With all the amazing things I experienced in the month of July, including my graduation, I finally got the chance to go volunteering internationally. This was an opportunity to support the work of The Community Place of Greater Rochester, a charity in Rochester, New York. We were hosted by Nazareth College who provided us accommodation on their campus and transport around Rochester.
We kicked off the first week with an introductory session where we spoke about our expectations as volunteers and the expectations Nazareth College and The Community Place had of us. We were going to be supporting the work at the summer school and helping out the emergency food distribution services. We also delved into topics like implicit bias, ally-ship, community partnership and developmental assets. As such, this was a very informative session.
Over at the camp, the kids were grouped by their ages and so we decided to spend the first week rotating around the different groups to observe and support the counsellors. One of the key objectives of the summer camp was to show the kids that they have a voice and the importance of using their voice. So, a participant-centered approach was adopted which I liked as I believe this is important for kids to learn early if we are indeed training our world leaders. During this week and part of the second week, I spent some time with the 10-13 year old girls and boys, and the 8-10 year old kids (mixed). It was fun and enlightening to observe and participate in their activities. They all loved to play games, especially card games for the boys, they loved to dance, we conducted a few science experiments. My favorite session was when the boys did a session on what it meant to ‘be a man’ and toxic masculinity. The boys spoke about who they thought a man had to be, and all build fictitious men using colored play dough that each represented a different characteristic. It was interesting to listen to their various concepts that had been formed from the shows they saw, their homes and culture.
We all had various projects that we wanted to try with the kids, so by the end of the first week, I decided I would do mine with the boys. We were going to make vision boards. I felt this was appropriate as they had been talking about goal setting and achieving. I spoke to each of them individually to get an idea of what they would like on their boards and to try to build some rapport with them. I was finding it difficult to obtain old magazines that could be used so I improvised and went picture finding on the internet based on my conversations with them. I downloaded these two word documents and printed them out. I was nervous because I thought they may not engage, but when the day came, they were very engaged, and all got excited and sucked into the project. It was a huge success! As I had finished mine, I decided to support the projects of the other volunteers, including a sustainability project where the older girls designed outfits out of recyclable materials.
But it was not all ‘work’ on this trip; we got a chance to visit the famous Cheesecake Factory, we shopped at Wegmans, which everyone in Rochester is very proud of. Countless times we went to Niagara falls where we went on the Maid of the Mist, we went to Pittsford Village and even went to see the Rochester Red Wings win at a baseball game.
Volunteering gave me a chance to step out of my comfort zone. I also got the opportunity to increase my knowledge and skillset and use the skills I had built from my last three years at university. I was able to adapt my leadership skills, communication and inter-personal skills, project management and organisational skills, flexibility, problem solving and especially my teamwork skills, amongst others. One reason it was a unique experience for me was because, unlike my teammates who were leaving home to go volunteering, I was an international student who had left home to come studying, leaving the UK to go volunteering. The kids at the summer camp found this especially fascinating and were full of questions about Nigeria, and it was nice to get the chance to share and educate them about where I grew up. This made it feel truly like a cultural exchange.
I would advise anyone thinking of volunteering abroad to go for it. It’s a valuable experience personally and professionally. It is more than looking good on your CV or LinkedIn profile. It develops you as a person and broadens your horizons. Also, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or homesick, talk to someone in your group because the chances are that you are not the only one feeling that way. Most importantly, go with an open mind. Because with volunteering abroad you never really know what to expect. It is important not to think that you’re just going to give, because there’s a lot to learn if you’re open to it.