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29th January 2018

An unconventional gap year

Aisha Rodriguez discusses how you could get involved with ICS, a government-funded programme, which aims to meaningfully help developing countries
An unconventional gap year
Photo: Aisha Rodriguez

Aisha Rodriguez is an environmental consultant embarking on a journey of a lifetime to Kenya. She has taken a six month sabbatical from her city job in London to volunteer with a social enterprise called Balloon Ventures via the International Citizen Service (ICS) Programme. Balloon Ventures works with micro —entrepreneurs in African communities to help bring them out of poverty through economic empowerment.

Q: What is ICS and how did you hear about it?

A: International Citizen Service (ICS) is a UK government-funded volunteer programme that brings together young people to make a difference in some of the poorest countries across the world. ICS aims to bring about three things: projects that deliver a positive impact, personal development of volunteers, and the creation of active citizens. ICS partners with organisations and charities which work across the globe. Each of these focus on different issues, ranging from education, climate change, health, and hygiene.

I found out about ICS through a friend who had been on a placement with the charity, VSO, two years ago. She said it was “the best experience of her life” and after hearing all her stories, I was sold!

Q: How does one apply to ICS?

A: I would first visit the ICS website — — and have a good read through the profiles of the different partner organisations and charities. Once you have found two or three organisations who fight for a cause you’re passionate in, and once you’ve roughly figured out when you can take some time off to volunteer, fill in the application form online — a crucial question will be why you’d like to volunteer with ICS. Have a good think about this, treat it like a personal statement. The better the quality of your application, the more likely you will be invited for an interview!

Q: Tell us about the organisation you will be volunteering with.

A: Balloon Ventures (BV) stood out to me the first time I researched ICS. They work with micro-entrepreneurs in Africa to help develop their business through giving them the skills and ideas to grow. I had always wanted to learn more about how social enterprises work, so it really is a win-win situation as we get trained in the BV tried and tested entrepreneurship curriculum as well as gaining hands on experience.

As volunteers we will help train the entrepreneurs in this curriculum and test different business ideas. Balloon Ventures has helped thousands of micro-entrepreneurs in Africa over the last 6 years — it embodies the old proverb “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Q: Have you got any tips for those who are interested in volunteering with ICS?

A: Sign up ASAP! ICS is funded through the UK Government which has announced it will stop funding the programme from summer this year. This doesn’t mean the opportunities to volunteer will stop then, but it does mean that the funds will dry up soon after, so get those applications in! This is an opportunity of a lifetime you don’t want to miss! Also, you can help keep this incredible programme going — sign this petition to ask the government to continue to fund ICS:

Follow Aisha’s journey on Instagram @wheresaisha

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