Hello again all!

I’m just off the phone with Philippa, my lovely fundraising support officer, so now seemed like a good time to chat about my fundraising plans.

As soon as I found out that I would be heading off to Ethiopia, I set up my Just Giving page (shameles plug) and started spamming everyone on Facebook. Amazingly, people gave me money before I’d even done anything because they are so sweet 🙂


I’ve got three main fundraising events set up. These are:

1. Providing flute music (with my duet partner Alice) for a local business’ second birthday party. Foxhat is a lovely boutique in Ayr, where you can peruse the rails for scarves, dresses and tops and then enjoy a slice of cake and a cup of tea 🙂 In return, there will be a whip round at the end, so hopefully the guests will be generous and dig deep!

2. A sponsored cycle round Great Cumbrae over the Easter holidays at the beginning of April. I’ve still to pick my day, but I hope to have it confirmed by the end of this week. The island’s not big (2.4km long), but the challenge isn’t the distance: I’ll be attempting it in fancy dress. And not just any fancy dress.

As my friends know, I’m *obsessed* with period dramas. And in particular, Pride and Prejudice. I want to BE Elizabeth Bennet. So that’s who I’ll be dressing as for my cycle. I got really into historical clothing reproduction while I was at university, and already have a Regency era gown and a pair of period-appropriate boots ready to go. The bonnet is in progress, and this evening I’m heading to Glasgow to buy my own weight in red wool for my spencer (a short jacket). I’ll also be making some bunting with the VSO logo on it to drape across my basket, and a banner for over the back that I’ve offered as advertising space for local businesses in return for sponsorship. I haven’t quite worked out the logistics of cycling in an ankle length white muslin dress yet, but I’ll sort something out. A few friends have also offered to join me in my fancy dress endeavour. At the moment, it’s only Miss Bennet and Mr Incredible with confirmed attendance, but it’ll hopefully pick up soon!

3. I have a bag packing day confirmed for the 20th April at Marks and Spencer in Ayr (thank you, employer!). I’m almost at the point where I have enough volunteers to cover all the tills, as well as allow for lunch breaks and people coming and going. I’d like to pretty much have things confirmed by the middle of next week so that I can draw up rotas and start t-shirt production for my assistants 🙂

Philippa also suggested some sort of event for the end of my cycle, like a cake sale – this is an excellent plan, so I’m off to have a ponder and see how easy it is to recreate Ethiopian sweets and cakes with Irvine supermarkets.


The next task on my to do list is the ‘scary’ bit – vaccinations. Not scary because it’s to do with needles. Scary because my local health service appears to be completely inept and lacking any concept of time, and how many inoculations I need to have. If they don’t pick up when I call them again today, I’m off to a MASTAS clinic instead.

I’ll probably write up my next post after I get somewhere with my injections, just to change the subject a little!

Wish me luck!


Laura 🙂



Applications, Assessments and A Whole Load of Good Stuff

Hi again!


In this post I’m just going to outline the application process for ICS – I think this is important for two reasons:

1. You find out how volunteers are chosen. It’s not your average process, because it’s not your average job.

2. If you are thinking of applying, it’ll help you to prepare yourself a bit. I read SO MANY BLOGS before I went to my assessment day, and they give you an excellent idea of the challenges that volunteers face, as well as the rewards.

As I mentioned in my first post, I found out about the scheme through a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-relative, and started Googling. Although I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time, I always worried about the ‘power imbalance’ that other opportunities  have – you can imagine my relief when I read that all the projects are requested by the community, and that we work in partnership with them throughout the process. It makes it less of a Big Western Aid Mission and more of a ‘global community’ project. This makes me happy. The other winner for me was that it’s government-backed and funded. Although you are expected to fundraise before you go (between £800-£1500), it’s not to pay for you to go ‘on holiday’ (unlike some voluntary schemes). They want to see how you get on organising yourself, it’s a chance to speak to lots of people about what you’re going to do, and it generates money for the charity to continue to do a great job.

The application form itself is very straightforward: all the usual name, address, and references. You also have the opportunity to discuss why you’d like to apply, how you help people day-to-day (do you get your granny’s shopping? Get younger siblings dressed in the morning? Great! Put it in!), and what you hope to gain from the experience. It doesn’t take long (I filled it out in about half an hour), and the great thing is that they don’t ask about your educational background – they’re looking for a person, not a CV.

About 5 days later, I got a phonecall to let me know that I’d been matched to VSO. ICS works in conjunction with 6 partner agencies, and the program sorts applicants into these organisations, who will then assess them. The agencies are:


– International Service

– Raleigh International

– Restless Development

– Tearfund

– Progressio

In the course of my phonecall, I also let VSO know when I would be able to leave, and when I had to be back by (useful if you are going to be starting a university course, for example). I then sat back and waited to find out when and where my assessment day would be.

In the next week, I got an email from VSO inviting me to attend an assessment day in Putney in 6 days’ time. This (ridiculous as it may sound) threw me into a huge panic: how was I going to get time off work? Where was I going to stay? How much were the train tickets going to cost? How do you even GET to Putney?? Thankfully, I have a very calm parents, who stopped me from being quite so ridiculous, and a very understanding line manager, who was really positive about it.

The assessment day itself was actually really enjoyable. I met the 6 other potential volunteers – all of whom were lovely and I hope I see again soon! – and we began the day with group tasks. I won’t spoil it for you and tell you what they were, but we failed hilariously at the first one – it doesn’t matter too much, as long as you can all see what went wrong.

We then split into smaller groups for a discussion task, which was a real eye opener. A lot of the discussions were around potential conflicts or problems that could arise while on placement, and it was amazing how different all of the opinions in the room were, despite us all identifying ourselves as being quite open-minded and accepting of difference. It was a good chance to personally see where your boundaries are about certain subjects (for example, I don’t drink, so the idea of people getting wasted on the programme when the government is basically paying for it is totally unacceptable to me).

We broke for lunch – the day is worth it for the lunch alone, honestly – and then began our 45 minute individual interviews.

This is the part that I was most nervous about. I hadn’t had much luck with interviews over the last few months, and the last one I’d been to was an absolute disaster. However, my interviewer was very nice, and it was less of a ‘describe a situation where you’ve shown a high level of leadership’ interview, and more a talking through of your application form. There are some more personal questions towards the end, but nothing to worry about. As long as you are honest and open with your interviewer, you’ll be fine.

We wrapped up the day with 2 minute reflective presentations – by this point we were all knackered (it’s hard being watched all day), so I doubt they were the best presentations any of us had ever given! There was also a chance to find out more about the fundraising aspect of things, and ask questions about the placement itself – where might we be sent? where would be live? can we claim immunisation expenses? those sorts of things.

From the Friday evening (my assessment day) until the day my email arrived (the Tuesday), I was a ball of nervous energy. It wasn’t until I began obsessively checking my inbox that I realised how much I wanted to go, and how gutted I’d be if I wasn’t successful. I was bouncing off the walls when I found out that I’d been allocated a place, and that they’d be matching me to a country soon!

On the Thursday (two days later), I got the email to say I’d be going to Ethiopia, and based in Dire Dawa (helpful map below):


As you can see, it’s surrounded by headline grabbing names like Somalia, Sudan and Eritrea, none of which are really on a ‘going to see what it’s like’ radar. To be honest, I think that almost makes things even better – I’m going somewhere that I will get a real sense of what life is like on a daily basis. There isn’t going to be a McDonalds on every corner, or the option of nipping into the Dire Dawa branch of M&S for a sundried tomato and chicken sandwich and a new pair of flip flops. It’s going to really test how well I think I know myself, and make me take a long hard look at my own values – I’m not sure if I’ll recognise myself when I come back!

I’m aware that I’ve been rambling on and on and on, so I’ll draw things to a close with some positive news. Despite the fact that I’ve not actually done anything yet, I’ve already managed to raise £75 of my £800 target, purely down to generous friends who believe in me.  The amount that students, part time employees and school friends have put in is amazing, and the positivity has been fantastic. Thank you so much.


In the next (hopefully shorter!) post, I’ll be talking about the big F: Fundraising.


Until then,


Laura 🙂


PS – if you’re feeling the lurve, then click here to donate on Just Giving. You can also text LMTT64 to 70070 to donate on the go. Merci!





Hello there!

Hello everyone!

Welcome to the first post in (hopefully) a long line, where I’ll be talking about my experiences as part of the VSO ICS programme in Ethiopia.

In the next few posts, I’ll be talking through the application process, assessment days, fundraising and my hilarious to-do list (it’s good, I promise). In this first entry, I’ll just be introducing myself and the programme, and explaining why I decided to apply.

After finishing my BSc in Sustainable Development at St Andrews in June 2012, I felt a bit lost. I had a brilliant education, a degree that could take me anywhere, but no direction. I knew I didn’t want to go down a graduate scheme route (I’m really not ‘corporate’ enough, and I’ve never been one for micromanaging people), my options in the public sector were seriously limited due to funding cuts, and the idea of further study brought me out in purple spots.

After a well deserved holiday, I came back and began applying for jobs – these ranged from policy officers all the way down to part-time temporary admin posts. I was either overqualified or lacked experience, and stuck in a cycle of applying and either not hearing back or being rejected.

Salvation came in the form of Marks and Spencer, who took me on over Christmas, and have been very nice about renewing my contract until the end of March. I love working with the public, I have fantastic colleagues, and I’m in a company that keeps its promises about the environment. But it just wasn’t enough for me, and I still felt like I’d let myself down.

I first heard about the ICS (International Citizens Service) programme from a friend of my Mum’s, who knew of someone who had done it ad loved it (long-winded, I know). I had also been looking into DFID’s (Department for International Development) graduate scheme, but felt that I lacked a really important quality that would make me a better employee: real world international development experience. I’ve been interested in this area for a long time, and wrote my dissertation on the interesting relationships between NGOs, sustainable development and colonialism, so it seemed like a logical next step to take the plunge and apply to ICS.

Amazingly, I’ve been accepted onto the May 2013 group who will be based in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia. I can’t believe I’ve been so fortunate, and despite not being at all religious, it’s a perfect example of God closing a door and opening a window.

So what’s next? Well:

1. Kick starting the ‘big’ fundraising. I plan on cake-baking and bag-packing like mad to raise my £800 target (more of which later). If you’d like to help me out, you can visit my Just Giving page and leave me a donation, as small or as big as you’d like 🙂

2. Getting my vaccinations started. I went to my surgery today and made my first appointment for two weeks’ time – bring on the human pin cushion!

3. Sorting out my contact lenses and glasses. This may seem tiny compared to everything else I need to do, but I’ll be changing my lenses from monthy to daily (to save taking loads of solution bottles with me), and getting some sturdy glasses and prescription sunnies (alas, I am in need of both).

4. Contacting lots of local groups and the local press to let them know what I’m doing, so that I can set up meetings for when I can get back – more on this later too!

I think that’s probably enough information to be going on with, so I’ll sign off for the time being.

In my next post, I’ll be talking about the application process and assessment days – if you have any questions you’d like me to answer, then please feel free!!

Laura 🙂