When first applying to VSO ICS I never believed I would actually follow through or even be accepted, however, at each step I grew more and more excited. This was until the country I would be going to was revealed. Nigeria, a country I knew very little about but somehow managed to terrify me instantly. This fear wasn’t helped when I told my family and friends about the location I had been offered and I had to watch each and every one of their faces drop with the same fear I initially felt when I read the word Nigeria. This fear inside me was quickly eliminated when I done some research and understood that all countries are presented in a negative light, and this was the whole reason I wanted to go to a developing country. However, this attitude wasn’t adopted by my family as each member of my family continued to argue their case of the lack of safety and the wish for me to not go. Once they realised this wouldn’t work they tried to offer me what they perceived as advice, which honestly wasn’t helpful coming from people who had never visited the country themselves.
This excitement stayed with me until the day of departure, where it hit me that I was going to be living in a country I knew very little about for the next three months with 29 other people I had never met, this wasn’t aided by the simple fact that this would be my first time leaving the UK. This is when the fear began to raise up inside me once again. Almost instantly at the airport with both my team going to Gwada in Nigeria and the other 13 UK volunteers going to Kwara in Nigeria that everyone was feeling the same way I was, excited, nervous and curious for what the next three months were going to bring.
Arrival in community, the first two weeks in Gwada were possible the hardest days of my life, the major culture shock when we came to the realisation that there had been no electrical power in the last two weeks and it was unlikely it would return for a further two weeks. The idea of having cold bucket showers every day, no running water, cleaning your teeth outside and using a squat toilet, which is essentially just a whole in the ground with a little bit of concrete around it. Some homes were much more modernised than we expected, some having generators, normal toilets and even TV’s however this wasn’t the case for everyone. Food was one of the biggest culture shocks that I’m not sure many volunteers truly got used to, once again depending on the host home you stayed in food varied massively. Another thing to get used to, were the animals, everywhere you went were dogs, cats, cows, goats and sheep, this soon became very normal and we loved having the animals around.
Here are some photos of food we were given, our bathroom and some of the animals.
Every night for the next week we laid awake sweating, wondering when the rain would cool down the room. The rain came but the heat continued. Almost instantly we became a family, messaging our group chat about the lack of ability to sleep, our host homes and our Nigerian counterparts were all discussed at length by all UK volunteers. This was the beginning of a hard but amazing journey. Everyday just waiting for the power to turn on, to have a fan and the ability to charge your phone. The rain in Gwada was not like rain we were used to encountering in the UK particularly being rainy season, this made for some long waits in shops, some very wet walks and the inevitable muddy/sandy journey home.
One week into this trip I became very ill, suffering every day, but still not wanting to quit this amazing opportunity I had been given. I had visited 3 different hospitals on several occasions throughout my weeks in Nigeria. One day in particular this really got me down, I lay there trying to get the never-ending pain to seize just a little, as my chest tightened. This night was one of the scariest since I had been in Nigeria… not due to gun crime, or the members of the community but down to my own unknown illness. It was this that gave me the motivation to fight through the challenging journey that was Nigeria. Fighting the UK medical team at every turn in order to stay to the end of my cycle to say goodbye to lifelong friends.
When going to a new country, a new state or a new town you never truly know what you can expect. Going to Nigeria, Gwada was a life changing journey, no matter how you look at it. The ups the downs, the challenges and the fun filled days were what made this journey worth taking. Our time in the Gwada community had often been described as a rollercoaster with multiple highs such as summer school, the starting of the sanitation project, as well as the clear interest in things we are informing the community about, however, there are just as many lows with illness, food and the feeling that you’re not truly making a difference. So, what made the journey worth taking? The volunteers, the host homes and the community, no place had we been more accepted by a community with the constant asking of your name or asking to have a photo with you, and honestly where would any one of us really be if not for the other volunteers getting us through our lows and making the highs worth celebrating. The host homes were the perfect way to help with cultural differences and feel as though you belong to a new family during your stay. ICS is described as an ‘experience’ and you can’t argue with that, this journey took us to a new community with different views, different cultures and different lives and although at the beginning of this journey that caused issues for many, but once these things were embraced we could see that this is the positive, this is the reason we came on this programme to meet new people to experience new things. Through this programme I have made friends with people I would never normally have contact with, visited a community or even country I would never have had contact with. So, with the highs and the lows throughout this programme my journey through Gwada has been interesting, exciting and challenging, a true once in a life time experience.
Here are some photos of us in the community.
My final days in Nigeria; as we concluded our work and stay in Nigeria, everyone became emotional, tears filled the eyes of volunteers, team leaders and even project officers. Three months we spent together, working, laughing and enjoying our stay together. And this was coming to the inevitable end.
Reverse culture shock; upon returning home there were simple things you never quite took notice of before, such as the constant power, running water and the luxurious warm showers. These were all overwhelming for the first couple of weeks after returning from Nigeria as these were luxuries we never had. On my first day back I woke up to all the lights being out and the TV off, this in fact was because I was the only one home, however, my mind naturally listened for the sound of the power not hearing it assumed this meant that the power was off, going by in the dark letting my phone run down almost the whole day until my mum returned home and turned a light on did I realise where I was and that power in inevitable.
Nigeria will always remain one of my favourite places, where I have built the most memories. I now question why I was scared in the first place, as the country was an amazing place to visit, with some of the kindest people I have ever encountered. The fear comes from the idea of being in a developing country and the news around these locations, but in fact this only targets one section of the country and Nigeria like most developing countries are very large and shouldn’t be judged based on small areas of the country.