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
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.
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!