Journeys: you can take them alone or with company, some are short and uninteresting, others distant and surprising, but each has its purpose and all have its challenges.
This is my team’s ICS journey - distant and surprising.
Traveling from the capital of the UK to the heart of Africa our journey was far from short. Together with 10 volunteers I boarded a Boeing 747 for a 10-hour, 4096-mile flight to Rwanda. Our journey’s purpose, personal and social, to challenge yourself to change the world, a unique opportunity.
How it all began
Every journey has a start, if you thought our journey began in a busy airport think again. Months and hours before, challenges had been faced and won - different for each of us. In fact, hours before departure I was on a London tube riding to the airport. It was Gay Pride, a suffocating 30-degree heat, and I was on the underground squashed, with my suitcase, in-between girls with glitter and sweaty armpits in a carriage infused by the odour of warm beer. This was challenging to say the least, yet that’s not where the journey really begins…
Our journey much like yours and many others before me, began by accepting the invitation to embark on the ICS programme. Your first step, sending off the application form. Your first challenge, laying aside the “what ifs” and jumping out of your safety boat.
After months of preparation, fundraising and painful vaccination, we didn’t need to imagine any more, our dreams were now reality. Even though we were jetlagged and tired we refused to rest our eyes as we travelled to our hotel. Eyes wide open, we looked out of the window of the bus, as we journey through the capital in awe of everything.
We were ready. Ready to experience all this land of a thousand hills had in store for us.
Arriving in our rural setting, together with our Rwandan volunteers, not being surrounded by shops, clubs and cinemas became our greatest advantage. We got to know each other’s likes and dislikes over countless games of cards. Over a soda, we learned about each other’s aspirations and with some banter we learned our different political views. Together we shared embarrassing stories and those that shaped us as individuals. With each day spent together, layers of our identity unravelled, with time we began to understand each other better. Every day was not perfect, but the more we come together, the better equipped we become at solving our differences.
The moto ‘Challenge yourself to change the world’
Challenging experiences makes us aware of our similarities and differences. We were challenged from the get go, be it getting used to eating cold food or being woken up by a rooster at five in the morning. We learned how to overcome these with time, one by one. Although, difficulties were not exclusive to UK volunteers alone, like us our Rwandan counterparts faced challenges. A common challenge among Rwandan volunteers, was understanding our faced paced English, native to UK volunteers, external to Rwandan volunteers. The consequence, chaos, words misunderstood and misinterpret, which lead to half the team not participating in project actives.
Other challenges were personal, an illness in the family, overcoming past problems, being torn between two worlds, dealing with bags of emotions. Reality is, challenges are present daily be it at home or in a country far away, but with each challenge there is an opportunity to grow. As a team, we learned to overcome ours, some alone and some with help of others. If you were to ask any of us, it is because of these challenges we have grown and developed.
First, we learned to work together, learning about each other, putting aside stereotypes based on initial impressions or our experiences of people.
Part way through, we all had to look back to the ICS code of conduct and remind ourselves to be flexible and adaptable. Our work included surveying members of the community that lived in rural environment, which was hard to access by foot. Therefore, it was essential for us to be flexible and work together for the success of our work and our project.
As a result, we have learnt that journeys are paved with moments of excitement, masked anxiety, displays of courage and a large wealth of determination – and the need for flexibility. It would be a lie if I told you the journey was an easy ride, our journey has been bumpy, with high and low terrains. We can recount countless moments we just wanted to go home and others where we wished it would never end.
Citizens of the world
As I write this, we have just completed presenting our final research to the Director of KOPAKAMA (coffee cooperative) and our partners for the past 9 weeks Our actions haven’t solved world problems, although I can confidently say that our actions have improved the community… Our research has helped us identify gaps and strength for KOPAKAMA to carry forward. Our actions contributed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) amongst which, quality education, gender equality and economic growth. We have carefully surveyed the community to understand their standard of living and awareness of human rights and gender equality, setting the vital foundations for future cohorts to carry forward.
Our journey here is ending, as we reflect on our experiences, we can see we have challenged ourselves, again and again and won! There is so much we will take from this experience including working and living in a new culture, integrating into a new community, developed new skills, making new friendships and learned how to work in a diverse team.
In regards to changing the world, our journey doesn’t end here. It will continue back home, through sharing SDGs, ideas and working with our friends across the continent, we will remain young and proactive citizens of the world.
Thanks for reading, I hope your getting ready and buckling up for your journey. Kristo G. Tafesse