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Zoe's volunteering

Zoe is just completing her first year on the BA (Hons) Charity development, inspired by her time in a Ghanaian rural fishing village.

What do you do there?

We were the first team out there, as it was a new project, and I was there for ten weeks. The first thing we did was a survey of the village to ask people what they wanted. We spoke to every household, we were paired with a Ghanaian who translated. When we had finished we looked at all the results to work out what mattered most to local people.

There were no toilets for the school, and many of the houses too. So, people had to either use the bushes or beach. Then people washed in the sea. Building toilets at the school was a manageable task, so we planned for building them.

Then, there were no steps up to the school building; it was a surprisingly big jump for the children to get down from the classroom level. We worked with local people to build steps from mud, sand and water. I was surprised, but it held together really well, and the children had a much safer school building.

The other thing that the local people said they wanted was to understand how to avoid common illnesses. We found that washing hands before meals and brushing teeth weren’t common practice. Lots of children didn’t have a toothbrush, so we contacted the volunteering agency, who sent toothbrushes for the children.

What did you enjoy most?

We weren’t living in accommodation blocks, so I was privileged to live as local people do. I had such a strong relationship with the family who hosted me; they invited me to call them mum and dad.

I’m really honoured to know that the children I had lived with had learnt to wash their hands. As I was leaving on my last day I saw two of the boys I had taught carefully washing their hands, you don’t always know if the children are listening even though they’re really polite. So, it made me very happy to think that they might stay healthier longer as a result of my visit.

What do you think you got from the visit?

I’m definitely a lot more open minded and appreciate what I have more. I remember coming back and a girl at work was complaining about her hours. It made me frustrated because she didn’t realise how lucky she was. It was one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced. The weather and the living conditions were tough.

It also made my mind up about my career. I wouldn’t be at uni studying what I am now if it wasn’t for my trip. Before volunteering I was working at Waitrose, it was nothing exciting. Things I learnt out there shaped what I do today and I still fundraise for the school.

How did you find out about the course?

I’d had a really bad day at work, wanted to leave. I had considered doing childhood nursing, but then I thought about how much I enjoyed the fundraising side of the overseas trip. I Googled ‘charity degree’ and this was the only one. Home is Suffolk, I didn’t care how far away it was, I was going to do this degree.

Was the degree programme what you expected?

Yes, the way it was explained it at the interview was how it is. I like the variety, it’s good to do modules across different programmes. Because we can take modules from the Business School and the Music Department I’ve met a lot of interesting people who look at life in different ways. In fact, I’ve been singing at the Jazz Nights with the music students, because Jazz singing is a bit of a passion too.

What was the best bit of the degree?

I like how there’s a small core team of Charity Development students, it means that I feel confident about asking questions as everyone is friendly. There’s a particular type of person that studies Charity Development. The course is genuinely interesting, and I love that we can book tutorials to see our tutor 1-to-1 if we need more help.

If you could change a bit of it, what would that be?

I find it challenging sometimes, it takes me out of my comfort zone. Exams aren’t my favourite aspect, even though we get to see the questions a week in advance, but we do far more essay writing as well as presentations so overall, I feel really confident.

It’s crazy how fast the first year has gone.

Explore the BA (Hons) Charity Development page.