Have you ever wanted to travel, learn, experience new cultures, develop skills along the way all the while making a difference to people’s lives? Sounds a little too good to be true, but the ICS Programme is the doorway to all of these promises and it’s waiting for you to turn the handle and get involved.
ICS stands for International Citizen Service and is a programme for 18-25 year old British people to use their skills and personality to help development projects around the world for three months. The whole process is funded by DFID, the Department for International Development, and by 2015 the ICS programme will have sent 14,000 young people on development projects around the world in the hope of advancing the promises of the Millennium Development Goals.
ICS is the umbrella organisation co-ordinating the programme but to administer the volunteers effectively they partner with nine well established charities. These nine charities then work with organisations in the designated countries, working closely with them on long term projects. The ICS volunteers essentially become temporary workers, continuing an on-going project from the previous group of volunteers.
The beauty of ICS from a young person’s perspective is that acceptance is not based on qualifications, extensive experience or acutely specific skills. They are looking for motivated and enthusiastic people who have a lot to offer personally to their projects. What also sets ICS apart is the funding from DFID, a government agency, so there are no extortionate fees to pay; the volunteer is required to fundraise £800 towards the scheme and the rest is taken care of, including all expenses incurred for travel to assessment days, training, vaccinations, and visas.
This support wouldn’t exist for a programme that wasn’t beneficial to the projects, the partner charities and also the volunteers involved. That’s why ICS is a vitally important programme, and something that anyone thinking about development should consider. It was for this reason that I applied for ICS, and was accepted onto a project in Palestine in April 2014.
THE PROCESS FROM APPLICATION TO VACCINATIONS
Similar to a job application in many ways, ICS takes the acceptance of applicants very seriously and the first stage is a lengthy online application form to set out your goals, motivations, experience and future hopes.
If successful in your application you’ll be asked to an assessment day with a partner charity where you will be assessed alongside other hopefully applicants. A team of co-ordinators will set tasks and activities to see your interactions and abilities and put you at ease with how the programme works and if it is the right thing for you. Be clear and honest about your motivations and most of all show your enthusiasm for development and how you can help.
Once accepted onto the programme you begin preparation. An ICS Co-ordinator will have regular contact with you to allay any fears and help you on the process of vaccinations, visas and fundraising the £800 required of each volunteer (the other 90% is funded by DFID).
£800 does sound like a big mountain to climb in terms of fundraising but it can be achieved with the right dedication and creativity. A fundraising co-ordinator helps you each step of the way to realise this target. It’s certainly not a point to be put off by and is a tiny portion of most unscrupulous voluntourism programmes that seek only to make profits, not aid development.
Finally, a few weeks before your departure date you will be invited on a two day training course to meet the rest of your team, learn about your specific projects when you’re in country and think about your responsibilities when you’re there. It’s made absolutely clear that you are not going on a holiday – you’ll hopefully have a great time, but you’re there to work.
I was placed on the International Service programme in the Occupied Palestinian Territories but owing to complications outside of our control the team has now been dispersed onto other projects, so in April 2014 I will now be travelling to Ghana for three months. The uncertainty involved in volunteering for an international organisation is something you must be prepared for. The process of development is exactly that, a process, so things change and we must adapt to that change.
Steph Le Lievre is about to embark to Burkina Faso with ICS, and stresses this point, ‘Be prepared to be flexible! [You] ultimately don’t get a choice in where you’re going, who with and what you’ll be doing. You have to trust the programme to do its best to send you where you’re most useful’.
WILL I BE USEFUL, OR A HINDRANCE?
Is a question most who have thought about development have grappled with but Steph, and myself, feel ICS is an incredibly useful programme.
‘There’s time [3 months] to get something done, and hopefully make a little bit of a difference. Secondly, ICS projects work in partnership (emphasis on partnership) with local development agencies, who have asked for support from ICS volunteers. You can rest a little easier knowing that you’re wanted, and aren’t being more of a hindrance than you are a help, and you’re not imposing projects on your hosts.’
Jersey boy Robert Campbell is going to Botswana with Skillshare International and will be leading a team of volunteers. ‘I am hoping to have a positive impact in the community I am working in. My team is the first team to be sent out to Botswana and work with local partner organisations. We will be working with Coaching for Hope and our aim will be to educate young people about HIV/AIDS through sport.
Secondly, my aim will be to make sure that my team get the most out of the project as possible, through facilitating their personal development by challenging them and offering guidance where appropriate. Finally, I hope to learn more about my management style, improve my communication and teamwork skills and gain a real understanding of life in a developing country.’
Rob has recently left his well-paid job in the City of London to pursue his dream of working in International Relations. ‘I have given up a reliable and steady career, but I have gained the opportunity to work in a field that greatly motivates and interests me. An easy decision in the end.’
WHAT HAVE YOU GO TO LOSE?
What all of us embarking on this adventure will agree is it’s not about charity; it’s working to develop long term initiatives that have a resounding effect on the future. It’s not capacity building in the sense of building clinics or a school, but developing lasting relationships with communities so they themselves can prosper.
We each have our own personal hopes for the programme but the central motivation for all of us is to make a difference in the communities we are placed in. Through this experience we will undoubtedly grow as people and become more impacting, more effective, global citizens.
To anyone still thinking about it, Steph has these sound words; ‘Go for it! It’s a great opportunity and you don’t have much to lose!’