Don’t stop achieving: Life after youth volunteering
When Sarah Donachie returned from her volunteer placement in Bangladesh she wasn’t ready to stop making a difference. International Citizen Service (ICS) was just the first step in a journey that has so far seen her re-volunteer, complete a master’s and even set up her own charity in the UK.
A spur to action
In 2012, Sarah Donachie was part of the first VSO youth volunteer team working in Mominpur, a village near Rangpur, North Bangladesh.
In a group of ICS volunteers from both the UK and Bangladesh, she worked running vaccination camps, building latrines and taking the first steps towards building a dairy co-operative to help local farmers get better prices for their milk products. But it was an experience in the densely populated capital that would go on to change the course of Sarah’s life.
The team of young volunteers were taken to meet the founder of JAAGO Foundation, the charity he’d single-handedly established by the simple act of taking a whiteboard and rug into the slums of Dhaka to teach underprivileged children, and that now works to improve the education and future of many thousands of children who call JAAGO home.
“What he had done, and his motivation and drive to do something and change what he could see as an obvious unjustice really struck me. It wasn’t something that I forgot when I left Bangladesh,” Sarah explains.
Return to Bangladesh
At home, Sarah went back to the networks that had supported her fundraising before her placement. She held information evenings to raise awareness of her experiences.
But even after the ‘Action at Home’ phase of her International Citizen Service was complete she still had a lingering urge to do more. She explains:
“When I got back from ICS I didn’t want to stop travelling, going to developing countries and doing voluntary work. So I saved up for six months and visited Bangladesh again and went and volunteered just with JAAGO.”
In the time that had passed, JAAGO had been growing exponentially, and Sarah found herself busy working at the now-bustling HQ, putting together marketing material and supporting a Ramadan fundraising campaign:
“What drove me is seeing how much time the young people there are willing to dedicate to the education of these children. It kind of frustrated me that it’s not a usual thing to take such action here in the UK”
How to set up a charity
“The ethos JAAGO is run on is about getting young people to do things. The whole time I was there I was thinking: when I go home, what am I going to do? Why don’t I do something?"
"It’s all very well that I’m here now but it’s only temporary. Some of my skills are useful but I’m probably a lot more useful in the UK, where I have networks and people I know,” recalls Sarah.
Not long after her return to the UK, Sarah made the decisive step of applying to establish a new charity: by May 2015, JAAGO Foundation UK was set up, with the mission of not only directly supporting the education of slum children in Bangladesh but by bringing the can-do, proactive ethos of volunteerism to Britain.
Whilst navigating the bureaucracy of setting up a charity required dedication and patience, Sarah says that anyone can set up a charity if they have the passion and drive:
“What got me going when there were a lot of frustrations was the constant communication with the people in Bangladesh - it helps you remember that just because I’m not there doesn’t mean that things have stopped.”
“ICS changes us in various ways and it can be frustrating that people you’re around -, your friends and family - don’t always understand it.”
“So you need to stay connected with the people that understand you and how you’ve changed. It doesn’t need to be a huge change that you make, it can be a few small changes. I’ve always made sure I’m surrounded by driven, inspiring people that have likeminded interests, people who can come up with solutions when you can’t, perhaps ideas that are worth pursuing together…”
Sarah will always remember ICS as a critical experience that readied her for what looks set to be a lifetime of fighting to make change happen.
“[During ICS] if we had an idea that we thought might work there was kind of no limit. I don’t know if I would have had the confidence to go and set up JAAGO Foundation UK if I hadn’t first been able to try things there and see if they work.”
“Now, when people come to one of our events and are engaged, it’s so rewarding. That’s when it feels like we’ve really accomplished something worth fighting for.”
All photograhy featured in this post is by Sarah Donachie.