International volunteering has become so widespread that there are literally thousands of organisations offering placements in almost all countries of the world (see my previous post on this here: http://adventuresinsierraleone.wordpress.com/2013/05/29/the-value-of-overseas-volunteering/). But how many of these organisations provide support for volunteers from developing countries who wish to use and build their skills and capacity in the UK or other Western countries? Very few, and that was one of the biggest factors for me in choosing to volunteer with ICYE-UK.
The ICYE Federation was founded in 1949 as a reconciliation programme between the USA and Germany after WW2, designed to restore and develop trust from both sides. Today ICYE has over 40 National Committees and partners in Africa, the Americas, Asia-Pacific, and Europe, with its headquarters in Berlin, Germany. This has allowed the focus to shift from simple cultural exchange to an international education for justice and peace.
ICYE-UK was established in 1993 and is run by volunteers, for volunteers through a democratically elected committee of trustees. ICYE-UK believes strongly in the idea of reciprocal exchange and inter-cultural learning, so hosts a number of volunteers each year from other ICYE offices worldwide. Here comes the clever part: All volunteers fundraise towards the cost of their placement, however the money remains in the volunteer’s own country, so for example a UK volunteer supports the living costs of an Ugandan volunteer in London, and a Ugandan volunteer supports the costs of a UK volunteer’s placement in Kampala! It also means that volunteers get to meet each other at preliminary, mid-term or final training camps organised by ICYE, like the one we had in the summer…
It was great to meet all the ICYE international volunteers, but especially the volunteers from Uganda, who will be returning back home roughly the same time as I’m leaving in January. Their thoughts on the UK? “Cold but very nice!”