'It's so rewarding': What it's like to volunteer overseas

Travelling to another part of the world by yourself to work and live with people you’ve never met before might seem more than a little daunting.

But for 19-year-old Travis Hill volunteering overseas proved to be the experience of a life time – and he’s now urging others to follow in his footsteps.

He recently spent 10 weeks in Zanzibar, which can be found 60 miles off Africa’s east coast in the Indian Ocean.

His mission was to take part in an education project teaching life skills to school children and young people with disabilities as part of the Volunteering Service Overseas – International Citizenship Service programme.

Volunteers from the UK work side-by-side with volunteers in developing countries, staying with host families in the local community.

“I was on a gap year because I didn’t know what I wanted to do in the short-term with my life but I knew I wanted to do something productive.

“I was scrolling through Instagram when an advert for the volunteer project popped up and I thought straight away ‘I’ve got to do it’,” says the former pupil of RSA Academy in Tipton.

But the announcement that he would be travelling more than 7,000 miles away to work for free received mixed reactions from his family and friends.

“There was a common question which popped up quite a lot from all the people I spoke to about my desire to go and volunteer which was ‘why are you doing it if you’re not getting paid?’.

“This made me more determined to do it,” says Travis, who lives in Bilston.

He travelled to Zanzibar in October where he was introduced to his host family, who he said made him feel welcome straight away despite the language barrier.

“My host mum and dad didn’t speak any English so they couldn’t understand me so that was a bit daunting at first. I had help from a Tanzanian volunteer who was on the same programme and I was able to speak to the kids in the family as they had been taught English at school and they translated for me.

“It was very tough, being a guy with no knowledge of foreign languages who had never been to Africa before, however, I managed to settle in

“The house was always full of people, a mixture of family and friends.

“I didn’t really learn who was who until my last week as people were always coming and going.

“Once I settled in, it was absolutely fantastic. I would come back from volunteering and sit in the living room with my host family and take photos.

“My host mum and dad were so comforting and friendly. They wanted to know all about me and they made the experience so much better. I’ve kept in touch with them.

During his time in Zanzibar he took part in International Citizenship Service projects at Kisiwandui primary school and the Zanzibar Association of the Blind.

At the school he was involved in teaching skills that would help the students find work later in life and helped to ensure pupils with disabilities were included.

The group of volunteers also worked to raise awareness of issues such as gender equality and gender-based violence.

“The children were excited to see us, there were 180 kids all shouting hello at us when we first go there, it was great.

“Everybody was very welcoming. The kids loved us and the teachers would come to us to speak in English whenever they learned something new. The school didn’t have separate rooms for the classrooms, so everybody was in together. The facilities were basic but everybody was so grateful for what they had.

“It was very humbling to see,” says Travis.

At Zanzibar Association of the Blind he worked with young adults who were blind or partially-sighted and organising activities to help them develop new skills such as problem-solving. Along with the other volunteers Travis was also involved in organising community action events centred around healthy eating and mental health.

Since coming back to the Black Country, he’s been keen to spread the word about how valuable the experience has been to him.

“It’s been the best experience of my life so far and I’m really glad that I got to experience it,” says Travis, who says it’s given him food for thought when it comes to considering a future career.

“Volunteering is a great way to ready yourself for things such as going to university or going into full time employment and I don’t see many stories of people from the West Midlands who have gone and volunteered and picked up such a fantastic and useful experience.

“Volunteering for me was an absolutely amazing way to self-develop, my confidence, leadership and teamwork skills has improved massively as a result but not only this, when you give back to the world in such a way, it increases your happiness and self-appreciation which is important to have if you want to have a drive to go far in life,” he adds.

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