Sally Hamilton’s time volunteering in Tanzania helped local people to start businesses. It also helped Sally herself.
She is about to return to Africa, this time to Uganda, on another project which she hopes will inspire locals and the young Brits who work with them.
Both visits were organised by the International Citizen Service (ICS). This UK government programme provides overseas volunteer placements for 18-25-year-olds.
Sally hopes to make life better for people 6,500 miles away, and for young people in this country by giving them a sense of purpose and achievement.
She was born in another African country, Eritrea, where her mother Helen is from. Sally’s father is American. She has an American accent, although she hasn’t lived there.
Sally left Eritrea aged six, moved to Saudi Arabia, and has lived in Carlisle since she was 16, with Helen and her stepdad Paul, who is from Cleator Moor.
Sally is a fast-talking ball of energy, driven to do good things. “I’ve always done charity work since I was little,” she says.
“At Lime House School I organised non-uniform days to raise money for Eden Valley Hospice. I was a volunteer at Carlisle Youth Zone, mentoring. I studied art history with the Open University. I was finishing university and didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was feeling lost. I realised that I wanted to do something that gave me purpose and made a difference. The opportunity to do the ICS programme came at a time when I needed it.”
Sally was accepted on a placement to Tanzania, one of eight countries where ICS has programmes. She was among 30 young people from the UK working alongside local people and living in local families’ homes. The project was run with the charity Raleigh International.
She and her fellow volunteers were working with unemployed young people and families in need, teaching them business skills so they could generate their own funding.
“We got 10 businesses founded. Things like selling eggs at the local market and setting up a tailoring businesses. Most people in Tanzania are farmers. Their obstacle to get the produce to market wasn’t just lack of transport. This is an issue, because transport costs money and living in extreme poverty you don’t have money.
“Their main struggle comes from the weather: extreme drought. If conditions to grow food are bad, whatever they grow they will use to feed their families instead of selling.
“Education is another thing. Most people have had no education or have a primary level of education so they don’t have the skills to better themselves. We provide sustainable solutions.
“They were grateful for the work we were doing. They wanted to learn. They didn’t have negative perceptions of westerners. They were open to learn from us, as we were from them.”
Sally’s education included learning about villagers’ sense of community.
“What moved me about Tanzania is how incredibly beautiful the country is, but more importantly the people. You walk around and people smile and greet you day and night. They were unbelievably kind and welcoming, even though we are strangers in their country. You don’t get that in the UK. People don’t greet you here, let alone smile at you.
“Over there, even though they don’t have much, their hospitality is incredible. They will still share everything. When you have nothing, you don’t focus on what you don’t have. There’s a real sense of family and love.”
Sally’s host family was a mum and dad with three sons. “My host father worked as a community leader and had a small farm. I also had a Tanzanian counterpart who lived with me. I only spoke a little bit of Swahili so my counterpart would sometimes help me with translations.
“I would sit with my host mom when she would be cooking and just hang out with her, tell her about my day, the project, my family in the UK. When I got sick she made me soup and looked after me.
“I was very sad when I came back. They were complete strangers who showed me love and kindness and welcomed me into their home.”
Seeing her work create results helped to inspire Sally. “Just by volunteering time and spreading knowledge and skills, I could make such a huge impact. That made me happy.
“I learned a lot about myself and the world. I learned that I took things for granted. Sometimes it’s hard to see how blessed you are.
“There were personality clashes. I noticed a lot of flaws in my character. I realised I’m very impatient, that I can be passionate but sometimes aggressive. I didn’t realise until I was put in that position.
“Over there everything’s a lot more relaxed. Adaptability is a huge thing. That’s something I really struggled with. I wanted to get everything done now. I had to realise I’m not in the UK. Everything works differently there.
“I’m a natural leader, which is good. I learned to believe more in myself and what I’m capable of.”
This knowledge is likely to prove useful in Uganda. This programme is organised by ICS and the charity Restless Development. Sally will be one of four UK team leaders. There will be four Ugandan team leaders, 30 UK volunteers and 30 Ugandan volunteers.
“The volunteers will get split into teams, equally made up of UK and Ugandan volunteers. Each UK volunteer will have a Ugandan counterpart. Cross-cultural learning is a huge part of the programme. I still speak to my counterpart from Tanzania. You make friends for life. You experience these intense challenges together for three months.
“I’m nervous about leading a team. My job is to provide pastoral care to the volunteers and make sure the programme runs to the goals it’s meant to run to.”
These include another project aimed at improving business skills. There is also a sexual health element. Uganda has a high rate of HIV/Aids. But just two in five of its 15-to 24-year-olds know how to prevent HIV. ICS volunteers bring HIV and STI testing services to young people in rural communities who don’t normally have access to them.
Is there a danger that the volunteers will be seen as outsiders meddling in local affairs?
“Restless Development have been working in Uganda for a long time,” says Sally. “They have a good relationship with the government. The only reason they are in a country is because their work has been requested. They would never say ‘We’re going to fix all your problems.’ They work with locals. Teams are half Ugandan and half from the UK.”
Her time in Tanzania, and the way she hopes her time in Uganda will develop, have encouraged Sally to make this kind of work a long-term career goal. “I would like one day to maybe work for the UN or start my own not-for-profit organisation, maybe back in Eritrea. I want to educate myself.”
Hence the masters degree in International Development which Sally will begin in September at Northumbria University in Newcastle.
ICS volunteers are asked to use the skills they learned abroad when they return home. After Tanzania, Sally spent time in Essex with a charity for children with special needs. After Uganda she plans to do something around Aids; perhaps with the Youth Stop Aids campaign.
She is currently working at Carlisle’s James Rennie School, for pupils with special needs. “I love it,” she says. “I’ve never been money motivated. I like to find a purpose to the things I’m doing.”
Her 14-year-old sister Amy also seems eager to help people, with her ambition to be a humanitarian lawyer. Sally says: “We grew up in an environment where we were exposed to people of many different backgrounds and cultures. We grew up understanding that different is good. We learned to be accepting and open-minded from a very young age.
“Young people are aware and active. Things like social media make it a lot easier to be aware of everything that’s going on in the world. It’s up to us to make changes in the world. You don’t have to be taking part in a demonstration. You can be sharing a page or having a conversation.”
Sally is keen to raise awareness of ICS in Cumbria. “ICS pays for flights, vaccinations, food. Volunteers raise 10 per cent of the cost themselves. That money goes towards the programme, not their expenses. Before I went to Tanzania I held an open mic night and that worked out really well. For Uganda I held a bake sale at I Love Café in Carlisle. I also set up a JustGiving page. I’ve just hit my target of £800. Fundraising is another skill you can put on your CV.
“The only things ICS want you to come with are passion and time. Who wouldn’t want to spend their summer abroad doing something amazing? I used to think, there’s a million problems in the world - how can I help? This is a way to make sustainable changes.”
n Visit www.volunteerics.org to find out more about the International Citizen Service.