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VSO holds first ever awards ceremony to celebrate volunteers

Volunteers who’ve gone above and beyond in their quest to reduce poverty in some of the world’s most marginalised communities, will be recognised at a public ceremony in London next Tuesday (15 November). For the first time, leading international development charity, VSO, will thank star volunteers from across the globe for their outstanding contribution to developing countries. More than 120 attendees will hear about the significant impact that VSO has made through their volunteers. The event will take place in Grocers Hall near Mansion House from 2pm, hosted by Mike Wooldridge OBE, Former BBC World Affairs Correspondent who volunteered with VSO in Uganda in the 1960s.

Judith Hill jointly won the ‘VSO International Award’ with her husband, Simon. Both survived the tragic earthquake in Nepal last year which killed more than 8,000 people and left thousands more homeless. Despite constant aftershocks, they turned down repatriation to help with the relief effort. Judith is delighted to receive this award:

“Winning this award has been an unexpected pleasure, which we are delighted to accept on behalf of our Nepali friends. By mentoring young women who in turn, work with young disadvantaged girls, I have helped to broaden their experiences and knowledge of women's health, plus increase their confidence. They have been motivated to improve their life choices.

By working with farmers on a milk quality improvement program, my husband Simon has helped raise household income, improved the lives of women farmers and reduced the negative environmental impact of milk production. Working with rural communities gives local people the opportunity to voice their needs and use their own ideas to create sustainable change. Volunteering with VSO has also broadened our horizons and made us realise that we can deal with a wide range of challenges.”

The judges – who will be presenting the awards - received more than 80 nominations for volunteers working in more than 20 countries, but after much deliberation, they managed to shortlist winners for eight categories. The judging panel included former VSO volunteers who have gone on to do amazing things like award winning BBC World Service Broadcaster, Robin Lustig:

“I was 18 years old when I became a VSO volunteer in Uganda and I cannot imagine how my life would have turned out if I had not benefited from that experience. I fell in love with Africa, and with the BBC, both of which played a rather important part in my adult life. I also developed a life-long interest in development issues, and have often reported from some of the poorest countries in the world. If it hadn’t been for VSO, I wouldn’t have wanted to do that.

As a judge, I was hugely impressed by the long-term commitment which so many of the nominees had demonstrated, in contrast to my own mere 12 months in the field. What mattered most was that the award winner’s real commitment to making a difference. VSO volunteers offer key knowledge and skill in regions where they can make a real difference - and they do it with no thought of monetary reward.”

Since 1958, VSO has mobilised more than 66,000 volunteers across Africa, Asia, South America, the Pacific and the Middle East. Types of volunteers have included UK, international, in-country, youth, parliamentary, long term and corporate. The Volunteer Awards reflect volunteering in all its forms across VSO and International Citizen Service (ICS) – the international youth development volunteering programme funded by the UK government.

The Volunteer Awards coincides with new research undertaken by VSO – ‘Impact Beyond Volunteering’ - which explores the life-changing impact that volunteering has had on the volunteer. In an online survey involving 2,800 former VSO volunteers, results indicate:

  • 76% of volunteers surveyed have become more involved with their community or have  taken some form of political or social action since their VSO placement.
  • More than 180 volunteers have gone on to set up their own charity since completing their placement. (Please see Julia Lalla-Maharajh’s story below).
  • More than 400 volunteers are now involved in entrepreneurial activities as a result of their placement. (Please see Stephanie Green’s story below).
  • More than 460 volunteers have revisited the country where they were based to do some further work.
  • Nearly 750 volunteers continue to support individuals or communities they encountered during their placement after returning home.
  • More than 820 of volunteers have become involved in advocacy and campaigning since completing their placement. (Please see Bonavitha Gahaihi and Eleanor Carne’s stories below). 
  • 54.4% of volunteers have donated to charities since their placement.
  • 64% of volunteers now have a better understanding of different cultures.

Following its launch, the VSO Volunteer Awards will become an annual event.

For media interviews or for an invitation to the Volunteer Awards, please contact VSO Media Officer: / 0208 780 7668

Notes to Editors 

About the Winners

‘Alumni Award’ Joint winner - Stephanie Green from the UK volunteered in Ghana

(This award recognises the significant contribution that a long-term volunteer has made after their placement)

In September 2013, Stephanie Green from Kent volunteered for two years in Tamale, northern Ghana with the ‘Kasalagu Women’s Cooperative’ and ‘TAMA Cosmetics’ – a local business which sells shea butter based products. Stephanie equipped female shea butter farmers with the business and marketing skills to make a better living. Since her return, Stephanie has set up a small business and has become the UK distributor for TAMA Cosmetics, selling their hand cream, soap and body lotion. Thanks to Stephanie’s involvement, the women who pick the shea nuts for these products are now getting paid 15% over the market rate of shea nuts and the women who turn the nuts into shea butter have received a 60% pay rise.  In December, Stephanie will marry her Ghanaian fiancé Israel, the Finance Manager at TAMA Cosmetics, who she met in Tamale. Now both based in the UK, they hope to grow the business together. They’ve already secured funding from the Ghanaian government to train thousands of women for the business.

‘Alumni Award’ Joint winner (ICS) - Bonavitha Gahaihi from Tanzania volunteered in Tanzania

(This award recognises the significant contribution that a youth volunteer has made after their placement)

In November 2013, Bonavitha volunteered in the Kagera region of Tanzania with the International Citizen Service (ICS) – the international youth development programme led by VSO. During their three month placement, Bonavitha and her team raised awareness about HIV/ AIDS and promoted safe sex. She became a natural leader at delivering training in schools and organising HIV / AIDS prevention demonstrations. Since her placement, Bonavitha has been championing girls’ rights to education. In July this year, she was nominated to speak at the ‘Girls’ Education Forum’ organised by DFID. In front of more than 150 people, she spoke passionately about the barriers to girls’ education in Tanzania and why so many of them drop out of school. Now Bonavitha works for VSO Tanzania. In a country where youth unemployment is growing, she’s been helping young women gain new skills to find employment. She’s also boosting girls’ self-esteem and encouraging their parents to keep their children in school. Bonavitha continues to be a great ambassador for VSO.

‘International Award’ winner - Judith & Simon Hill from the UK volunteered in Nepal

(This award recognises the contribution that a long-term int’l volunteer has made during their placement)

In July 2014, Judith and Simon Hill from Somerset, volunteered as a couple in Nepal’s Lamjung District for two years. In spite of the tragic earthquake in April last year which left over 8,000 people dead and thousands more homeless, the Hills decided to stay. Before the earthquake struck, Judith was working with the ‘Sisters for Sisters’ project – a mentoring scheme which enables older school girls, ‘Big Sisters’, to befriend younger school girls, ‘Little Sisters’, so that they stay in school. In Nepal, girls are treated like second class citizens and often drop out of school once they start their period. Inadequate toilet facilities and limited access to sanitary products result in girls missing school every month. It’s difficult for them to catch up and easier for them to stay at home where their parents reinforce stereotypical gender roles like looking after their siblings and doing household chores. Judith’s work included supporting ‘Big Sisters’ in twelve schools. Simon shared his forty years’ worth of experience as a Dairy Farmer with various farming groups. He delivered training sessions which included how to keep livestock healthy using cost efficient solutions, how to keep soil healthy, how to make yoghurt and how to increase revenue in small dairy shops. He taught one mother of two, Binuka Joshi, how to make the region’s first fermented cheese to sell in her shop. Within two years, Binuka had started to share her new skills with other dairy farmers.

When the earthquake struck, Judith and Simon were miles apart from each another, given their schedules that day. It look Simon 24 hours to reunite with his wife, travelling 50 miles in terrifying aftershocks on roads strewn with crushed lorries and landslides. Despite their family’s pleas to come home, they turned down repatriation. Instead, they spent several weeks trekking to remote and mountainous villages feeding back vital information to emergency coordination teams about where food, shelter and medicine were most urgently needed. Eventually, Judith helped assess 58 damaged schools in remote areas and coordinated the building of 11 Temporary Learning Centres to keep children learning when their schools had been reduced to rubble. Simon relocated to Kathmandu where livestock were badly affected. The pair have inspired donors to give thousands of pounds during various VSO fundraising campaigns.

‘International Youth’ (ICS) winner - Eleanor Carne from the UK volunteered in India

(This award recognises the contribution that an international youth volunteer has made during their placement)

In February, Eleanor Carne from Cambridge volunteered for three months in Rajasthan, India with ICS as a Team Leader. Her team worked with an organization called Manthan by establishing youth clubs which encourage teenagers to talk safely about issues such as employment, religious discrimination, child marriage and sexual health. They created a forty-strong youth club in the village, Paner, where together, they set up a library. Young people also had their confidence boosted by vocational training. Their biggest achievement was bringing together youth from different castes into the same youth group in a village where religion defines who you are and who you can marry. Regardless of their faith, the youth had challenges in common which created empathy. Eleanor managed to persuade forty children to join various groups and she personally ran menstruation workshops where she was moved by the limited access girls had to sanitary towels. Since returning, Eleanor has been an advocate for women’s rights and got involved with VSO’s ‘She Will’ campaign. She’s currently involved with a sanitary towel project which ships sanitary products to girls in Rajasthan.

‘In-Country Youth’(ICS) winner - Oluwatosin Folarin from Nigeria who volunteered in Nigeria

(This award recognises the contribution that an in-country youth volunteer has made during their placement)

In June, Oluwatosin from Lagos volunteered with ICS for three months in Osun State. Her team worked with the Igangan, Oke-Agbede, Ilosi and Asuku communities where malaria is problematic. 90% of households don’t have mosquito nets to protect them, so Oluwatosin led a campaign which provided free malaria tests and nets. Her team also provided training for farmers in how to use organic pesticides, understanding effective routes to market for cocoa, adult literacy and basic English, so they could communicate with a wider base of customers. Young people were trained in bag making, hairdressing, business / employability skills and IT. Oluwatosin carried out research about IT skills within the community, which directly fed into bespoke training which she delivered. She also led research about the community’s cocoa market, which led to the construction of a cocoa nursery. This created more sustainable livelihoods and raised money for other community projects. Given Oluwatosin’s proficiency in Yoruba, she’s a great translator who effectively negotiated resources for various projects at a good price.

‘In-Country’ winner - Maryam Masood from Pakistan who volunteered in Pakistan

(This award recognises the contribution that a long-term, in-country volunteer has made during their placement)

Last October, Maryam from Multan in Pakistan volunteered with the ‘Pakistan Youth Initiative’ for ten months. This scheme enables young people from Islamabad, Multan and Rawalpindi to go on one month exchange visits so they can experience cultural diversity in their own country. Volunteering in someone else’s community promotes social cohesion, cross cultural learning and national integration. Maryam supervised 59 volunteers and led various campaigns focusing on interfaith harmony, eliminating gender- based violence, girls’ access to education and improving sanitation. These campaigns involved awareness walks, an art exhibition, posters, training, debates, peaceful protests and meeting political leaders. Some campaigns engaged over six hundred people. Maryam created networks of activists who went on to set up ‘help desks’ in various communities to help resolve local disputes and advocate the protection of women at risk from domestic violence. Her lobbying has subsequently led parliament to strengthen laws about gender-based violence and on a district level, government have expressed their commitment to implementing laws which will offer women more protection.

‘Team’ winner – Syngenta’s corporate team volunteered in Bangladesh

(This award recognises the contribution that a corporate team has made during their placement)

Last November, a team of thirteen corporate volunteers from the global crop science company, Syngenta, volunteered with VSO’s local partner, RDRS, for one month in northern Bangladesh. The ‘Growing Together’ project benefited 7,000 marginalised farmers and over 1,300 young people. Farmers adopted more effective methods in rice and vegetable production which increased their yields and they gained better access to finance to grow their businesses. They established a ‘Farmers’ Network’ where they could learn more about the market, overcome challenges and identity opportunities. They received quality seeds, training and got a fair price for their produce leading to larger incomes. The volunteers developed a new ‘Franchise Model’ so that the Farmer Center could operate more sustainably. This model has enabled farmers to access different services which has boosted their productivity and income. Its success means this model will be replicated in four other Bangladeshi Farming Centres. This has also paved the way for VSO to engage with more international corporations in future.

‘Special Award’ winner – Peter Cradock from the UK, just returned from Papua New Guinea

(This award recognises the contribution that a VSO volunteer has made during their lifetime)

Since 1964, Peter – an agricultural specialist - has volunteered for VSO six times, mostly in Papua New Guinea. His first placement was in Borneo. His latest placement is in Papua New Guinea where he’s written VSO’s strategy for vocational training, which has just been approved by the country’s Ministry of Education. Over the years, Peter’s been a VSO staff member at which time he met his wife. Later, Peter inspired their son to volunteer with VSO in Pakistan where he also met his wife – a true VSO family! Peter has dedicated “at least 25% of his life” to VSO in various capacities. In 1999, Peter and his wife volunteered in Papua New Guinea for the first time following a terrible drought. Root crops had failed resulting in many deaths. Undeterred, Peter empowered local farmers by successfully introducing ‘upland rice’ to one of the most remote communities in the world. At the age of 72, he’d still happily go on a bumpy ten hour road journey riddled with potholes – there’s no stopping him.

About the Chair and external Judges

Mike Wooldridge OBE - Former BBC World Affairs Correspondent

Prior to starting his BBC journalism career in 1970, Mike volunteered with VSO in Uganda. Mike recently retired from his BBC World Affairs Correspondent role, but prior to that he’s held the following posts: East Africa Correspondent, South Africa Correspondent, Religious Affairs Correspondent and South Asia Correspondent. In the Queen's 2002 Birthday Honours, he received an OBE for services to broadcasting in developing countries.

Robin Lustig - Award winning Journalist and Broadcaster

Robin is renowned for presenting BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ and BBC World Service’s ‘Newshour’. He volunteered with VSO in Uganda as a Music Teacher from 1966 to 1967, at which time he “fell in love with Africa and with the BBC”. He’s presented programmes from over twenty countries and his memoirs ‘Is Anything Happening?’ will be published in January.

Fiona Barton - Best-selling Author

Fiona’s fastest selling debut novel of 2016 ‘The Widow’, will be turned into a psychological TV drama. Following a 25 year career writing for the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday, Fiona – with her husband - decided to volunteer with VSO in Sri Lanka. Fiona trained journalists while Gary taught carpentry. During this time, Fiona started to develop characters for her first book. She’s now writing her second.

Julia Lalla-Maharajh OBE - CEO and Founder of the Orchid Project

After working in transport policy for fifteen years, Julia volunteered with VSO in Ethiopia where 75% of girls endure female genital mutilation. She became so outraged, she set up her own charity – the ‘Orchid Project’ - to fight FGM. Julia sees her placement as a “gateway” which helped her transition into her “second life”. She was awarded an OBE for her work.

Duncan Parker - Managing Director of Ethical Goods and a Trustee of Stop the Traffik

Ethical Goods brings businesses and charities together to promote corporate social responsibility and to create sustainable products. Earlier this year, Duncan collaborated with VSO’s ‘Shakespeare Lives’ campaign to produce the commemorative Shakespeare pen.

Kathleen Spencer Chapman - Head of Policy & Public Affairs at Bond Int’l Develop Network.

Kathleen has 15 years’ experience campaigning about global poverty and injustice. Her passion for international development began whilst living in India where she campaigned against child labour. Bond supports international development organisations with funding, research and training. VSO is a member.

About VSO is the world’s leading independent international development organisation that works through volunteers to fight poverty in developing countries. Since 1958, VSO has been bringing people together to share skills, build capabilities, promote international understanding and ultimately changes lives to make the world a fairer place.

About International Citizen Service (ICS)  is an international youth development volunteering programme which brings 18 to 25-year-olds together from all backgrounds to fight poverty. ICS is funded by the UK Government and led by VSO. ICS is delivered by the following agencies: Raleigh International, Restless Development, Tearfund, International Service, Y-Care International, Balloon Ventures and Challenges Worldwide and Pravah. ICS is open to everyone, regardless of income. All ICS volunteers are asked to fundraise and receive professional support to help them meet their targets. Fundraising ensures that developing countries can continue to benefit from the work of ICS volunteers in future.