It’s nearly 5pm, and three other volunteers and I are standing in a classroom with an excited crowd of kids around us asking questions about English, scribbling the answers down in their notebooks. English Club and the school day technically finished at 4pm, but after we packed up, the children wanted to learn more from the topic of that day (professions: what do you want to be when you grow up?). As they leave they each give us big hugs with big smiles, whilst chirping “see you tomorrow!”
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So, as part of an ICS placement, most of the volunteers are paired with another volunteer with whom they will be placed in the host home and share a room. This is the case for all teams unless they have an odd number, bar the Team Leaders. I got Olivia (hereafter Liv), the scouser who's too posh to have a scouse accent (ha-ha I'm joking Liv)! I spent literally every single day of three months with her. For any introverts, or extroverts that have introvert tendencies, you know the concept of that is a bit daunting.
On arrival at Heathrow Airport, two rhetorical questions were uttered by all UK volunteers almost instantly: “What are we doing?” and “Why am I actually doing this?” (Expletives removed here). As we edged closer to Nicaragua on our 18-hour journey, these questions were repeated several times (the bumpy flight was not at all helpful).
During our time in Managua we stayed in a modest building; dormitories of ten with a couple of bathrooms and toilet paper to be deposited in the open bin next to the loo (not ideal in the heat). However, the downfalls of the Nicaraguan drainage system are fully compensated by the environment which contains it. Flowing off the main building, a covered patio runs the length of the building with one side adorned entirely by hammocks. Stretching out in them in the early morning, the sun just peaking out through the trees, was the closest thing to paradise I had yet to experience.
On 11 October, we observe the fourth International Day of the Girl Child, as declared by the United Nations. The aim of the day is to support greater opportunities for girls, who make up 1.1 billion of the world’s population, and increase awareness of gender inequality faced by girls globally. Such inequalities include: access and a right to an education, nutrition, medical care, legal rights, protection from discrimination, violence against women and child marriage.
The sun is fatiguing and the dry earth makes you want to drink an iced glass of water. I am arriving in a community that fills me with so many memories and melancholy. I am returning to La Sabanita, one year after volunteering with Progressio ICS, in a team made up of Nicaraguan and British volunteers. Doing a tour through the school, observing so much success and how the students have benefited from our placement, leaves no room for doubt that we delivered what was expected of us.
A year after my ICS placement with Progressio Nicaragua, I decided to return to the community of La Sabanita. It was very gratifying to meet again the people with whom I worked with, whom as usual received me with joy and enthusiasm. It was noticeable the friendliness and the smiles of the women who had received the veggie patches, and who recognised me when they saw me coming.
Before joining ICS, I was sceptical about applying for the programme because I did not think I could work cross-culturally and in a team of different people from different backgrounds. But doubts are traitors because they make us lose the good we often might win.
Having returned from my ICS placement in Zimbabwe, I'm cycling speedily through the streets of a busy English city, surrounded by people occupying themselves with the daily rush of this urban jungle. People brush shoulders, overtake each other, their eyes glued to mobile phones and earphones securely in place to drown out the noise of the outside world. I'm left wondering how it could be that I felt so alone, when being surrounded by so many people. Perhaps it was reverse culture shock kicking in.
1. Be yourself. It’s like starting school again, or freshers if you’ve already been there, done that, with the whole Uni thing. Most importantly you’re all in the same situation, and you wouldn’t have been selected for the ICS programme if you weren’t all like-minded people, so there’s no doubt you’ll all get on! Oh and don’t worry about sharing a room with one of them, you’ll be too close by the end!