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Young woman’s ‘extraordinary’ African experience

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AMELKSHAM woman has fondly recalled her time volunteering in Rwanda before Christmas, and is pursuing a new career path as a result of her experience.

21 year-old Sarah Gale spent two months in Rwanda’s capital city Kigali, volunteering with the Christian charity Tearfund in autumn last year. Since returning, she has decided to try working with disabled children, which formed part of the charity’s work.

Sarah said, “I am currently job hunting and looking to work with children with disabilities. The work we did in Rwanda showed me that I loved working with handicapped children, and I’m now considering it as a career.

“As well as that, we spent time teaching English, running holiday camps, farming, and helping with youth work and self-help groups.

“We also wrote reports on the charity’s beneficiaries. One who affected me most was a woman called Asiat who lives with HIV/AIDS.

“When Asiat was extremely poor she was given a cow by the African Evangelic Enterprise, which meant she could make money out of the manure and milk. She now has buildings to rent out, three cows of her own, manure with which to grow vegetables, employed farmers, and has given cows away to her neighbours.

“When a cow has its first calf it is given to another family so that they can also benefit. It would be really nice to see more of that sense of community in the UK.

“At first I struggled to see how we were helping because the results weren’t always tangible. I wanted the feeling of satisfaction that I had done something amazing with immediate results. Looking back, this was selfish. I think that the impact we make cannot always be seen; we may never see the banana tree we planted fully grown, or even be able to taste its bananas, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a real help.

“All the people we worked with always thanked us for what we did, they seemed genuinely grateful and such gratitude made me feel very happy.

“Overall the experience was wonderful. The culture shock was difficult to deal with, and I think I spent a whole week crying because everything was so overwhelming! But once I got over the initial shock I really enjoyed the difference in culture.

“The language barrier was very difficult, often there were words which just couldn’t be translated and if there was a joke we missed it and got a weak translation. I did try to learn but I could only ever remember a handful of phrases, which made conversation difficult without a translator.

“There was a much deeper sense of community and willingness to make time for others. There is less pressure to be on time for everything; their lives are more people-focused and I liked that. Everyone  you meet will say hello rather than keeping their heads down and avoiding eye contact.

“The businesses there also seemed to be helping each other, just for the sake of helping and getting very little in return.

“Our team of eight lived in a fairly small space for two months so we had to enjoy each other’s company! Fortunately I had a wonderful team who I loved spending time with and miss very much. We still remain good friends.

“We would visit the local bakery to buy the amazing banana bread, visit local attractions, play games, and go walking with the local volunteers – it turned out that their definition of a walk was very different, and many took over three hours!

“My friends and family back home panicked a little bit when news broke about the Ebola crisis, but we were much too far away to be affected.

“I will look back at my whole experience with fondness; it really was extraordinary.”

Tearfund is a Christian humanitarian organisation that works in poor areas around the world. To find out more, go to www.tearfund.org.