Friday saw me packing my bags before hitching a lift to Rugby station from a close family friend- village life doesn’t always make transport so easy, so it was well appreciated! My journey became a whirlwind of Midlands towns and cities I’d never really visit otherwise, with stops at Nuneaton, Northampton, and Leicester before finally arriving at Wellingborough station. I was pretty nervous, to be honest. I wasn’t in Wellingborough for fun, so to speak. I had 4 days of training scheduled in, with people I had never met before, for a project in a country a long way away. The stakes were pretty high. All I really had to go on was that a guy called Jordan who was also headed to Liberia was already at the station- I just had to find him.
It turns out that Jordan is very Scottish- think a Glaswegian Robert the Bruce- but absolutely lovely all the same. No sooner had I met him than every man and his dog it seemed came over, and all were headed abroad on ICS with Y Care. First impressions were good at least! This was the Sierra Leone & Liberia training weekend, fitting due to their neighbourly locations and entwined histories, yet there were also a few stragglers from other ICS nations who hadn’t been able to make their training dates, and even a few from other organisations! In the group we had people headed to Sierra Leone and Liberia, of course, but also Nicaragua (with Raleigh) and a solitary (also Scottish) guy headed to Togo, who swiftly also became known as Togo (real name Ben). Even before we were pushed onto the minibus by Ollie from Y Care, it was reassuring to know that everyone was pretty normal. I don’t know what I was scared of… finding a serial killer in the midst?
We soon arrived at the Frontier Centre, an outdoor adventure centre run by Rock UK, featuring high-wires, huge climbing frames, fire pits and lakes for all manner of excitement. Importantly, it was vast, with loads of land to explore. I even found a plane in the woods, apparently part of an NGO partnership display. The Frontier Centre caters to families in the summer as well as school & youth groups, and everyone seemed to be having a great time while we were there! The accommodation was akin to a comfortable dorm, and certainly comfy enough for a training weekend. After all, Liberia is likely to be somewhat different! The food was a weird throwback to school dinners, even down to the dodgy bread and butter pudding and other interesting menu choices. It was good though, and considering it was free, I could never complain! Queuing did make me feel like a child again though, praying I didn’t get the lumpy skin of custard or semolina this time…
The Y Care staff were great, and immediately set everyone at ease on the first day with some icebreaking team exercises that were a gentle way to get to know each other. Everyone seemed lovely, and we’d soon made friends. It was pretty clear early on that the Liberia team was quite small, with just 7 or 8 of us compared to many, many more people that were Sierra Leone-bound. Early on we also discussed fundraising, charting how much everyone had done and how much more people had to raise. I still have a fair bit to do, but I’m not worried just yet. I have plans, and gained some really nice ideas from my peers along the way! The entire training weekend was quite cleverly done with constant group work and presentations along the way, ensuring that we bonded as teams and that we were also comfortable in our skins, which will be important when doing outreach work in our selected nation.
There were too many things covered over the weekend to go into any great detail, but I assure you that we were at it for long hours, going from 9:15AM until late into the evening. We had an entire day of safety & security training from Y Care’s in-house expert, Gurpreet (or G, as he likes to be called), which covered pretty much everything you could imagine. The day involved hygiene, disease, health, safety, not being a target, dealing with confrontation, and it was heavily scenario based which was a great, hands on approach. It was nice to see that everyone was pretty sane, to be honest! We learned a lot about YMCAs, how they operate and how Y Care works with them, which was genuinely quite fascinating and inspiring. I had no idea that YMCAs had helped invent basketball, for example! Importantly, it helps Y Care have a very low footprint on the ground, whilst ensuring ICS volunteers are working on projects that will actually benefit locals. It sounds like a good system to me! We had plenty of fun too- I watched Bridesmaids for the first time, we had a great camp fire, plenty of friendly football and rugby was played and my team nearly pulled off an amazing comeback heist in the quiz, coming from joint last to placing 2nd and losing by just two points. I’m not sure I can claim we were robbed this time, but anyway- we were robbed!
Of course, I also found out what my placement was about! I’ll be working on a Post-Ebola recovery program, particularly focusing on WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) in the town of Kakata, just an hour’s drive from Monrovia. The team and I will be working on outreach and education through the YMCAs and local schools, as well as carrying out more practical work together with research. I’m so excited to get started on such a worthwhile project, and I’ll give it 110% as ever. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make a difference, no matter how small. We had lots of sessions on Liberian life and culture, and I’m really looking forward to being out in such a different place. It’ll be my first time in sub-Saharan Africa (or any part of Africa for that matter), and I literally cannot wait!
The final day was a little shorter, looking at our ‘Action at Home’ amongst other things before we all headed back off to the train station again. We’d arrived as pretty much complete strangers, but we’d pretty much all departed as friends, which was a great feeling. My journey back was even weirder than the journey there, ticking off even more weird towns- Bedford, Bletchley, Northampton- on a convoluted way home. At least I didn’t have to fly home to Scotland though…
We made some great memories over the weekend, and I can’t wait to be a part of a strong team headed to Liberia. We’ve got some great characters, and I’m sure we’ll get to know each other very well out there. I’ll see you all at Heathrow, folks! Thanks to everyone at Y Care International for a great weekend, the Frontier Centre for a lovely stay and all my fellow ICS volunteers for just being awesome! It’s powerful to see so many young people come together from all over the UK for a common purpose, regardless of our background.
We’ll do great things together, wherever we go- just watch us!
In the meantime though, I have fundraising to do, and that’s been put on hold by a combination of a cold I picked up at training & having four jabs in two days. I’m not going to lie, I’ve been a lot healthier than I am right now… I really don’t think the Yellow Fever jab liked me!
Until next time, that’s all from me!