Corporate volunteer Gizem: Swapping desk work for development work

16th April 2019

Gizem is a corporate volunteer with Raleigh International. Her company, multinational health and hygiene firm RB, has been partnered with Raleigh since 2017. As part of this extensive partnership, RB enables future-potential and high-potential employees to take part in a Raleigh Expedition as part of RB’s Long Term Volunteering Programme, and to also develop their leadership skills.

For the past 10 weeks Gizem has been leading young volunteers working on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene projects (WASH) in two communities in the Gorkha region of Nepal. These projects connect strongly to the RB organisational purpose of ‘Healthier Lives, Happier Homes’. Here, Gizem speaks to Raleigh about her time as a Volunteer Project Manager and the lessons she will bring back to RB with her.

“I decided to take part in a Raleigh Expedition because I thought that it’s a great way to create positive impact in rural communities, while empowering young people. It’s also a way for me to enhance my leadership skills by working with different kinds of people from around the world, challenging myself to manage projects from a completely different field, and managing a large group of people.

“One of the most rewarding activities has been building tap stands at family homes. We were told that the main struggle in many communities isn’t the lack of water at the source, but the fact that the water distribution infrastructure doesn’t allow individual families to have easy and quick access to safe water.

“During our project planning visits, I realised that there were only public tap stands and, due to insufficient reservoir tank capacity, they only worked during certain hours of the day. After many weeks of digging trenches and laying water pipes, we got to build individual tap stands, meaning every household will have their own continuous safe water. This means children are more likely to wash their hands, reducing disease, and women (who mostly do the household work) don’t have to walk far to wash their dishes and laundry.

Gizem working with a community member to measure the base of a tap stand

“Being able to contribute to the planning and implementation of a WASH project has been rewarding, but the families’ appreciation of their new tap stands and their smile at the completion of each tap is truly priceless. I hope that the community will become healthier due to access to safe water and awareness of hygiene practices. I also hope that the waste management awareness sessions and rubbish bin projects we delivered will help the community keep the village continuously clean. I believe the children we interacted with in the community will be more inclusive and open minded regarding new people and learning new things in the future.

“Their smile at the completion of each tap is truly priceless”

“I think the presence of young people in the communities made a difference to the project outcomes. Young people are enabling and empowering communities to have safe water access. Many projects don’t start until the volunteers get to work sites and they act as catalysts, encouraging community members to work together. The volunteers also held many awareness raising sessions on WASH topics such as menstrual hygiene, handwashing and waste management. These sessions help to foster long lasting impact in the communities and better hygiene practices, which in turn improves healthcare and livelihoods. The volunteers have been eager to structure the sessions and engage with the community.

“I also enjoyed learning about the young volunteers’ passions, as they found their voice throughout the process, getting over their fear of speaking in public and discovering common interests. I believe young people tend to have a positive view of the world and they are open to change. Their optimism motivates them to create positive change in the communities they go to and work tirelessly to deliver the project targets they’re given. Their openness to change helps them in adjusting to new cultures, learning new skills, and challenging themselves to get out of their comfort zone. During my experience at Raleigh, I have seen that these traits helped young people achieve many things. I believe that young people are the drivers of change and the future of the world, it’s them who will be impacted by development and that’s why they are key to successfully delivering development projects.

Gizem’s team in Beni Gaun delivering an awareness raising session

There are countless things I have learned while volunteering; though I would say the most valuable part was learning from the people around me including fellow Volunteer Managers, Volunteers, and community members. I learned how to be flexible about time, requests, and the pace of work when working with the community members. I learned a lot about WASH projects around the world and the Nepali government’s philosophy for development.

Gizem teaching local children the 7 steps of handwashing outside her host home in Beni Gaun

“I learned a lot about building a strong team, working with diverse groups of people, adjusting my leadership style based on the group’s needs, and striking a balance between being friendly and professional at the same time. I have also learned a lot about myself like how easy-going I could be when needed, how results-oriented and goal driven I am, and how much I have grown in the last eight years since I was at the volunteers’ age. There is probably a lot I have learned that I don’t even realise now, so I look forward to going back home and to work seeing all the changes in myself.

 

Gizem and the Expedition team in Beni Gaun

“I would highly recommend a Raleigh Expedition to young people, it’s an amazing opportunity for young people to meet new people, work in teams, learn about new cultures and build their confidence along the way. For people established in careers, it’s a great way to embed yourself in a culture, truly take responsibility for facilitating a team and help young people develop. More than anything, it’s an opportunity to create positive change in areas where the contribution makes a big difference. I feel like the weeks I have spent with Raleigh enabled me to touch many lives, develop my skills and make many great memories. If this is the kind of experience someone is looking for, a Raleigh Expedition is the place to be.”

For more information and the latest updates, please follow the progress of our programmes in Nepal on Facebook and Instagram. To find out how you can volunteer with us, please click here

Post by Claire Harrison

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