How three months volunteering in Africa changed my life

Katie Unsworth lived and worked in the community in Kenya
Katie Unsworth lived and worked in the community in Kenya
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Katie Unsworth has returned from volunteering in Kenya. She tells Catherine Scott how it changed her life.

“Kenya has changed my life and I am so grateful for this experience,” says 22-year-old Katie Unsworth from Bradford.

Katie from Bradford spent three months volunteering in Kenya

Katie from Bradford spent three months volunteering in Kenya

Teaching assistant Katie spent 12 weeks working on a project fighting poverty in Kenya and is now calling on other young people to take the plunge and consider volunteering overseas.

Katie travelled with international development organisation VSO, as part of the UK government funded International Citizen Service (ICS) programme, where she worked alongside young volunteers from Kenya and the UK.

“I enjoyed absolutely everything with my placement. The teamwork, impact, members of the community, new culture and way of living and just constantly learning something new. My biggest achievement has to be at Oloyiapasei Primary School, Rombo, Kenya where we fundraised and got the money to get so many children shoes and resources for the school with our fundraising money.”

During her three-month stay in Africa, Katie lived with a local host family so that she was fully immersed into the community and could gain a better understanding of the challenges people there face.

Katie Unsworth with school children she helped in Kenya

Katie Unsworth with school children she helped in Kenya

“My community faced lots of challenges which was very overwhelming, however, with little time we wanted to ensure we made the best possible impact we could,” says Katie. “For example; many young people had never had sex education sessions or know anything about contraception measures. Therefore, we wanted to tackle young pregnancies and unprotected sex to empower the young girls and women to further their education and have more equal rights. It was a tough challenge but we left feeling so proud of delivering useful information sessions whilst demonstrating contraception methods to the girls and women and we hope to have empowered them to be more equal. Furthermore, school dropouts were high and with such a passion for what we were doing I wanted to empower the girls to come to school, as it was mainly boys.

“The further we looked into the issues the community faced we realised school was the highest problem. Girls were staying at home and with my team we wanted to stop that. We decided to fundraise through Just Giving to offer the children that walk large distances everyday to come to school a brand new pair of shoes. This was due to jiggers (a flea type insect) attacking the children’s feet when they are walking large distances.”

They managed to raise enough 
to buy more than 250 pairs of 
shoes and with the remaining money also bought new work/exercise books, pens, pencils, paint and brushes, paper, glue sticks, scissors, skipping ropes and footballs that 
the children have never ever had before.

“The school has progressed with our help and there has been a great increase in attendance and new admissions for the new year,” says Katie. Upon their return to the UK, all ICS volunteers undertake an ‘Action At Home’ project, ensuring that their new skills also benefit their local communities. Nearly 40,000 young people from the UK have participated on the programme since the scheme began in 2011.

“My whole experience was an eye-opener and very overwhelming at times. Once back home she shared her experience with her pupils at Cottingley Village Primary School in Bingley.

She now wants to encourage members in her community to do something like the VSO/ICS programme.

“Sharing stories and a completely different life with the children at home in Yorkshire has been amazing as it’s so lovely to be asked so many questions and teach the children things I learnt in Kenya. Upon my return it has been so rewarding for me to have educated them on poverty and understand how kindness and help goes such a long way.” She says ICS has made her re-evaluate what she wanted to do in the future.

“Previously, I didn’t really have a clear idea of what kind of career path I wanted to take, or what would suit my personality best. I have always been a people person and had a passion for young children but now I realise I can work with any age group.

“After this experience, I have realised I would like to further my career in supporting and helping others, who are struggling. Therefore, I have decided to stick to working in a school but would like to research and take courses in mental health awareness and helping people overcome mental health issues as that is something close to me and someone could be struggling in ways you can’t see. I am looking forward to progressing myself and my career and hope to have inspired young children and others to volunteer one day. VSO has changed my life.”

Before she left for Kenya, Katie raised £1,040 for VSO, which will ensure that communities in developing countries can continue to benefit from the work of volunteers.

Felicity Morgan, Director of ICS at VSO, said: “It’s really inspiring to hear about the fantastic work Katie did on placement. We’re incredibly proud that UK aid is supporting young Brits to bring about positive change in some of the world’s poorest communities.

“VSO sees how people across Britain play an important role in delivering UK aid. From the NHS and Army helping end the Ebola crisis, to the millions who generously donate, and the contribution we all make through taxes, together we are all making the world a fairer, safer place.”