Volunteering in Africa 'boosts self-esteem' of Cardiff youth

Chantelle Harris in Sierra Leone Chantelle Harris (right) was one of 10 young people from Cardiff who led workshops in Sierra Leone

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A project to give disadvantaged young people in Cardiff a chance to volunteer in Africa has been hailed as a success.

Ten youngsters from Cardiff spent two weeks in Sierra Leone with local children leading workshops on sexual health, nutrition, skills and football.

Organisers aim to boost the self-esteem and skills of so-called Neets - young people not in full-time education, employment or training.

Wales footballer Craig Bellamy's charity was one of the trip supporters.

The scheme will now be run annually to offer volunteering chances to others.

Global citizens

The overseas trip was run by the SAFE Foundation, an international development charity based in Cardiff, in partnership with Communities First.

Stella Tsouknidas, 22, volunteer from Rumney, Cardiff

Stella Tsouknidas

It was an absolutely amazing experience.

When you think of Africa, you just don't know what to expect.

The children were ever so happy and polite even though they have such bad poverty - similar people round here (in Cardiff) are so devastated.

I was teaching sessions about HIV/Aids and nutrition - but they're quite educated and knew quite a lot about it already.

We only got to teach a certain group of kids but at lunch we were surrounded by the whole village.

It was difficult to have lunch with everyone watching us. Most of us gave up and shared our food with everyone.

I'd love to do more of this sort of thing in the future, anywhere, given a bit more experience.

I see a lot of things differently now and have passed it onto family and friends, to see how fortunate we are and not to take things for granted.

It offered disadvantaged young people aged 16 to 24 the opportunity to increase their understanding of global citizenship whilst helping some of the most deprived young people in the world.

The trip was also supported by the Craig Bellamy Foundation, the brainchild of the Liverpool and Wales footballer, which is based in Sierra Leone.

Football sessions were led by Peter Griffiths, who played alongside Bellamy in the Wales under 16s team.

More than half of the £27,000 budget was met by a GwirVol youth volunteering grant from the Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA).

Project manager Hannah Fitt of Communities First said it was a means of boosting the aspirations of the youngsters involved.

"The number of Neet young people in East Cardiff has been a priority for some time and, having personal experience of the benefits of international volunteering, I thought this project would be an extremely positive way to engage some of the hardest-to-reach young people in Cardiff.

"Communities First is committed to supporting our volunteers in ways that will help increase their access to opportunities and prospects and this has been an experience that has exceeded all of our expectations.

"I am so proud to have worked alongside some of the most wonderful young people from Cardiff and Sierra Leone and am really excited to see what the future holds for them."

Lucy Dickenson, managing director of the SAFE Foundation, agreed that the project had been a great success and would now be run on an annual basis to give volunteering opportunities to other young people.

She said the plan for those who had returned from Sierra Leone was to build on their experiences and enthusiasm to help them find jobs or training.

New aspirations

"This project has been an amazing opportunity for young people in Cardiff who have suffered exclusion in the past to really engage with international issues and poverty responses," she said.

"It has also supported children and disadvantaged schools in Sierra Leone through the development of their education.

Liam O'Brien Liam O'Brien said he could now see how fortunate he was compared to others

"New skills, new attitudes, new ideas and new opportunities have been created all round and so many lessons have been learned by everyone.

"The SAFE Foundation have been privileged to work alongside the participants of the project and we look forward to the future of the programme."

Liam O'Brien, 17, one of the young people involved, said: "This project was an amazing experience.

"For me it was an experience where I can now see how fortunate I am to other people."

Another volunteer, Jade Lownsbrough, 19, said she felt good to be a valued part of the team and gave her a new perspective on life.

"I think more wisely now about decisions I have to make for the future," she said.

"It's changed my aspirations and helped me think about what I want to do."

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