ICS Memories: My Wonderful New Family


ICS Team Makeni, Sierra Leone

It’s now been a month since I got back from Sierra Leone and I am finally getting around to telling you about it. I’ve been trying for a while to think of a way to sum up my volunteering in a few words but I don’t think that’s possible without over simplifying everything that I experienced.

Telling my friends and family here at home about everything I did, the people I met and got to know over the 10 weeks and all the trials I faced has been difficult, actually. Getting across an experience like ICS isn’t easy without losing people’s attention when you reminisce about places they’ve never been or a way of life they could never imagine. Or even worse, feeling like you are just “going on about it”.

I spent 9 of my 10 weeks living with my host family in Makeni, the largest city in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone. I was unbelievably lucky with the family I was placed with. My host mum, Aunty Zain, was so wonderful. She cooked the best food (seriously, it was amazing), she always made sure that the tailor didn’t overcharge us and just made me feel so welcome in her family.

Without her, I think I would have missed home an awful lot more than I did. Just knowing Aunty Zain was around, seeing me not as a stranger from another country but as her second daughter, helped more than she’ll ever know. P9010571.JPG

Honestly, no-one deserves happiness more than she does. Aunty Zain was known by absolutely everyone in the area. She volunteered at her church. She made the most amazing cakes and decorated halls for the weddings of people she barely knew. She fed the local children that sat around on the street biscuits. She looked after a crazy girl from one of the outer villages named Sio, who she practically adopted, fed and paid for her to go to school.

I’ve never met someone like Aunty Zain and yet she’s had such a hard life. Her family is distant from her and after all the time she spent looking after her younger siblings they no longer talk to her unless they need something. Her daughter is away studying social sciences at university in Freetown (she is rightfully very proud of her) so they don’t get to see each other often. Through all of this, though, she pours her heart into everything she does and is one of the most honest, hard working and brilliant people I have ever had the chance to meet. Saying goodbye to her broke my heart.

P7200264.JPGThe rest of my host family were also great, even if they were a bit crazy. In our house, there were so many people that I honestly still don’t know who was actually related to who! But, I had some very welcoming brothers and sisters who taught us a few great card games and – once they realised that my closed door meant I wanted to be alone – they were great company. One of the best nights I had with them was, sadly, my last. There were a lot of balloons, a lot of running around, screaming and throwing until I had to admit defeat and my bedroom was filled with the damn things.

Aside from these great, crazy people, I also got a strange dysfunctional family in the rest of the ICS volunteers. Honestly, I can’t say that I got tremendously close to everyone but I did make some friends out there without whom I probably wouldn’t have made it through the 10 weeks. The people who sat with me in silence when I needed a moment (or many moments) and left the socials early to come back to mine to play cards because it was getting all too much; they were the ones that kept me going.

Of course, I fell out with some of my fellow volunteers. Being in such constant contact with effective strangers was bound to lead to disagreements – and it did. Still, I will look back fondly on my time with these people and I’m sure that there will be moments when I even miss a few of them.

There is no other way to describe my time in Sierra Leone other than a real experience. There were ups and downs and moments I’ll never forget. People that changed my outlook on life and helped me realise more about myself than I ever could have done alone.

I’m going to do a few more of these posts as I work through the memories of my time in Sierra Leone, each focusing on different areas of the trip before I forget about it – unlikely as that may seem, I want to share some of the bad things as well as the good. If I wait too long I’ll end up romanticising it all and I don’t want to do my memories that injustice.


The Adventure Begins…

This evening/early tomorrow morning, I will be meeting up with the other ICS volunteers as we prepare to board our plane and head to Sierra Leone! It’s been both a long and a short journey getting here. It feels so long ago that I applied for a space on ICS. It’s only been 4 months since I went to my applicant day and yet that feels like a distant memory now. I guess with exams, uni, general life – and everything that has gone along with ICS like the training weekend, getting vaccinated, buying all my supplies etc. – that time has just slipped away.

I honestly don’t know how I feel right now; I’m scared and nervous, obviously. I’m going to a brand new country with people I don’t really know but I guess we are all in the same boat there. I’m also going to miss my family and friends, that is for sure. Hopefully, though, I’ll get on with my fellow volunteers and I am sure that my host family will welcome me with open arms. Well, I hope so.

It’s not all negative emotions, though. I don’t think. Of course, I’m excited to be going somewhere new. Half the point of this for me was to go and experience a way of life that is totally different from my own. I’m looking forward to learning about how others live their day to day lives and seeing whether I actually can cope with the slow pace that they seem to enjoy. For all my complaining, and my uni flatmates will certainly attest to the fact I do complain a lot, I do enjoy the busy life and it will be a challenge, I’m sure, for me not to be constantly connected. My mind is like a busy hive and, whilst I like and need to take breaks now and then, the slower road may not be for me. But we will see!

Anyway, I’m all packed up – my suitcases are sitting ready and I’m going over the lists again and again in my head to see if I’ve missed anything. Which I probably have. Fingers crossed it’s nothing important; then again, if I have forgotten about it then it probably isn’t worth worrying about.

I’ve spent the morning downloading music, tv programmes and films so I will have something to keep me sane (everyone that knows me knows that, as much as I love my books – and trust me there are plenty of those coming with me too – that sometimes it is best just to let me zone out and watch my tv!!). All in all, I think I’m ready. Probably.

You can probably sense the nervousness in this post. It’s kind of all hit me now that I am actually going to do this and part of my brain is realising that it is too late to back out now! I doubt that I’ll be able to post anything while I am out there but when I get back in September I am sure that I will have many stories and interesting things to share with everyone.

Thanks to everyone that has given me support over the last few months; my love to you all. To my friends that wish me safe travels, don’t panic; I really am going to try not to get ill or in too much trouble! That being said, you know my luck…


ICS Pre-Placement Training Weekend

This weekend I disappeared off to Wellingborough for my ICS pre-placement training. It was the first time that I got to meet the other Sierra Leone team volunteers and team leaders. To sum it up in one word, it was intense. I didn’t arrive until late on the Friday afternoon (I had an exam in the afternoon, which thankfully went well!) so I missed a little bit but we had full days (9.15am til ~9pm) Saturday and Sunday and then 9.15am-4pm on the Monday before we went home.

It covered so much information that my brain kinda went into overload. We did activities on our preconceptions, our fears over culture and security, a whole day on keeping safe and also got a little more information about what we will actually be doing when we go out. We had a talk from a previous volunteer (unfortunately she went to Senegal rather than Sierra Leone as the volunteer meant to talk to our group couldn’t make it) but it was fascinating to hear about the experience from someone that has actually done it.

In between all of that learning, I also had to learn the names of at least 20 other people which wasn’t easy! But, even though we were only together for a short time, I feel like there are people on my team that I could easily become good friends with and I hope that I will end up in the same place as them when we go out (Team Sierra Leone is split between two separate locations so we don’t know who we will be with or where we will be based yet).

Of course, it was a very social weekend. I was amazed that, by some chance, one of the guys on Team Sierra Leone also comes from my home town which seems an amazing coincidence! People were on their best behaviour and everyone was kind and outgoing – me included, to a point on outgoing anyway – which naturally made me immeasurably tired, as all heavy socialising does. It’s been a good few days since I got home and I am still sleeping way more than normal as my body tries to sort itself out!

What else… The food was surprisingly nice. The bunk beds were very creaky (yes, we were sharing rooms and had bunk beds!!) and a tad small but we survived. The view from the lodge we stayed at was beautiful. I even managed to get on all of the right trains.

In other news, yesterday was the Kent Union Awards and my society, Stage Spiders, won an award! We were awarded dedication to volunteering for our hard work on our projects and fundraising across the year, which was a real honour. Our President was also awarded a lifetime membership to the union which she definitely deserved; she has worked so hard this year with the committee and everything else she has done that I can’t think of anyone more deserving.

I think that is about it. I’ve got two exams left, the next is on Saturday (Saturday!?) at 9.30am so wish me luck and let’s keep our fingers crossed that this beautiful weather continues over the bank holiday!

Overdue Update

A slightly overdue update; thanks to a really generous donation from the Canterbury Rotary Club’s Millennium Scholarship Fund I have reached my ICS fundraising target! In the last few weeks I have also started all my vaccinations (my poor arms… they’re all bruised and feeling a little like pin cushions now) and later on today I am making my way to Wellingborough – don’t worry, I had to Google it too…. – for my pre-placement training weekend. I will finally get to meet the people I will be travelling to Sierra Leone with alongside volunteers going to Senegal!

Honestly, I’m a little nervous. Travelling on my own to somewhere I have never been; meeting loads of new people in such a short space of time. It’s going to be a little hard for me but I’m sure it will  be worth it from what I’ve heard from other volunteers. I’ll let you know how it all went when I get back!

In other news, I am now fully into my exams. This afternoon I reach my half way point which is both a relief and a scare. So far I would say they have been going okay, I just hope that I’ve put enough work in across the year and intensely over the last few weeks to get the grades that I want. I’ll just cross my fingers and pray for the best; it normally works okay.

Aside from the big stresses, life is still very busy! It’s awards season around the university and one of my societies has been nominated for loads of things! Our president and fundraising officer are off to Nottingham today for a national award ceremony that we were nominated for; on Wednesday is the Kent Union awards where we’ve been nominated for another 3 awards and the university RAG awards are coming up too – again we’ve been nominated! Obviously I am very proud of all the work that we have put in as a committee this year to run the society, fundraisers and projects but it is just so busy!!

Then to top it off I’ve got people with birthday bashes going on, the Dicken’s festival is coming up and the university concert band have our summer concert soon too… If I make it to the end of term I’ll certainly deserve the few days break before jetting off to do (hopefully) amazing work in Sierra Leone. I think I’ll just stick to surviving each day as it comes….

Back Again

So I got back from Marrakesh last night and after a very long diversion we finally arrived home around 1.30am – making it a very long, tiring day. Surprisingly, though, I actually don’t feel that tired and am pretty much feeling the same as normal, maybe just slightly more relaxed. For the last week I have sat around reading, writing, ace-ing sudoku puzzles and eating. Lots of eating.

During the week I also went into the heart of Marrakesh twice. That was scary. Eye opening, but very scary. Wandering around the souks was hot and sticky, seriously cramped, full of all sorts of wasps (they seemed to like the sticky sweet desserts over the huge lumps of meat that hung from the ceiling) and unlike any maze or labyrinth that I have ever seen. Taking three right turns doesn’t, as you’d expect, take you back to where you’d started; nope, you end up somewhere completely different. You could easily get lost there and disappear forever!

That being said, the souks were also pretty amazing. The variety of colourful scarves and dresses, immensely intricate pieces of metal work (I kid you not, there was an actual bath tub… How you’d ever get that home I don’t know…!) and all manner of pottery and wood work was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I sincerely doubt you’d see anything like it Europe.

Still, the way of approaching business is so different. I know that people have to make a living but jumping on tourists, trying to persuade them to buy something they don’t want, and bartering is not the way I am comfortable approaching business. If not for having my dad around, I’m not sure I would have survived there.

I did get some gorgeous pashmina scarves in the market, though. I did plan on giving them to my friends as souvenirs but they are just too nice so I’ve kept them (although my mum and sister each took one from the haul too). The guy originally wanted to sell them to us for 220 dh each (and we wanted 5!) but in the end we managed to get him to agree to 320 dh for the whole lot. So that was a good deal, in my mind at least!

The worst thing about our holiday was the fact I missed the start of the new Doctor Who series. Worry not, we are catching up tonight!

My plan now? Well, I need to revise for my exams but I am going to break that up by going out and playing flute for a few patients at our local hospice. I am also going to go to the cinema and watch a few films (Guardians of the Galaxy 2 comes out soon!). Maybe meet up with a few friends whilst I am home. But really, that is about it.

In other news, I have been thinking a little more about my week of hell in aid of ICS and Y Care International. Have a read about it here.

That’s about it, so have a good week!

Below the Line

In a few weeks’ time, I am putting myself through a personal week of Hell in aid of my fundraising for ICS and Y Care International. I’ve been thinking about it recently and I have decided to really go for it (as if I wasn’t already by giving up the things I love most). Instead of giving up my control over food, I am instead going to keep control but limit myself to the £5 challenge. What this means is that for 5 days during my week I will be living on just £5 – which is below the poverty line.

In Sierra Leone, estimates vary since data is hard to come by but between 50 and 80% of people are living in extreme poverty. Here in the UK, as many as 1 in 5 people could also be living on less than £1 a day. Globally, 1.4 billion people are estimated to be living in poverty. In 2017, this just sounds totally wrong.

I can’t imagine what it is like living on such a knife edge; I’ve always been lucky. My parents were able to feed us, clothe us and take us on exciting holidays and trips around the world. At university on my own, I am lucky enough to have a large student loan/grant and a bursary which allow me to be totally independent and in control of my finances. That stability makes it nearly impossible for me to imagine the hardships that other people around the world have to endure.

That is partially why I want to do this £5 challenge. I want to experience the struggle, but that in itself feels selfish. My £5 is paying only for my food. I don’t have to worry about the rent, or the bills or any of the other additional things that people truly below the poverty line have to find money to afford. My challenge will be no comparison, but I don’t think that is the point. What I am trying to do, along with so many other people, is just raise awareness.

Y Care International works with young people in poverty, helping them to work their way out of these conditions. Young people get a lot of schtick in the press but we are the future and we do have the power to change our lives and the lives of those around us in our communities and across the world. I despair at the state of the world quite a lot, but I am truly optimistic that things can and will change for the better.

I hope that by giving up the luxuries that I see as my necessities, things that I struggle to live without in my privileged life, you might just donate to my fundraising and help to make a difference to the lives of so many others. When there are somehow managing to live on a pound a day, the few pounds that you could donate will make a huge difference to the projects being funded by the ICS partners.

I will be posting daily updates during my challenge so you can read all about it. Thank you. Please donate whatever you can on my fundraising page: www.justgiving.com/nicola-sadler2

A Few Of My Favourite Things…

Firstly, I want to say a big thank you to all my friends and family that donated to my raffle. It raised over £100 which is a huge chunk of my ICS target! There is no rest for the wicked though as I am already planning my next event and it is the kind of thing that everyone likes: watching someone else in misery. You sadists. 

There are a few things I rely on to get me through my days. Without them, I would undoubtedly go insane. So what things make my life easier?

  • Music: I listen to music every day. I like to have it in the background when I’m studying or procrastinating. I listen to it in the morning to kick start my day and then in the evenings to relax after a long day. I rarely go out without my iPod and I don’t think I can actually remember a day in recent years where I’ve not either had my iPod, iTunes or YouTube going at some point.
  • TV and Films: If I’m not listening to music, I probably have the tv on. It’s the same thing, I like background noise and it keeps me calm. I watch my shows pretty obsessively (some more than others) and go to the cinema pretty much every week. 
  • Chocolate: I’m sure you can identify. When you’ve had a bad days all you want is something chocolatey to make it better. My flat mate gave up all chocolate and sweets and pudding for lent this year (it’s been hard on her, especially when she made me a chocolate cake for my birthday and couldn’t have any herself) so I’ve seen how hard going without can be.
  • Food: More generally, knowing what I am going to eat every day is calming to me. I set my weeks out in weekly menus, know exactly what I’m having, when I need to cook it… it’s all a part of my timetable and I find the stability relaxing. 

You can probably guess where this is going. In aid of ICS and Y Care International, I am going to put myself through a personal week of hell where I give up all of these things. The exact week hasn’t been decided but it will probably be the 7-14 May. No music, no tv, no chocolate. Obviously I am not giving up food but my flat mate is going to take over cooking dinner for a week so I have no say in my meals, when we eat or what we have. 

My prediction is that the first day will be okay. I’ll be motivated and good to do it for a great cause. By day two or three, that enthusiasm will have undoubtedly failed. By day four or five, I’ll be so on edge that no one will want to be within a ten mile radius of me for fear that I’ll break. Then when the week is over, I’ll either be dead or victorious and will celebrate with a walk to the cinema, plugged into my iPod, eating chocolate fingers and going home to a meal of my choice. We’ll just have to wait and see but don’t worry; I’ll be documenting it all so you can watch my descent into madness. 

The hope is that you lovely people will see me suffering and donate to my fundraising to make my pain worthwhile. If you don’t, at least I can say I survived a (horrible) week without my favourite things.