Charity & Volunteering, Life & Happiness, Travel

ICS Week 4: Mixed emotions, Malaria & minibus adventures

Week 4 has been a rollercoaster of a week for me! After the initial high of arriving in a new country and meeting awesome new people started to wear off, and the real hard work began, I had a bit of a low point during the week. Luckily with my lovely team supporting me and with my hard work paying off in small ways, my week ended on a high again…

The beginning of the week saw us entering local schools to inform them of one of our first events – a youth debate entitled ‘Let Our Voices Be Heard’. This event will bring together two of our Inclusive Neighborhood Spaces, allowing young people to speak up on local issues in their community and improve their public speaking. We invited the children from schools to come and watch, and do some fun musical and drama performances to make the event fun and engaging.

They were so excited and so many of them wanted to get involved and do performances!

One thing that brought the mood down during this week was illness of various team members. Two of our team caught Malaria – one in-country volunteer, Uduak and her UK counterpart, Batool. Batool unfortunately had to spend a couple of nights in hospital so we all went to cheer her up and play some card games.

Throughout the week we continued visiting schools, building relationships with various principles and important people, and letting children know about our debate event. One thing I began to struggle with was speaking to large groups of Nigerian children. With my naturally quiet voice and English accent they struggled to understand or hear me, so every effort I made to improve my public speaking skills felt wasted and pointless, leaving me feeling a bit deflated.

On one particular low day, my team leader Maf told me to take a little break and go home for the afternoon. I sat on my balcony, alone, with no electricity and no one to talk to. As I desperately wished for someone to moan to, suddenly I heard the fans came on in my sitting room – we had electricity, as if by a miracle! I plugged my phone in to charge and sat on the floor messaging my sister and my best friends to make myself feel better. This was literally the greatest way to lift my mood at that particular moment, and I realised just how much having electricity can make you feel better in certain situations. My support system back home is really strong, and I am lucky enough to have amazing family and friends, so having that little connection to my life back home, even just for an hour, made me feel so much better.

 A massive factor contributing to my stress and general low mood was my looming Active Citizen Day, which I was presenting with my counterpart, Emem. We had been working hard to make sure it was fun, engaging and was compatible with everyone’s learning styles – visual, practical, audio etc.

We decided to do our ACD on Gender Inequality – specifically girl empowerment through education. This is something we are both passionate about so we put in a lot of effort for our presentation.

We split the team in two and gave them a task of building a tower out of card and masking tape. For one team we gave only one piece of card and a small piece of tape, the other team we gave ample card and as much masking tape as they needed, and we told the teams that whoever builds the tallest tower that stands alone is the winner.

The team with the least amount of materials represented the girls of the world, the team with more materials represented the boys. This task was to illustrate the unfair disadvantage girls have throughout so many countries in the world – especially when it comes to education.

We then did a quiz that shared facts about girls education worldwide, some fun games including riddles and a wordsearch, a discussion about the disadvantages of keeping girls back in education, and a talk about personal experiences.

To finish the presentation, we gave everyone a piece of card with letters on and asked them to rearrange them into a hashtag to sum up our ACD. The cards read #LETGIRLSLEARN, which is an initiative put forward by the Peace Corps in USA, supported by Michelle Obama. We took a photo with everyone holding the cards and put it on social media. This proved to be a fun way of getting everyone involved with the topic of our ACD and the team all said they enjoyed it.

After completing our ACD both Emem and I felt a huge weight lifted from our shoulders! A lot of my stress went away and I felt happy with how it went. I have a need for the things I produce to be perfect, but obviously this is unrealistic and puts unnecessary pressure on myself. I am slowly learning to let go a little and be happy with the effort I put in – after all, as long as I’m working hard and trying my best, there really isn’t any more I can expect from myself.

At the end of the week we all went to visit one of the Inclusive Neighborhood Spaces that a previous cycle established, in Offin, Ikorodu. As it was a little journey away (Ikorodu is BIG), we all had to squeeze into a minibus that was definitely not designed for 16 of us, plus a driver!

This proved to be rather entertaining…numb bums and dead legs ensued…

It was so much fun visiting the space! We were strictly there to observe and make notes, as the aim was to see how the space is doing and decide how we can make it more sustainable and useful for the young people who meet there. It was so wonderful watching them play and learn, though. It was also really nice to see a little greenery! Aga, where we live in Ikorodu has become quite urban now, so there isn’t much grass or many trees to admire.

After we finished observing we played some games with the kids and took lots of photos! Everyone in the team really enjoyed themselves and I felt like it boosted morale so much within the group.

After this week I began to realise that volunteering is definitely not an all singing and dancing experience. I’ll admit I went into ICS with a view that it would be incredible and I’d be helping to save the world…once you begin volunteering for real, you understand that it’s really not like that in reality. While it is incredible, it is a lot of work and you should expect there to be ups and downs.

In just four weeks I can already feel myself changing and developing as a person. Personal development is also not always an easy or happy experience. It involves putting yourself outside of your comfort zone. It involves trying new things you might be afraid of, and it means making mistakes and trying again. But I’m hoping that at the end of my three months here in Nigeria, I will have a wealth of experience and memories that will stay with me forever.

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