To celebrate Student Volunteering Week, we’ll be releasing a blog every day this week written by one of your Student Volunteering Ambassadors! First up is Crystal Isaac, a third year BSc Philosophy and Economics student, who spent the summer before she joined LSE in Uganda with ICS. If you want to get involved with Student Volunteering Week this week, check out all the events on this other blog.

International Citizenship Service (ICS) is a development programme funded by the UK Government. They provide international volunteering opportunities to 18-25-year olds. In January 2016, I went to Uganda for 12 weeks with Restless Development (a youth-led development agency), as an ICS volunteer. In order to take part in the programme I had to fundraise £1500. All other expenses were paid for.

Whilst there I lived with a Ugandan host family, another UK volunteer and two Ugandan volunteers. This experience was eye-opening, as the facilities were basic. The family’s source of water was a pump about 10 minutes down the road. So, bucket showers and long-drop toilets, decorated in cockroaches, became the norm.

The general aim of the programme was to help tackle some of the most pressing issues that young people face today, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, civic participation and livelihoods. We received training, both in the UK and in Uganda, on how to effectively plan and facilitate sessions. The goal was to work within local communities to provide knowledge and skills on how to address these major issues. However, this is much easier in theory than in practice. Especially considering I had just finished school and had no international development experience. I felt somewhat out of my depth.

Throughout the programme we worked with a variety of schools and local groups. This ranged from teaching about puberty in schools to talking to local groups about how they could receive funding. A highlight of mine was a successful community football tournament we arranged, that included HIV testing. Despite the positives, the experience proved to be extremely challenging, with many UK volunteers choosing to drop out and go home throughout the 12-weeks. Nevertheless, I managed to complete the programme and feel that I gained a lot from doing so.

Overall, it quickly became apparent to me that the impact we could have was limited. Although I believe that the intentions of ICS and Restless Development are good, the lack of experience and knowledge volunteers have, limits the effectiveness. Throughout the programme as my perspective changed, I began to see how it was more of an experience of personal development rather than having a long-term impact on the people or the communities that we were living in.

So, I don’t believe my international volunteering experience reflects unethical ‘voluntourism’, but it also didn’t have a large impact on the issues at hand. Despite this, I would still recommend people to take part in ICS as it allowed me to meet a lot of interest people and I believe in the right circumstances the work could be highly effective.

If we’ve inspired you to volunteer, check out one of our other 200+ ongoing opportunities or book a one-to-one with David Coles, the Volunteer Centre Manager if you have more questions. If you are short on time, then take a look at the one-off opportunities that will return for Michaelmas Term 2019, organised by the LSE Volunteer Centre. And why not follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram to stay up-to-date with our events and opportunities and read our blog for more volunteering tips and stories.