With exams finally out of the way and the British weather vaguely behaving itself, I am now preparing myself for a ten week volunteering placement in Bangladesh over the summer. As someone who counts Russia as the most exotic place they have been, this is both an exciting and slightly nerve-wracking experience.
Few people in the UK seem to know much about Bangladesh. I included myself in this until more recently, when I discovered that it is the country most vulnerable to the effects of global warming, with studies suggesting that it will one day be completely underwater. Natural disasters coupled with the eighth largest population in the world mean that 63 million people live below the poverty line and that the country needs to prepare for long-term adaptation.
Although I’d always been taught about climate change, it shocked me that our actions over here so directly impact upon peoples’ lives in a country so far away.
In some ways, Bangladesh has made major recent gains in human development. Rapid industrialisation and structural change has led to much rural to urban migration, however the economic model of the country has remained pro-poor (poverty rate reduced from 50 per cent in 2000 to 30 per cent in 2010.) In the surrounding regions, Bangladesh is seen as leading the way for women’s rights – there are now more girls in primary schools than boys because of a successful education policy. Maternal mortality has significantly decreased with a 30 per cent reduction in deaths over a 5 year period.
However, there is much more that needs to be done. At our orientation weekend last month, we were told a story of one of the women in the village who woke up to find that her 3-month-old baby had been washed away in the night by the extreme flooding.
This is what has motivated me to take part in the government’s ICS scheme and to try to become a more active global citizen. Anyone aged 18-25 can apply to do International Citizen Service (ICS), which is partially funded by the Department for International Development, but run in practice by various UK organisations. It has an impact on thirty of the world’s poorest countries and works by linking with communities who ask for young volunteers. These communities want young people who will engage with their peers and catalyse community participation. It aims to engage volunteers who are representative of the UK diversity, regardless of cash and backgrounds. You can find out more here.
However as well as funding volunteers from the UK, the government partners each person with an in-country volunteer of around the same age. This means we will all learn from each other and truly be integrated into another culture.
In Bangladesh, I will be involved in teaching, community work and manual labour and will be living with a host family, who will take me in as their own for 10 weeks. A big part of ICS is becoming an active member of the community: “that might mean living with a host family, joining local Church celebrations, attending community events and meetings, getting to know your neighbours and working together.” (ICS website.)
This also doesn’t stop when you get home afterwards. As well as still keeping in contact with the relationships built on the placement, part of ICS involves doing something in the local UK community within 3 months of returning. This could be volunteering here, or campaigning to do with something seen in Bangladesh.
Although I still have a month to go until departure, after the orientation, meeting the rest of the UK team and learning more about Bangladesh, I cannot wait for the end of June! If you’re in interested in following our progress, our blog is here. If any of you have a free summer, or are thinking of taking a gap year after uni, I would definitely recommend that you look into ICS.