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Volunteer Ishamail competes at the Olympic Games

Volunteer Ishamail Kamara, who was on placement with ICS in his home town of Makeni, Sierra Leone in 2013, represented his country in the 100 metre sprint at the recent Olympic Games in Rio.

Ishamail at Olympic Games

Ishamail at the Olympic opening ceremony in Rio

Representing Sierra Leone

Ishamail took a break from his busy training programme before his event to tell us about what it’s like to represent his country and how it’s thanks to ICS that he got into running.

“There's a lot of people from Sierra Leone, a lot of people from my home town, from different countries who are telling me, 'Ishamail, we're expecting much from you, we believe in you, we want you to do more'. I'm nervous because of those people!”

Ishamail and fellow ICS volunteers

Ishamail with fellow volunteers and friends whilst on placement in 2013

Talent on the track

Explaining that his running career began when he joined the ICS programme in his home town of Makeni, 19-year-old Ishamail said not everyone initially believed in his abilities:

“I was playing football when it began. Football was my passion, and one day a man spotted me on the pitch and said 'Ishamail, your talent’s on the track."

"I went and did a try out – and became the fastest man in my city"

“When I told my ICS UK counterparts I could run, many of them didn’t believe me. So I went and did a try out – and became the fastest man in my city." 

A place on the national team

After taking a break to concentrate on his work and volunteering with ICS, Ishamail started training hard with a view to competing more seriously. And the hard work paid off – securing him a first place in a national 200m competition and second place in the 100m.

Ebola outbreak

Sadly the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone prevented Ishamail from competing in 2014, but, undeterred, he returned to the track last summer to steal the first place in the men’s national 100m race to become “the champion of Sierra Leone”, earning him his ticket to Rio to compete globally.

“I feel immense pride in representing the people of Sierra Leone. When I found out I was in [the Olympic team] I shed tears.”

Ishamail and fellow ICS volunteers on placement in 2013

Sharing values

While on placement with ICS, Ishamail was part of a team of UK and Sierra Leonean volunteers working on several different projects tackling various issues affecting the Makeni community.

“We were working on cash management, teaching people how to store their money safely without relying on the banks,” Ishamail explained, “particularly for those living in the more rural areas. We also worked on educating people about the dangers of losing our forests. On top of that, we were also working in schools, where I was teaching history, English and politics."

"It's hard for young people in Sierra Leone right now, but volunteering can really make a difference."

 “I enjoyed it so much. I remember when our counterparts were about to leave for the UK and we shed tears because we were so used to each other. I didn't want the work to end.

“It's hard for young people in Sierra Leone right now, but volunteering can really make a difference.”

Ishamail with other members of the Sierra Leone Olympic team

Life after Rio

Whilst at the Games, Ishamail has had a chance to spot his biggest running inspiration, Usain Bolt, on the track: “It was amazing seeing him in person. I've always wanted to meet Bolt and to finally do it – I was so excited.”
So what’s next? Ishamail has big plans.

“The Olympics has transformed me. There's people back in Sierra Leone who see me as an Olympian, and there's not many of those back in my country.

“It means a lot to me. I'm going to use that influence to shape views back at home. To have the courage, the passion – if you want to make it to the Olympics you can do it.”

Ishamail's race

Ishamail came 4th in his heat with an incredible time of 10.95 seconds. Despite this incredible time Ishamail did not progress to the next stages. Never the less, we're all very proud of your achievement Ishamail. Well done.

Are you a former volunteer? We would love to hear what you’ve been up to since your volunteer placement with VSO. Please get in touch at alumnicomms@vsoint.org and share your story with us.​