Volunteer Megan reflects on ‘experience of a lifetime’ in Africa

Megan takes a selfie with her host family in Africa.
Megan takes a selfie with her host family in Africa.

A young Larne woman has returned home ‘inspired’ after completing 10 weeks of challenging but rewarding volunteer work in Africa.

Megan Gourley (22), who lives in Ballygally, volunteered in Kenya as part of the ICS (International Citizen Service) programme. An overseas volunteering programme for 18-25 year-olds led by VSO and funded by the UK government, ICS is a development programme that brings together young people from the UK and those in developing countries to volunteer in some of the world’s poorest communities in Asia, Africa and Latin America for 10-13 weeks.

Megan was based in Nandi County where the aim of her project was to improve livelihoods, more specifically, working on education and disability inclusion.

She said: “Our programme in Nandi County was unique, as more than half of the national volunteers were deaf, meaning we were given the chance to learn and pick up Kenyan Sign Language (KSL). Each volunteer was placed within a host home within the local community where we lived with and adhered to the customs of a local family. My host home was one of the highlights of my whole experience in Kenya; I was placed in a lovely home within a tea plantation. My host family were a well-respected family in the local community; my host mum was a Chief and my host dad was a tea farmer. It was a busy household, but they became like my real family and it felt like my home away from home.”

Megan was assigned a placement with the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya (APDK) at a local hospital and was tasked with carrying out research and field work, giving talks to schoolchildren and raising awareness in communities on topics such as mental health.

She said: “My time in Kenya taught me a lot and was a real eye-opener to the struggles faced by those living in a developing country. Our project was based around disability and education inclusion. In Kenya there is still a large prejudice towards those suffering with disabilities; there is still a widespread belief that disabilities are caused by witchcraft and many children born with disabilities are hidden away.”

Now back, the final step of the ICS programme is ‘Action at Home’ and for Megan, the first step of that is telling her story.

She said: “I hope it will raise awareness on development issues and then I plan on getting involved with a local charity and/or carrying out more volunteering work. The ICS programme has been inspiring, challenging and the experience of a lifetime. The programme can be very difficult and frustrating at times and it is not for everyone, but it is extremely rewarding”.