players, the team’s aim was to break down stigma around disability through sport.

The game, in which all players wear a blindfold – meaning even fully sighted participants can take part and play equally – involves throwing a ball with a bell at the opposing team’s goal. It helped people understand the practicalities of visual impairments and started conversations.

“Sometimes stigma isn’t always obvious,” said blind volunteer Richard Wheatley, 24. “I had many conversations with people surprised about how well I moved around. I explained that in the UK I have to act with confidence or I’d never do anything. It was those conversations that mattered.”

Read more about the teams using goalball to break down barriers

8. Talking about safe sex in a country where 12 in 100 are living with HIV

As a youth worker from Liverpool, Sarah Meath, 26, was used to innuendo-charged conversations with teenage boys about sex. When she volunteered in Zambia on VSO’s sexual health projects in the township of Nyimba, things were no different.

But that’s ignoring the fact that in Zambia, young people face high rates of forced sex, child marriage and HIV. Sarah’s team set up a facility for them to get information about sexual health. Today, it is run by local young people, recruited and trained by ICS teams to help signpost to services.

“We wanted to create something that was by young people for young people, to create a space where you could speak to somebody closer to your age who you can have more of a conversation with,” explained Sarah.

Read more about Sarah's work encouraging safer sex in Zambia

Read more

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Sylvester Ochieng, 28, is volunteering for a Kenya where all children have equal education opportunities. Children with hearing impairments face additional barriers to attending and making progress in school. He explains the impact he is seeing on his placement in Bungoma County.

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ICS volunteer Ibraham Kamara has a real zest for development. Born and bred in Sierra Leone, this young father has seen his country through war and Ebola. Even though his own schooling has been stilted he was able to finish his diploma and complete an ICS placement.