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Young Kendal woman uses Bangladesh volunteering experience to help out back home

The Livelihoods sub team in Dhaka at the end of the placement, Zoe Watson third from the left.

A young Kendal woman, who recently spent 11 weeks volunteering in Bangladesh, is now using the skills she developed overseas to help out in the UK.

ZOE WATSON, 19, travelled to Bangladesh with international development organisation VSO, as part of the UK government funded International Citizen Service (ICS) programme.

She worked alongside young volunteers from Bangladesh and the UK on a sustainable development project.

ZOE also lived with a local host family, so that she was fully immersed into the community and could gain a better understanding of the challenges people there face.

ZOE said: “The vast majority of women in Mongla, Bangladesh are unemployed due to a lack of opportunities, skills and cultural barriers. As a result, many live in poverty, including many widows. Many families rely solely on their husband’s income. Our project aimed to provide women with the skills for employment and an opportunity to earn their own income. We trained 30 women in mushroom cultivation and helped them to form a union so they could sell the mushrooms on to bigger sellers and at the markets etc.

I had an incredible time in Bangladesh, and I really felt that our project was making a difference in the community. There were so many cultural barriers preventing women from working, but hopefully we broke them down and proved that women are capable of being in employment. Many had no confidence in their own ability.It’s great to think that the training VSO projects provide will help marginalised women take control of their lives and go on to reach their full potential. I also got to experience a whole new culture, and made some friends for life.”

ICS allows young people aged 18-25 to contribute to sustainable development projects in Africa and Asia. ZOE is now using the skills she developed overseas to carry out an ‘Action At Home’ project back in the UK.

The ‘Action at Home’ project is a key part of the ICS programme, and means that UK communities benefit directly from the experiences of ICS volunteers.

ZOE said: “My ICS placement was a real eye opener, and now I’m back I’m keen to help out in my own community. I decided to raise awareness of the impact the climate crisis is having in Bangladesh by speaking to the Rotary Club, Soroptomists International, and family and friends. With my friends, i focussed on the impact of fast fashion and persuaded 35 friends to pledge to not buy any new clothes for the month of July. I would strongly encourage anyone to stop buying new clothes unless absolutely neccessary, or from sustainable brands, as the fashion industry is the second biggest polluter in the world.

I think it’s so important that young people get involved in projects like this – more than half the world’s population is under 25, so we’re the ones with the power to change things! I’d really encourage other young people to think about applying for ICS.”

ICS is funded by UK aid, so young people don’t need cash, qualifications or work experience to take part, just the desire to make a difference to the lives of some of the world’s poorest communities. Before she left for Bangladesh, ZOE raised £900 for VSO, which will ensure that communities in developing countries can continue to benefit from the work of volunteers.

Felicity Morgan, Director of ICS, said: “It’s really inspiring to hear about the fantastic work ZOE is doing. We’re incredibly proud that UK aid is supporting young Brits to bring about positive change in some of the world’s poorest communities. As an organisation working on the frontline against poverty, VSO sees how people across Britain play an important role in delivering UK aid. From the NHS and Army helping end the Ebola crisis, to the millions who generously donate, and the contribution we all make through taxes, together we are all making the world a fairer, safer place.”

To find out more about ICS or to apply, visit www.volunteerics.org.

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