An OT in Africa

Posted on May 7, 2011

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Me and Zenabu - The Amani Children's Home, 2008

This is a piece I wrote for the old boys magazine of my old school a few months ago. Worth noting how important supporting charities – in any way – can be.

I’ve been interested in charitable work from an early age. Fond memories of school fundraising projects and taking part in conservation on Wednesday afternoons will always stick in my mind. Like many, I chose to take a gap year after school before heading down the university path; a further four years of study, without a break, was certainly not on my immediate agenda! More importantly though, I wanted to see the world, and attempt to ‘give something back’. So, after working in Madrid for a while, I headed off to Patagonian Chile to do some charity work with Raleigh International for 3 months.

A big problem we face these days is people’s negative perception of charity and charitable work. And to an extent, I can understand. People often ask themselves for instance, ‘how do I choose a charity when there are so many out there?’; ‘how can I trust them?’; ‘can I be sure that my money will actually reach those in need?’; and of course the big one, ‘what could I possibly do that will make any difference?!

It is this mindset in people that needs to change if charitable work is to build upon, and sustain, future support. Charities share a large amount of the responsibility in changing these attitudes. That said, people also need to understand what I have come to realise from my various experiences: we can all make a difference, no matter how big or small; and making that effort is vital, and worth it. Even if we may not necessarily see the impacts immediately, we will see them in the long-run. My time with Raleigh completely changed my outlook on life – yes, on my ‘gap yah’ I essentially ‘found myself’. And while being a cliché that makes me cringe, it is a cliché for a reason – because it’s true.

Me and some of the kids - The Amani Children's Home, 2008

My experiences with charities since then have been diverse. Whether doing further voluntary work abroad with the Amani Children’s Home in Tanzania, or working with Amnesty International and Save the Children in their UK offices, I have been fortunate enough to gain invaluable insights in a variety of settings. For the last 15 months, I have worked at a global climate change charity that works closely with business and government leaders around the world to advance policies and clean energy technologies. Really fascinating stuff. And now I have a new challenge – in March, I head to the Democratic Republic of Congo for a year, working for the Frankfurt Zoological Society on a new project in the Upemba National Park, a park that has historically received very little international support. The aim is to rehabilitate the park through building critical infrastructure and reintroducing wildlife. My role as communications officer will be to raise global awareness of the project and in turn, Upemba’s profile. It’s a very exciting prospect!

The beauty of charity is that you can choose how you want to help: you could teach English abroad; you could work in the UK-based offices of a charity; you could volunteer at your local Oxfam or hospital; or you could donate £5 a month to a charity of your choice. And this flexibility and wealth of options only helps to reinforce my earlier points: we should help if we can; and by helping, we will make a difference. I will be forever indebted to the staff and pupils of Tonbridge for acknowledging this when they helped so generously with the fundraising efforts for Amani back in 2008.

The reality is that we live in a harsh world. But we are in the fortunate position of being able to contribute something. Of course, we can’t help every charity out there, but it’s certainly worth a try, isn’t it? Whether your interests lie in people, animals or the environment, and whether you want to volunteer abroad or donate money on a monthly basis, incredible experiences are there to be taken; eyes are there to be opened; perspective is there to be had; and we are there to help. We cannot ignore that.

The article:

OT article, page 1

OT article, page 2

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