Vibrant country can teach us so much

Sophie Illand with some of the other volunteers in Burkina Faso
Sophie Illand with some of the other volunteers in Burkina Faso

FOR the past three months, Sophie Illand has been residing in Burkina Faso, an experience she believes many young people should get involved in.

The 21-year-old is volunteering as a capacity builder with International Citizen Service, a new government scheme for 18 to 22-year-olds which sends volunteers to a range of different countries under the stewardship of a variety of agencies.

Sophie was posted to Burkina Faso in West Africa. “I really wanted to experience living and working overseas in a voluntary capacity. I’m interested in humanitarian work and I came across an advert for the International Citizen Service while looking at volunteering opportunities. I applied as it looked like an excellent opportunity,” said Sophie, who lives in Hove Edge.

Sophie has been working with project Tigoung Nonma in order to raise awareness and assist with marketing and essential business skills, along with fund-raising to enable them to continue its support of those with disabilities and grow as an organisation – something Tigoung Nonma was set up to do.

One of its priorities though is to get their food kiosk up and running, as previously this was a large source of their income yet due to financial difficulties it hasn’t been open for some time.

“Having spent nearly three months in the country I feel my outlook and perspective has changed. Whilst it is understandably difficult adapting to a new culture and way of living it is also incredibly enriching.

“The whole experience is very eye opening. I’m living and working with six other British volunteers which means I have others to share the experience with.”

Burkina Faso is the sixth poorest country in the world and 44.9 per cent of the population subsides on less the $1 per day.

“Adapting to the level of electricity, water, transport and heat amongst other things can be tough however the positives far outweigh the negatives.

“The country is fantastically vibrant and although it is one of the poorest countries in the world the people are very friendly and also generous. The children especially have a great outlook on life and are very polite and willing to share whatever they have with you.”

The former Brighouse High School student said she arrived in the country on January 15 with an open mind.

“I came out here with very few expectations as I was aware that my time here would be like nothing I have ever experienced before. I had however mentally braced myself for the levels of poverty that I would see which I am grateful for,” she said.

“My family was very pleased and excited for me to be doing this. I’m the first one out of my immediate family to do this kind of thing so I think that has made it all the more exciting.”

International Service has been active in Burkina Faso since 1978. The majority of their local partners work with local communities in both rural and urban areas, and focus on working with disabled people and women.

Sophie is due to return home at the weekend.

n Report by Michaela Maunders