International Citizen Service Volunteer Josh Lewis spent 12 weeks volunteering for Togo YMCA, supporting young people living in slums who are at risk of crime or criminal activity and to try and improve the Togolese youth justice system.
Josh, 23, reflects on his ICS journey, and draws parallels with the support he received from his own local YMCA in Wales.
Volunteering abroad was always something I wanted to do but I never really thought I’d get the opportunity to do it – I thought it was only people with money that could do it.
Y Care International had been running promotional ICS roadshows across the UK, and got in contact with my local YMCA in Wales, who encouraged me to apply and ended up volunteering in Lomé, the capital of Togo.
Whilst there I was volunteering in the schools and prisons, helping YMCA staff to teach English. I loved being in front of 100 children helping to teach them English. That was something I never thought I’d be doing before. Then it hit me pretty hard going to the prisons seeing young people held in there for long periods without trial, mostly just for small crimes.
It made me think of some of the things I did when I was young – I would have been in jail if I lived in Togo. Where I come from was a poor area and I knew people who were involved in crime of some description, just to get by.
I wasn’t whiter than white myself, but I am somewhat of a reformed character now. The support the young prisoners in Togo received from YMCA meant that they turned their lives around, which made relate to my own life in Wales and how I was able to get out of being involved in the crime I saw all around me.
It also gave me a much bigger appreciation for the things I have here at home, even though it can be tough sometimes. Even visiting the slums was surprising that people who have little were very welcoming and happy to meet local volunteers. One day I was having a bad day, when this little boy in the slum recognised me and ran up to hug me.
I recently attended Y Care’s Job Readiness workshop in Cardiff as doing ICS with Y Care International has made me realise that I want to work with young people and give back what I can.
I very nearly didn’t apply for ICS but now I know it was the right to do. My brother told me I was crazy for going away to volunteer! But when I came back he said “fair play, I couldn’t of done that”.
The support from Y Care International was great when it came to getting everything logistically prepared for going and all the training for the new situations abroad, and the fundraising officer was a big help in hitting my target. I’d never done anything on global issues before but they made sure everyone in the group was ready before we left the UK.
We worked hard in Togo but it was worth it. And we also had a lot of fun too. If you are considering ICS and want to help other people then I say just go for it!