Young volunteer travels to Sierra Leone as a peace educator during election time

(Reposted from: Jack Petchey Foundation)

Megan Wheal spent the first few months of 2018 in Sierra Leone, where she travelled around various communities working as a peace educator. She worked as part of a group, delivering talks to the communities and educating residents about various issues that they may face on a daily basis. The young volunteer applied for a £400 Individual Grant for Volunteering from the Jack Petchey Foundation to help contribute towards the costs of this life-changing trip.

Once Megan arrived, she was placed in a group made up of volunteers from the UK and Sierra Leone. They were assigned the role of ‘peace educators’. This involved traveling across various communities in Sierra Leone educating residents on many issues to raise awareness of them and encourage the residents to consider new perspectives on them. These included, gender equality, child rights and sexual consent. The rights of women and children are quite unequal to those of men in Sierra Leone so the volunteers worked hard to promote equality throughout the communities, especially as the majority of residents were either women or children.

The majority of their work was focused on voting and the importance of using their vote to voice opinions. The volunteers were working at a pivotal time in Sierra Leone as the country was in the midst of an election, so the community welcomed the tips and advice.

The volunteers not only offered tips for strategically voting and voicing their opinions but they also educated the communities about non-violence during elections, to help promote peace during the politically charged time. As the election was happening at that exact time the work of the volunteers felt very relevant and they got a lot of engagement from the community. However, despite their best efforts, there was violence throughout the election so the UK volunteers, including Megan, were sent home early for their own safety.

Before having to come back home, Megan put a lot of work into creating a funding proposal to receive $1000 to help the community in some way. Their proposal was accepted and the team put the money towards developing schools throughout the community. They provided desks for a school whose students had previously been using their laps to write. For another school they assisted in the building of a classroom structure after it had been ruined by a recent storm. They also bought essential equipment for two more schools, such as text books and a school bell to help their day-to-day learning.

As well as having a positive influence on the communities in Sierra Leone, Megan’s time volunteering had a huge impact on her personally. She was given the chance to pair up with a local volunteer from the community and learnt a lot from them about their culture, languages and way of life. She also got the chance to learn a lot about herself, and managed to develop many skills during her time working on the project. Megan got the chance to work in a team, talking to new people, which developed her confidence tremendously and by delivering talks and sessions, she developed her public speaking skills too.

Megan said about her experience: “I learnt so much useful knowledge, however, the most important things I learned were about myself. Personal development has been a massive highlight for me from this whole experience. I have learned to understand myself so much better and my confidence has grown massively. Before my placement delivering a session to a group of strangers would terrify me but by the end of the placement it was something I looked forward to doing every day and I would have so much fun leading sessions.”

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