Category: Volunteering

Why an internship abroad in an emerging economy is more beneficial

“The results are interns with higher levels of confidence and added motivation to make a significant contribution”

An internship abroad is well-accepted as being an advantageous asset on the resumé of students and recent graduates entering an increasingly competitive global job market accompanied with professional and personal development, but shouldn’t we also consider what value the destination of an internship abroad has? 
For example, could it be even more advantageous for students and recent graduates to intern abroad in a fast-paced emerging economy rather than a well-developed economy?  This argument can be broken down into four key points using the feedback and comments we have collated from our alumni who have completed an internship program via Intern Colombia in Colombia, South America.
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Youth around the world need higher education for a bright future, including refugees

“Working in a refugee camp requires addressing basic needs in addition to providing programs that allow for flexibility while holding students accountable to high standards.”

A graduate of Kepler, a program that works in partnership with Southern New Hampshire University to offer US accredited degrees to students in East Africa, Landry Sugira is an advisor in the Kepler Kiziba refugee camp.

When I was growing up, my parents used to ask me, “what do you want to be in the future and what does it require in terms of education to reach there?” I thought that this question was a bit ridiculous because I did not fully understand how important education can be. Since obtaining my degree and now working as an advisor in a higher education program, I understand why they asked that question.

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Ghana – through the eyes of a volunteer

“There’s no sugar coating it, cultural differences hit you hard and instantly”

Joe Pearson, Marketing Executive at African Adventures, shares his experience of volunteering in Ghana.

Despite working for a well-established volunteer travel provider, I’m not really a seasoned traveller. In fact, before volunteering in Ghana, I’d never left Europe. Naturally, when I was presented with the opportunity to volunteer at two schools located in Woe, a rural fishing village in South-Eastern Ghana, I eagerly grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

Upon arrival, you’re immediately hit by the culture shock. There’s no sugar coating it, cultural differences hit you hard and instantly. Everything is different. Even relatively simple local customs are hard to get to grips with. For example, it’s impolite to use your left hand to gesture or take money. Customs like this present a fun challenge and yet they’re constant reminder of where and who you are.

People wear the most beautiful, colourful clothing and seem unfazed by the poverty that surrounds them on a day-to-day basis. To say that Ghanaians friendly is a huge understatement, I’ve never been anywhere where I’ve felt so welcome.

Despite being one of Africa’s real success stories, evidently Ghana still has some way to go. In Accra, you don’t need to go far to find areas where people live way below the poverty line and struggle to get by on a day-to-day basis. One wrong turning can take you into an area where prostitution is abundant and young men sit drinking by the side of the road with little else to occupy their thoughts and time.

There’s a real contrast between the more beautiful aspects of the country and those that are considerably less savoury. In a way, though, I think this is part of what made the trip so fascinating and eye-opening. Despite some of the blatant and widespread corruption, crime and poverty, there’s an overwhelming sense of positivity that courses through the country’s veins.

Volunteering was the name of the game; it’s why I was there. Our destination was Woe, a beautiful, rural fishing village in the Volta region. Geographically unique, Woe is situated in the middle of the massive Keta lagoon and is also located close to Lake Volta, the largest man-made lake in the world. Woe is where African Adventures partner schools are based, some of which are private while others are government funded. All of them are understaffed, under-resourced in need of basic assistance.

Poverty in Woe is very different from the poverty we saw in Accra. As a small village, there aren’t sprawling slums where thousands go hungry daily. In Woe, people don’t really go hungry. It’s a rural community so if someone is hungry they can quite literally live off the land. It’s not encouraged, but someone could forage for food on neighbouring farms in the most dire of circumstances. The problem is more a lack of opportunity – there’s a real glass ceiling for some of the children. Many of them recognise that they will inevitably end up working in agriculture and thus education is not given the same value that it should be. It’s really telling that so few children remain at school much past the age of 15 or so. It’s a viscous cycle because ‘middle-class’ job opportunities are so few and far between so there is very little wealth creation and thus this lack of opportunities persists. I’d like to think that we are a part of the solution; Jack Freeman, a year 11 volunteer, wrote that “even if it is just a small difference to us, to these kids even a small difference is potentially life-changing”.

“I’m convinced that volunteering gave me a deeper insight into Ghanaian life and allowed me to dig deeper than the average tourist”

I’m convinced that volunteering with African Adventures gave me a deeper insight into Ghanaian life and allowed me to dig deeper than the average tourist. As tourists, we so often mentally separate the places we visit from the struggles faced by resident communities because it is convenient to do so. Volunteering allows you to become one with the community, playing an active part rather than observing from a distance. If you truly want to experience a different way of life and a different culture, do it through volunteering. The experience will utterly consume you, you’ll come back a different person.

A change for the better: learning outside the classroom

“More students are being offered the opportunity of school expeditions to actually learn what it means to be a global citizen in a hyper-globalised world”

Tom Waugh, Foundation Co-ordinator at African Adventures, extols the virtues of volunteering abroad, and the benefits it can bring to both students and the communities in which they work.

The geography classroom has come a long way since I left school over a decade ago (which really was not that long ago!). More students are being offered the opportunity of school expeditions to not only travel and understand the world we live in, or meet people from different cultures, or even get involved in projects abroad, but actually learn what it means to be a global citizen in a hyper-globalised world.

More students than ever before are also gaining real employable skills from group volunteering trips in Africa; from running their own fundraising campaigns, raising awareness of their travels or fundraising for charitable causes, which is something that we see here at African Adventures all the time. If anything, the rise in social media over the past decade, the numerous charity fundraising websites that are now available and the fact that young adults are becoming ‘cleverer’ with modern technology/communication portals all helps with fundraising and putting the word out there. This is also exactly what a lot of employers look for today. Young workers who use their initiative and find ways to meet objectives and targets.

“More students than ever before are gaining real employable skills from group volunteering trips in Africa”

During the past two years of my working in this sector and volunteering in Ghana, Kenya and Zanzibar with school groups, I have seen students bag-pack in supermarkets, jump out of airplanes, abseil off buildings, and hold disco, quiz and curry nights, to name just a few.

These invaluable skills are not only accessible for the rich or middle-class kids that it seemed to be when I was at school. More students from perceived ‘less well-off’ areas or backgrounds are seizing the opportunity to volunteer now. Not at twenty when I could first afford to travel abroad without my parents and volunteer for long periods of time!

The knock-on effects from students travelling and volunteering abroad also have a massive impact on the children that we work with in project schools in Africa. Aside from the obvious physical work that these student volunteers carry out on building new classrooms, renovating structures or teaching mathematics and English, our student volunteers are also choosing to continue their support of our charitable causes. In essence, student volunteers are seeing the support process all the way through. From meeting the children that are directly benefited through our work to actually propping up and supporting that process by volunteering, fundraising and donating towards the further development of these communities. In some cases, our volunteers even come back for family volunteering trips in Africa. We’re witnesses to a paradigm shift, the concept of the traditional ‘family package holiday’ is also changing and, in my mind, for the better!

“One of the things I love seeing is this breaking down of barriers, the understanding students obtain that despite the different way of life, the different cultures, tastes, sights and smells”

If more of our young adults took up this calling, or were presented with this opportunity, our country’s young adults would be even more fit to live in a constantly globalised world where it is not uncommon to talk to someone across the other side of the world on a daily basis or live next door to someone who fifty years ago would be described as ‘foreign’.
One of the biggest things I love seeing is this breaking down of barriers, the understanding students obtain that despite the different way of life, the different cultures, tastes, sights and smells. We are all the same in this world and we all should continue to promote this way of life, for cultural discoveries at a young age and for the act of giving a helping hand to those in need.