International Citizen Service, (ICS) was introduced by the government three years ago; the idea behind the scheme is to give young adults the opportunity to work in a developing country. It’s the first in its kind and the government hopes by introducing this scheme it will give young people a new set of skills for future employment and the opportunity to experience a different culture. International Citizen Service has been up and running since 2011 and it’s set to last until 2015, although there are hopes of extending the programme.

To take part in the scheme you do not need any qualifications, just the willingness to help others. It’s a 12 week scheme and volunteers are allocated a role depending on the skills they already have. The programme is funded by the Department of International Development; they cover air fare, accommodation, food and a monthly living allowance. All the participants needs to do is fundraise £800 which goes to future projects – but don’t worry!  You are helped by a staff member and it’s a great way to gain a skill to add to your CV.

ICS is a great scheme. I volunteered back in September and it was honestly one of the best decisions I have ever made. The recruitment process was pretty straightforward, you apply online and if you are successful you are called in for an interview, which is based in York. You are asked a variety of different questions on why you are applying for ICS, past job experiences and your future plans, the only downside is you don’t get to choose the country or the project, as that’s done for you.

I was placed in Ghana, in a small town called Bolgatanga situated in the Upper East region. I worked within a team of four, who I lived and worked with. Our accommodation was just outside of Bolgatanga in a town called Zurringo. We lived in a lovely house, with running water, electricity and a 24 hour ‘watchman’ (Security). Safety was a major concern for me before I departed, even though Ghana is known as a country of peace, it’s always in the back of your mind. However I was reassured that ICS wouldn’t place volunteers in a country they feel is unsafe!

Once I was in the country I was given a week’s worth of training. We learnt about safety, what to expect and the projects. I was placed on the ‘INCOME project’ where I would be helping fundraise for a Ghanaian NGO called TradeAID Integrated. The ‘INCOME’ project consisted of five different fundraising components: Training the leather workers on using better quality leather; bringing a craft fair to Bolga, so they can showcase their craft work; computer training, so the craft workers can contact international buyers; building two more crafts centres and purchasing safety equipment such as gloves masks etc.

The projects are ongoing; each team carries on with what the previous team did. All the projects are planned thoroughly and each team has a clear set goal on what they should achieve. We were fundraising for the craft workers who live in the upper east, which is known for its craftsmanship and their beautifully handmade ‘Bolga Baskets’. Each basket has its own unique touch! It’s amazing to watch the craft workers at work; they are so talented, their skills are passed down from generation to generation. Unfortunately they do not always get their fair share in profit, which is where TradeAID Integrated step in. They ensure that the craft workers get their fair share and help sell their merchandise internationally.

We began by looking for companies and NGOs that give grants to projects such as ours. There was a lot of emailing and phone calls, many who we didn’t hear back from. We had to find alternative ways to fundraise and looked at how we could promote fair trade for Bolgatanga. We decided to start a Kickstarter fundraising campaign, to bring a crafts fair to Bolga. We had to create a short video for the campaign, I really enjoyed this aspect of the project as we were able to get out of the office and meet the people of Bolga. We rebranded TradeAID’s website to make their products more marketable. We also looked into bringing Fair Trade town status to Bolgatanga; we contacted Fairtrade towns back in the UK, to see whether or not they would like to do a link with Bolga. We were able to meet with the regional minster of Bolga where we discussed our ideas and how it would be beneficial for Bolgatanga as a whole. The previous team noticed how many of the craft workers didn’t keep a record of their sales. As a result of the findings, we regularly had check-ins with the workers and assisted them with filling in their books.

The 12 weeks flew by and as a team we did achieve a lot, it was a challenge at times but it was honestly a worthwhile experience. After doing ICS I see things differently, I learnt so much about Ghana and the struggles of the locals and how lucky I am to be living in a country that offers opportunity. Overall, I’d highly recommend others to do ICS; you are taken care of and assisted through everything! You gain the chance to see another country, gain vital skills and meet new people!

Sources:

http://www.volunteerics.org/

http://tradeaidgh.org/tradeaid/