Scottish Charity Number: SCO36069

6th February 2010

Sara Williams: Initial report

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In just over 7 weeks (eek!) I will be leaving for Colombia where I will be working on behalf of ICYE (Inter-Cultural Youth Exchange) Colombia on a community development project for six months.

ICYE is an international development charity working in Latin America, Africa, Asia and Europe, helping to support local Non-Governmental Organisations and aid international development. The main thing that attracted me to them however is that part of the money you raise goes towards allowing young people from Africa, Latin America or Asia to volunteer in the United Kingdom, who would not have the opportunity to do so otherwise. In this respect the charity really is a cultural exchange.

I chose Colombia from the countries that ICYE International operates in because I have always wanted to visit South America. It was one of my core areas of study during my degree and I find the region fascinating. Furthermore, I have since met Colombians whose enthusiasm for their country and their wish to change its negative image to reflect how varied and wonderful a country it really is has inspired me to visit and get to know it myself.

The name of the project I will be working on is Fundacion Renacer and is situated within Cartagena on the Caribbean Coast. The project is a day-care centre for children and teenagers and acts as an area for rehabilitation for those who are victims of sexual exploitation and prostitution.

As a volunteer I would work along with the regular staff at the Centre indifferent activities, such as initiating new relationships with children or teenagers on the streets who have not been previously contacted, as well as helping to run various workshops for personal development i.e. sewing, graphical arts and other skills.

I am nervous as to how much value I feel I can bring to the project, I studied Politics and History at University working at various part-time jobs, following on from graduating I volunteered at Groundwork Oldham and Rochdale (an environmental and regeneration charity) on a community development project and gained paid employment as an environmental business advisor which I have worked at for the last year, this role involves visiting local businesses and helping them to reduce their impact on the environment.

Therefore, although I have had some experience with community work and youth workshops; interacting with young people who have been exploited to this extent and helping them to change their life around is a daunting challenge to me. But I am hoping I will be able to help as much as I am able to keep this important work going forwards. Also I am still hoping that I will, at a later point, be able to take part in some conservation work within the region. What I hope to gain from this time away is firstly and mainly to help the project I am on to continue and grow, but also help decide if I would be interested in working within international development in the future – oh and of course to travel Colombia and have fun!

I am getting more excited as my leaving date gets closer but still very scared of the challenge ahead, however I will be flying into Bogotá and having two weeks of Spanish lessons before beginning my project and have been in touch with the other volunteers already out there who have been assuring me not to worry! I am very happy that I am able to get involved with this type of project with this much support available.

I would like say a big thank you to Hazel’s Footprints Trust and ICYE UK for making this opportunity possible to me. I just know these 7 weeks are going to fly by, but no matter how much time you have I do not think you ever feel ready for big changes so I am just going to have to take this one as it comes!

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