Progressio ICS volunteer Jordan Newbury describes what he has been up to since returning to the UK from Malawi...

Since my return to the UK the journey that I embarked on has had many effects on my work, attitudes, and general thoughts about how we live and work here in the UK. In addition, since the first day that I walked out of Lilongwe Airport in Malawi to the present day, I have felt an array of mixed emotions towards my team, the people I was working directly with, the friends that I made, and also the unexpected culture shock of returning to the UK.

During the first two weeks of being back from Malawi the culture shock of returning really hit home. I felt quite low during this period and was constantly asking myself questions such as, Did we even make a difference? Were we there long enough? Can I fit in again here in the UK? This made the return more difficult than when I actually arrived in Africa. Though this time was difficult and also unexpected, I would not have changed any of it for the world!

I am now back in Bristol working in a large 98 place children’s centre as Deputy Manager & SENCO (special educational needs coordinator) and this setting has been the hub for my UK action. One of the conditions from my employer to be allowed the 10 weeks off work to go to Malawi was that I took what I had learned whilst in Africa and made a positive contribution to the centre. I have done this in a few different ways. First I created a large display in the main entrance of the children’s centre showing many photos of the work we did and also various captions describing what the pictures represented. This was a real hit with both staff and the parents that use the setting. On a regular basis I am answering questions and telling stories of the experiences I had during my time there. I never would have thought that there would be so much interest from the families so it has been really enjoyable feeding back to them.

In the month before I set off for Malawi the children’s centre was given a grade of Outstanding throughout all areas by OFSTED. This was a fantastic achievement by all the staff but has also enabled us to promote our practices and use them to assist other settings. Shortly after my return the children's centre put on a conference where we showed members of staff from various other childcare settings around the west of England how we do certain things at our setting. I saw this as an excellent opportunity to talk about some of the things that I had learnt during my time in Malawi.

One of the workshops that we ran on the day was about creative learning but also how to be resourceful in times of financial difficulty. In Africa the people were doing nearly everything with very little, if not no, resources. This made me think about how well we have things in the UK and very much changed my attitude to the way I work and use resources in my own setting.

The short talk I did went down very well with the people attending and they said that it gave a different outlook to the topic of being resourceful and made them more aware of the hardships that people have in developing countries. I saw this as a massive bonus that people had taken on board what I had been talking about and the fact that people were continuing to ask questions after the conference had finished.

Shortly after the conference the children’s centre held our 2-monthly staff meeting where every member of staff from both our early years settings attend and discuss any relevant information or changes that have come up over that period. I saw this as another excellent opportunity to talk about my time in Malawi and how I felt it affected me as an early years professional. There were almost 80 people present. Firstly I gave the staff a quick questionnaire that I had put together to give them some of the facts about Malawi. I gave them 10 minutes to answer the questions then went through the answers with everyone. I then went on to show them a series of photos and asked them to discuss how they felt about what they saw and how different it is to the daily things we see and do in our work with children here in the UK. The pictures triggered many comments and discussions which were all very well received by all. Again the focus was on what was possible with next to no resources. I found this very enjoyable to do and so did the staff I was delivering it to.

At the children’s centre we have a close relationship with our neighbouring school who have just visited Uganda with a group of their year 6 children. The trip was a huge success for the school and the pupils who took part. I took this opportunity to discuss aspects of their trip and my own with the teacher who led the trip and have been planning to hold a talk/presentation for other schools in the area who would like more information on taking part in similar expeditions as our own. Progress is being made and we hope do hold these talks next month.

My final part of my UK action will be taking place in June where I will be assisting Progressio with their pre-departure training in London. This was a part of my journey as a volunteer that I enjoyed very much. It was great to meet people with similar passions to my own and the information that we were given there was invaluable to my trip. I am very much looking forward to being involved and also meeting the next group of volunteers who will be leaving soon.

To end I would like to personally thank Progressio for the life changing opportunity that they gave to me. The whole experience has affected me in many ways and I believe made me a better person and professional.

Jordan Newbury was in Malawi with Progressio ICS from January to March 2012. Photo: one of the workshops that Jordan has run since returning to his job at the children's centre.