Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The difficulty of staying focussed

By Guy Levy

Prior to our departure and from the beginning of our in-country work ICS volunteers are taught and reminded of the three main ICS principles; project impact, being engaged as an active global citizen and personal development. It’s these three principles that we use when assessing and evaluating the success and development of both the work on our projects and our trip as a whole. I’ve often found that the latter, Personal Development is disregarded as somewhat insignificant, not just in comparison to the other principles but as a concept in itself. For me Personal Development is a key factor in the purpose of doing voluntary work abroad, as the lessons I have learnt, and keep on learning, about myself and about other people’s lives will stick with me for the rest of my life and shall hopefully help me to be a better, less ignorant, more well rounded human being.

Personal Development is possibly the hardest of the three principles to work on. You can work harder and smarter on improving project impact and you can make strenuous efforts to be an active global citizen, but to consider and change yourself is a much harder task to accomplish. For most of my time here I’ve found it very difficult to achieve any form of change and development, this is, I think, in part to the differences in my upbringing, values and beliefs to much of the rest of my Cohort. Beyond the expected strains of living, working, socialising and travelling with over twenty people, who to begin with are essentially strangers, I found that my personal differences created additional tensions which left me feeling almost vilified at times by many of my fellow UK volunteers. It’s to be expected that on a volunteering trip in the development sector that there would be lots of people with big personalities and strong opinions on a variety of topics, the hard part of this is when your personal takes on matters strongly differ from the general consensus. So by week nine, I had found myself somewhat de-motivated and disengaged from my project, detached from some of the volunteers and disillusioned with the purpose of my time here.

Over the past five days my group have been working in a rural mining town in the Yungas (an area in the north of the country which is a mix between the Andes and the Amazon) teaching drug awareness and sexual education to youths aged from as young as eleven and twelve to as old as eighteen years old, my age. What startled me was how little these youths actually knew about the dangers of drug abuse, addiction and unprotected sex. To be able to inform and engage with these young people on such matters that they were so ill-informed on was almost euphoric, to be able to visibly see that you are making a difference that can be lasting and in some cases even life changing. Experiencing this has given me a refreshed perspective on why I’m in Bolivia on a twelve week volunteering trip, quite simply to help and to hopefully make a positive change.

This has helped me to overcome my rather selfish “all about me attitude” that left me feeling disillusioned with the trip in the first place. As nice as it is to get on with the rest of my cohort and have friendships blossom, at the end of the day, we are here to work hard on achieving a positive impact, to engage with the communities that we live in and to learn. It may have taken me nine weeks to obtain some positive personal development, but at last I have learnt that what’s important is to leave any drama at the door and to seek the positives out of every situation and encounter. This is so that as a person I can become more open, adaptable and positive and hopefully go out into the world with a reformed attitude and outlook, so that I can work better to do more good in all aspects of life, regardless of where it is that I end up.

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