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Name: Paul Fegan
Age: 23
Paul Fegan
You recently spent ten weeks volunteering abroad. Tell us a bit about this.
I recently volunteered with an organisation called Platform 2. Basically it is a global volunteering scheme for 18-25year olds. The programme offers a chance to get involved with global issues of justice and poverty and volunteers have the choice to visit either: Ghana, Peru, Kenya, India, South Africa or Nepal. I got chosen to go to Kenya. It is completely funded by UK aid from the Department for International Development (DFID). I actually only had to pay for my flights from Belfast to Heathrow and everything from food, flights accommodation was covered; I even got £12 a week pocket money, which isn’t a lot but it is twice the average Kenyan weekly wage.
What tasks etc did you carry out?
At the time there were two groups in Kenya, one group were based up in Meru; they were helping with deforestation and I was based in Thigio just outside Kikuyu. Initially I was helping to paint schools but the company who supplied the paint CFD, refused to release any more funds while we were there, so we only got painting half of the school, so we got involved in producing learning aids instead, such as posters and paintings to help with maths, science and other subjects. We also spent some time gardening and creating flower beds and on a Saturday we did a lot of interaction with the community, everyone were dedicated a host family where, we spent time getting involved with their everyday activities such as feeding the animals, cooking, chopping maize etc. This was an excellent way of getting to know the African culture. As well as that we got involved with other community based activities such as going to the Special Olympics and playing sports activities with them. On a Wednesday as well, we worked with the local community; at the minute Kenya is facing the biggest drought it has ever had so the locals are in the middle of building a big dam to try and collect the water to use it, so we took this opportunity to get involved with that.
Why did you decide to go away?
Initially I had been trying to get as much experience as I could for my university course. I applied to a few places like the JI programme in America. But my housemate actually found out about the Platform 2 programme last year when he was in China so we both decided to apply for it and got accepted.
What did you like most about your trip?
I wouldn’t say what I liked the most I would say what I have learnt, the educational side of it. There was one story that really stood out to me, one day I got to go and visit the local people in the community suffering from AIDS. There are four nuns in Kenya who set up a programme to help the local people suffering from AIDS. They give medication to three hundred and sixty adults and sixty five children so they have to go round each patient once a month to make sure everyone is taking their medication and so one guy I visited was in his fifties, he had no family and because of the whole stigma with aids, his neighbours refuse to go near him. He lives in a small mud hut with just a bed and a desk, no electricity or running water, his toilet is just a massive hole out the back of the hut, not even a proper squat toilet. He was too sick to work and his only source of food is what the nuns bring him once a week. That’s his only form of interaction with any other people. This is most definitely not what I liked most about the trip but it is what has stuck out in my memory most from the trip. Its personal stories like this that will always stick in my mind and make it a worthwhile experience for me.
What did you like least about your trip?
There is not a lot that I can say I liked least about my experience, other than a breakdown in communication between Platform 2 and advance Africa from time to time. The main thing that I found difficult to cope with was readjusting into western society when returning. After everything I have witnessed at first hand in the developing society, I have come to realise how, we in the western world, take everything for granted and appreciate little of what we have got.
Do you feel volunteering has changed your life in any way?
Absolutely, 100%. Before I went away I never really did any volunteering at all, I always thought that there were other people out there who could do it. But I have now learnt that it is everyone’s responsibility to get involved in some way. Even career wise I have realised I would like to incorporate volunteering and the developing world into my engineering course.
Would you like to volunteer again?
Yes I recently registered with VSB to get involved in some work so I would like to do a few hours a week with Oxfam in their bookshop. I am also attending the Copenhagen campaign from 10th – 14th December in order to create awareness for climate change and to encourage the UN to get involved in making a difference. My brother and I have also decided to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro (highest mountain in Africa) in June 2010. In order to do that we both need to raise £5000 each.
Would you recommend volunteering to your peers?
Yes I have been telling everyone about my experience and I have written a few articles for some local newspapers to try and get people involved. It’s only ten weeks out of your life and it will change your life dramatically without a shadow of a doubt.