BACK IN 2014 JERSEYMAN ROBERT CAMPBELL WAS FEELING RATHER DISILLUSIONED WHILST WORKING IN LONDON, RATHER THAN BECOMING FURTHER CAUGHT UP IN THE RAT RACE HE DECIDED HE WANTED TO EMBARK UPON A NEW CHALLENGE. IT WAS DURING THIS TIME THAT HE DISCOVERED THE WORK OF SKILLSHARE. THEY’RE AN INTERNATIONAL VOLUNTEERING AND DEVELOPMENT ORGANISATION, WHO WORK IN PARTNERSHIP WITH COMMUNITIES IN AFRICA AND ASIA TO REDUCE POVERTY, INJUSTICE AND INEQUALITY AND TO FURTHER ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT.

They do this by sharing and developing skills and ideas, facilitating organisational and social change and building awareness of development issues. Robert tells us about his experiences whilst working in the small village of Kang, Botswana, Southern Africa:

“This time last year, I was working in a successful start-up recruitment business in London. Things were going great but at the start of 2014 I felt unfulfilled and wanted to try something completely different and take on a real challenge. I’ve always had a passion for travelling, so I decided to leave the world of Financial Recruitment and began searching for worthwhile opportunities abroad.

A few friends of mine had been on placements with the International Citizen Service (ICS). This is a UK government funded development programme, backed by the Department for International Development that sends young people from the UK, regardless of their background, to volunteer on development projects around the world in lower and middle income countries. Anyone who is aged 18-25 is able to apply. To take part you won’t need qualifications, experience or cash – just the passion and determination to make a difference. One of the aspects of the ICS programme is that each volunteer is partnered up with a national volunteer and this gives a unique insight into life in a developing community and the challenges these communities face. I thought this was perfect for me – I could combine my love of travelling and experiencing new cultures whilst learning and developing new skills in a challenging environment.

If you are over 23, which I was when I went, and have experience of working with young people, you can apply to be a team leader.  I was sent to Botswana as a Team Leader,   for six months. Along with the national Team Leaders from Botswana, we were responsible for the welfare and work of six volunteers in the first three months and then 12 volunteers in the second group. I knew relatively little about the country before I left – only that they had a hideously high rate of HIV/AIDS and that it was mainly desert. I was placed in a very small village right in the heart of the Kalahari called Kang, Botswana. It has a population of around 5,000 people, covered in sand and thorns and is certainly not a tourist destination.

The majority of our time was spent at the local secondary school, Matsha College. The pass rate at the school was 14%, which makes it one of the worst performing schools in Southern Africa. We soon found out that teachers in Botswana have a very different approach to teaching than we have in the UK. Classes can have up to 50 students and as a result, teachers require total control. Students speak when they are spoken to or else they will experience the cane. We were not there to teach – none of us were qualified teachers. What we did was break down these large class sizes and take a more interactive, discussion based approach to learning and aimed to teach transferable study skills that the students could use once we had left. Most of all we wanted to make it fun. We had a lot of freedom and had almost complete ownership over the games, quizzes and debates we created. The real incentive for us was to have the Government of Botswana provide volunteers each year to help reduce the enormous class sizes and continue the work we had started. In order for this to happen, we need 10 students (out of c.700) to achieve 6 A*s. Exam are happening now and results are released in January, but initial results look positive!

This was a real challenge – session planning and evaluating, as well as classroom management and winning the confidence of sceptical teachers were not skills I was expecting to learn but were crucial, especially as a Team Leader. Beyond the educational projects, we also held an event on World Environment Day to raise awareness for environmental issues that was featured on the UN website and put together a communication plan for a local college.

This kept us busy enough, but there was also life in Botswana and the culture to learn about and get used to. Each volunteer was placed in a homestay in the village and I was placed with the most incredible family. They taught me about the culture, the food, took me to weddings, funerals and birthdays and I soon became very integrated into community life. I was given the Setswana name “Kableo”, which means a gift from God (a tough name to live up to). Because of them, I learnt Setswana, slaughtered a goat and gave a sermon in Church (despite not having the read the Bible before). Towards the end of my time with them, I found out that my host parents had taken in around 50 children over the past 25 years, fed them and paid for their school fees. This is not uncommon in Botswana, where there is a real sense of community and sharing. They have also given me some land (I’ve been told I must buy some goats) which gives me another excuse to go back.

The placement is certainly not without its challenges. It was by far the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life, but also the most enjoyable and rewarding. I’ve found a passion for education and after some further travelling next year, I’m hoping to complete my PGCE in secondary education and go on to study Education and International Development/ Comparative Education. The ICS covers a whole range of projects across Health, Livelihoods and the Environment. Whether you are considering taking a gap year or just not sure you are on the right career path, getting out of Jersey’s little bubble can be an immensely rewarding experience and the ICS offers a worthwhile and unique opportunity to challenge yourself.”