Life changing stories

Read about VSO volunteers' experiences of living and working in a developing country, what it's like to work with a VSO volunteer from the point of view of our partners and how our work has changed the lives of people around the world. These are real stories from real people creating real impact.


One year in Vanuatu was a dream come true

Lalita Mahajan (Vanuatu - Health)
Lalita Mahajan has more than 20 years experience in the development sector, specialising in HIV and AIDS. Before she decided to become a volunteer, she was working as a CSR manager in a big corporate group, which was a challenging and demanding job involving extensive travelling. She was enjoying it, and had been quite successful in delivering results, but she was ready to do something different. Here she tells us about her year as a curriculum development volunteer in Vanuatu.


A brief but touching time in Nigeria

Siddharth Sankhe (Nigeria - Secure livelihoods)
Siddharth Sankhe recently completed a three-month monitoring and evaluation placement in Nigeria. There he used his expertise to contribute to VSO’s ‘Making Markets Work’ (MMW) project in the capital Abuja and towns in three other states. Here he tells us about the work he conducted, the friends he made, and the many things he learnt during his time in Nigeria.


Volunteering in the land of Chenghis Khan: my experiences in Mongolia

Satyen Mishra (Mongolia - Health)
When Satyen Mishra’s volunteer profile was matched to Ovurkhangai Health Department, Arvikeeir, Mongolia, he had a few apprehensions about the language, extreme climate and alien culture. However his fears were soon allayed, as he found the people to be very friendly and supportive. He describes here how he benefitted from the experience.


Rwanda on the map of Africa

Vikas Ratanjee (Rwanda - Disability)
Vikas Ratanjee volunteered as as a district disability adviser in Rwanda. His role was to advise the Ministry of Local Government on mainstreaming disability issues in Nyanza District. He didn’t know what to expect when he arrived in the ‘land of a thousand hills’, but was very moved by the unforgettable reception he received and beautiful scenery he discovered. Here he reflects on his journey with VSO.


Falling in love with Zambia

Haripriya Eswaran (Zambia - Health)
Haripriya Eswaran spent nearly two years volunteering as hospice administrator at Our Lady’s Hospice in Lusaka, Zambia. Drawing on her healthcare background, Haripriya found the work challenging yet fascinating. Her biggest success was reviewing the hospice’s business model to create a sustainable strategy for the future. Here she looks back on the ups and downs of her time in Zambia.


"Ekushe Nigeria!"

Workers in Nigeria (Nigeria - Secure livelihoods)
Aswini Ramkumar worked as an organisational development adviser for the Royal Heritage Health Foundation in Nigeria. Aswini helped improve the NGO’s organisational capacity and performance as well as initiating new programmes that the community has now adopted. She describes how her experiences in Nigeria helped transform her outlook on life.


A diplomatic approach: enhancing local government in Cameroon

Shamsul Aktar (Cameroon - Participation and governance)

Decentralisation is essential if isolated parts of Cameroon are to eventually fulfil their potential, but resistance to change is endemic. In the rural north west of the country, VSO volunteer Shamsul Akhtar works with local councilors to implement essential government reforms. Despite difficult living conditions and early frustrations, Shamsul is at last seeing progress.


Boosting local economies: building business skills in Namibia

Pratap Sinha (Namibia - Secure livelihoods)

Namibia stands to gain a great deal from international tourism, but there’s a fine line between empowerment and exploitation. Lacking the commercial skills and business infrastructure to profit from tourism, some Namibian communities risk missing out on opportunities for economic growth. VSO volunteer Pratap Sinha is working with outside investors and local people to guarantee sustainable development.


Replacing rites with rights: amplifying the voice of Cameroon's widows

Lydia Swiri Ndikum  (Cameroon - Participation and governance)
Women living in rural parts of the developing world are disproportionately affected by marginalisation and poverty. In Cameroon, widows in particular suffer the risk of having their land grabbed, destitution, stigma and abuse. VSO works with partner MUSAB in Bamenda, north west Cameroon, to amplify the voices of disadvantaged women through advocacy and helps to facilitate their involvement in decision-making processes.


Bringing marginalised girls into Ghana’s education system

Lucy with her mother (Ghana - Education)
Nine year-old Lucy was born with a disability, and spent the first eight years of her life locked away at home. Rejected by many in her own family and community, she was given little encouragement to walk or talk. Working with her parents and engaging the local authority, Lucy now goes to school and actively participates in the classroom. Lucy's experience highlights how VSO's TENI (Tackling Education Needs Inclusively) programme transforms the lives of children.


Creating opportunities for people living with mental illness in Sri Lanka

Chandani making string hoppers (Sri Lanka - Health)

VSO has supported the development of the mental health sector over the last 15 years, helping to create more clinics and rehabilitation centres as well as establishing training programmes to raise standards of mental healthcare. An estimated 2.5 million Sri Lankans have been reached by the efforts of VSO volunteers during this time. Chandani's experience illustrates how VSO's intervention has helped transform one woman's potentially bleak future into a much brighter one.


Solar engineers 'lighting the way' for other women - Tanzania

Fatuma, village energy committee treasurer (Tanzania - Secure livelihoods)

In Tanzania 60% of women live in absolute poverty even though they make up an estimated 80% of the agricultural labour force. Women are the main producers of cash crops, yet rarely gain access to the wealth they generate.


Reducing the surgical death rate in Ethiopia

Volunteer Tom Bashford (Ethiopia - Health)
Anaesthetic doctors play a vital role in preventing unnecessary deaths occurring before, during and after surgery. Ethiopia currently has one anaesthetist for every 5.3 million people, which amounts to 17 in the entire country. VSO volunteer Dr Tom Bashford spent one year at a busy urban hospital alongside local health workers sharing simple practices that can mean the difference between life and death.


Transforming education from the top down – James Elford, Head Teacher, Ethiopia

Volunteer James Elford (Ethiopia - Education)

More than half of the world's out-of-school children live in just 15 countries, and nearly three million of them are in Ethiopia. Pupils are often passive recipients of knowledge, which can be ineffective at engaging students to think critically and creatively. Ex-head teacher James Elford is spending two years as a VSO volunteer, rolling out a programme that promotes a modern and interactive approach to primary teaching in remote parts of Western Ethiopia.


Five minutes with... Leandra Lok - Cambodia

Leandra Lok

Leandra Lok, a teacher training adviser, has lived in Cambodia for one-and-a-half years along with her husband who is also volunteering with VSO in Battambang.


Five Minutes with... Alice Waterman, Midwife Trainer, Sierra Leone

Alice Waterman

Sierra Leone has the world’s highest rate of death amongst women giving birth. A staggering one in eight women don’t survive childbirth there – that’s fourteen women dying every single day. VSO volunteer Alice Waterman has been teaching Sierra Leonean student midwives simple life-saving skills – to prevent unnecessary deaths in the labour room.


Midwifery in Malawi - Lisa Drayson, Nurse & Midwifery Trainer

Lisa Drayson
Nearly half of all children in Malawi are born without the assistance of a trained health specialist. With large rural populations depending on overburdened hospitals, midwives play a critical role in delivering babies safely. Nurse and midwifery trainer Lisa Drayson has spent the last five years in Mzuzu, improving systems and training local health workers in a hospital that serves a local population of 95,000 people.


Malaria prevention in the villages of Miirya

Malaria prevention in the villages of Miirya

Malaria is the world's biggest killer: someone dies of it every 30 seconds. In Uganda many people living in rural villages can't afford to pay for transport to get to hospital, so they don't get drugs and they die. That's why the work VSO nurse Pam Llewellyn is doing in Miirya sub-county is so vital: she is training village volunteers in malaria prevention so that they can help their communities to combat the disease. 


Training a new generation of doctors in Sierra Leone

Foday Morovia
Sierra Leone has one health worker for every 5260 people, compared to the UK where there is one health worker for every 77 people. The effects of the dramatic shortfall in doctors, nurses and midwives are self-evident. In Sierra Leone, one in five children doesn’t reach their fifth birthday. Through VSO’s drive to help develop the country’s health services, volunteers like paediatrician Dr Shona Johnston are sharing life-saving skills with Sierra Leonean medical students. Foday Emmanuel Morovia is learning emergency procedures from Shona at Freetown Hospital.


Ethical tourism in Tajikistan: A path out of poverty

Christine Braganza and Jelte Bakker (Tajikistan - Secure livelihoods)

The Pamirs are an area of outstanding natural beauty in Tajikistan, boasting some of the most mountainous landscapes anywhere in the world. But against this remote backdrop most people live in poverty and over a quarter of the population live on less than US$2 a day. VSO is working with the Pamir Eco-Cultural Tourism Association to increase tourism in the area to improve the livelihoods of the local community.


Five minutes with...Camilla Gore, Teacher Trainer and Adviser, Rwanda

Camilla Gore
The supply of teachers in Rwanda was devastated by the genocide leaving schools with large numbers of unqualified teachers leading classes. Lots of Rwandan children are now getting some form of education, but it’s often not up to scratch. VSO volunteer Camilla Gore has been working at a teacher training college near the capital Kigali, trying to change the entrenched culture of ‘chalk and talk’.


Empowering women in Tajikistan

Volunteer and business woman (Tajikistan - Secure livelihoods)

Economic opportunities are limited in Tajikistan so large numbers of men are leaving the country to find work abroad. According to official estimates, approximately one seventh of Tajikistan’s population works abroad, leaving almost as many women to support family by themselves. These women are in urgent need of work but lack the skills and opportunities to make a decent living.


Supporting HIV orphans

George (Kenya - HIV and AIDS)

1.2 million children have been orphaned by AIDS in Kenya. Born HIV positive, 26 year-old George was one such child, losing his mother to AIDS when he was 16-years-old. Through the support of VSO partner WOFAK he’s been educated and given the opportunity to develop skills to earn a living. VSO volunteer Aurelia Valota helps the organisation secure funding by reporting on the young lives it transforms.


Empowering women after the war - Sierra Leone

Jennifer Kamara
Setting up a business from scratch is a challenge for most, but particularly so for 27 year-old Jennifer Kamara who was abducted from her village by rebel soldiers in Sierra Leone as a teenager, only to later lose her eyesight. In spite of her disability as well as the trauma she suffered during the war, Jennifer has rebuilt her life through the support of a volunteer based at VSO partner, Binkolo Growth Centre.


Big Society: Sandra Scantlebury in Ghana

Volunteer Sandra Scantlebury is working to get more girls into schools in the Upper West region of Ghana. Here she tells us why involving communities in education is such a crucial part of her work. 


Delivering child and maternal health in Malawi

Jan Teevan (Malawi - Health)

CUSO-VSO volunteer, Jan Teevan, always wanted to help mothers and children in the developing world. She got the chance in 2007 through a joint project with the Malawi Ministry of Health. 


Learning to smile: child-centred teaching in Vietnam

Peter Thomas (Vietnam)

Only a tiny percentage of Vietnamese children with disabilities receive an education, and the long-suffering teachers at the Morning Star Centre for Disabled Children in Hanoi once struggled to cope with pupils’ challenging behaviour. That was before VSO volunteer Peter Thomas introduced them to the power of child-centred teaching.


Supporting self-help: David Graham in Vietnam

David Graham (Vietnam, health)

In Vietnam, a widespread lack of awareness and education leads to discrimination against people living with HIV. Ben Nguyen and her two young children were shunned by their community when she discovered she was HIV positive. That’s why VSO volunteer David Graham is working to strengthen self-help groups that offer vital support to Ben and other people like her.


The Lady Mechanic Initiative, Nigeria

Lady mechanic at work (Nigeria - Secure livelihoods)

"The Lady Mechanic Initiative"? It sounds like something out of a quirky novel. But it’s not a work of fiction: it’s real and it’s changing the lives of disadvantaged women all over Nigeria. VSO volunteer Russell McKeown is drawing on 25 years’ experience in engineering and business to help The Lady Mechanic Initiative go from strength to strength.


Improving sexual health: Ian Bromage in Vietnam

Ian Bromage (Vietnam, HIV/AIDS)

In Vietnam a ground-breaking online counselling service is allowing young people to access vital information about sexual and reproductive health. We find out VSO volunteer Ian Bromage’s part in its amazing success.


VSO contributes to dairy processing development in Tajikistan

Viesturs (Tajikistan)

In Tajikistan many workers move to Russia in search of work and better opportunities. In the northern town of Khojand, VSO is piloting a programme of partnering with private businesses to provide opportunities for the local community. One such partnership includes Mr Mirzosulton and his dairy farm, Correct.


Abass Koroma, beekeeper, Sierra Leone

Abass Koroma beekeeper Sierra Leone

Twenty three year old Abass Koroma was just eight years old when the civil war in Sierra Leone began in 1992. During the next ten years he missed out on going to school. But five years after the war ended, and with support from VSO partner CCYA, he is part of a flourishing village enterprise.


Life-saving mentoring for mothers in rural India

Life saving mentoring for mothers in rural India

India has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Tradition in rural villages dictates that women give birth at home - but this leads to thousands of preventable deaths. VSO is working with NEEDS, an organisation that recruits local volunteers who go into rural communities and talk to mothers about the life-saving benefits of going to hospital to give birth.


Improving patient care in Sierra Leone

Fatmata (Sri Lanka - Health)

Nurses are vital components in the treatment and recovery of hospital patients. In Sierra Leone, where many hospitals lack basic supplies and equipment, even a good bedside manner can mean the difference between life and death.


Small change, big difference: Joanna Haworth in Sierra Leone

Joanna Haworth (Sierra Leone - Health)

On the face of it, you might not think helping to establish a new university course would make much of a difference. But the work of VSO nurse trainer Joanna Haworth could have a far-reaching effect on healthcare provision in Sierra Leone, where life expectancy sits at an average of just 42 years.


Marie Banaghan, professional development facilitator, Malawi

Maria Banaghan (Malawi - Education)

Marie Banaghan, a primary school teacher from Trim Co Meath, Ireland, volunteered with VSO along with her husband Kieran in September 2008. She currently works along Kieran as a professional development facilitator for the Ministry of Education in Malawi. Below Marie describes a typical day.


Ruairi O’Hehir, education management adviser, Rwanda

Ruairi O'Hehir (Rwanda - Education)

Ruairi O’Hehir from Dublin is a secondary school teacher at Rathdown School in South Dublin. Ruairi volunteered with VSO in 2008 and was placed in a VSO education programme and currently works as an education management advisor in Rwanda. Ruairi’s role involves training local Rwandan teachers. Here he describes a typical day in Rwanda.


Bola Ojo, education manager, Rwanda

Bola Ojo (Rwanda - Education)

Giving something back to the community has been a life long passion for education manager Bola Ojo. Taking early retirement and volunteering with VSO International meant she could continue to contribute to the community – but this time internationally. She opted for a 12-week volunteer placement in Rwanda. At the same time as sharing valuable teaching and management skills that will help to improve standards in 126 local schools, she helped lay the foundations for a long-term volunteer to take her crucial work even further.


Daphne Sharp, teacher trainer, Tanzania

Daphne Sharp (Tanzania - Education)

Thanks to support from VSO, pre-primary education in Zanzibar is receiving a makeover. The old-fashioned “chalk and talk” approach once ruled - but walk into a classroom today and you’ll find children learning through participation and play. Working alongside local colleagues, VSO volunteer Daphne Sharp is helping to ensure that all children in Zanzibar receive a good basic education, whether that’s in a brightly decorated classroom with an animated teacher or under a tree with a wind up radio.


Katrien Deschamps, GP, Malawi

Katrien Deschamp (Malawi - Health)

In a country with just one doctor for every 62,000 people, GP Katrien Deschamps is playing a vital role in Malawi’s healthcare situation. As one of just two doctors working in a district hospital in the north of the country, she’s undertaking life-saving clinical work and at the same time passing on invaluable skills to health workers at all levels.


New Horizons: Ellen Crabtree in South Africa

Ellen Crabtree (South Africa - HIV and AIDS)

Ellen Crabtree has swapped her life as a highflying finance executive to help vulnerable people in downtown Johannesburg at risk from HIV and AIDS. Here she tells us about a project that helps sex workers find alternative sources of income - and explains how volunteering has changed her own life, as well as the lives of those she is working with.


Richard Feinmann, chest physician, Uganda

Richard Feinmann, chest physician (Uganda, health)

Chest physician Richard Feinmann is volunteering in Uganda, where life expectancy is just 51 and over a third of the population live in poverty. Here Richard describes the challenges facing patients and why exposure to these challenges is so crucial for UK health professionals.


The ZEST Project: Fair prices for Zanzibar's farmers

The Zest project, fair prices for Zanzibar's farmers

Tourists flock to Zanzibar each year, but the money they spend has little impact on the lives of the majority of the population. A new project run by VSO International is helping an association of farmers to build better links with the thriving tourist sector, and to earn a far higher income from their crops.


Steely determination, Jean Marie, head teacher, Rwanda

Melissa Hipkins (Rwanda, education)

Head teacher Jean Marie worked as a primary school teacher for eight years to save up for the fees to complete his secondary school education. Confused?! Find out about his incredible journey here.


New found hope: Antonia Eastman in Rwanda

Sifa playing drums (Rwanda, disability)

Sifa, a young Rwandan girl, was found in Nyungwe forest, in the far south west of the country. It was clear she had been alone for a long time – she walked on all fours, was surviving on a diet of grass and sticks, and was terrified of people. We find out how VSO volunteer Antonia Eastman has played a crucial role in helping her new carers turn her life around. 


Five minutes with... Sonia Barnfield, Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Indonesia

Sonia Barnfield (Indonesia - Health)

In eastern Indonesia, a woman is more likely to die in childbirth than complete primary school. Dr Sonia Barnfield is using her expertise in women’s health to improve the care available to mothers and babies in Soe, West Timor. We caught up with her halfway through her placement.


Five minutes with...Isabel Hodger, teacher trainer, Ethiopia

Isabel Hodger, teacher trainer (Ethiopia, education)

Head teacher Isabel Hodger had 36 years’ experience in education and just three years until retirement when she decided to volunteer with VSO. She’s sharing her expertise in Ethiopia, where classrooms are bursting with children due to free education, but teachers are poorly trained. Here Isabel describes how her work with teacher trainers from all corners of the country will ultimately benefit millions of school children.


Peter Reid, education adviser, Nepal

Peter Reid, education advisor (Nepal, education)

With 30 years’ experience as a teacher and twelve years as head teacher at a large comprehensive in Plymouth, in the UK, Peter Reid has the combination of hands on classroom teaching and management experience that VSO is looking for. After retiring in 2001, he and his wife Rosemary decided to volunteer. Here Peter tells us how his skills are supporting the Ministry of Education and Sports as it prepares to offer Nepalese children a further three years of free education. 


Five minutes with...Steve Vaid, Management Adviser, Rwanda

Steve Vaid, management adviser (Rwanda - Disability)

Management consultant in the City. Chief exec in the third sector. Table tennis extraordinaire. Now Steve Vaid is to face his toughest challenge yet: he and his wife Kristenne Pickles are off to Rwanda to volunteer with VSO. Here Steve describes his journey from an Australian bank to a VSO assessment day, his inspiring feats of fundraising and his first task in his new job: recruiting his own boss.


Five minutes with… Jeremy White, Education Management Advisor, Rwanda

Jeremy White, education management advisor, Rwanda

Retired head teacher Jeremy White says volunteering has given him ‘satisfaction, fulfilment and hope’. We chat to him about his role as an Education Management Advisor in Rwanda, and find out why it’s been such an amazing experience.


An incredible journey

Olive Akobasenga, athlete (Rwanda, disability)

Olive Okobasingiza was five when a militant shot her in the arm during the genocide. Today she’s a Paralympic athlete. Find out VSO volunteer Nic Clark’s part in her incredible story here.


Five minutes with… Georgina Chetwynd, Information Management Officer, India

Georginan Chetwynd, information management officer (India, education)

Twenty eight year old Georgina Chetwynd is sharing her skills in Kolkata. Here Georgina – who has also volunteered with VSO in Pakistan – describes the challenges faced by disabled women in India and explains how, by telling their stories, she is helping to tackle some of those challenges. 


Nicola Swann, fundraiser, Uganda

Nicola Swann, fundraiser, Uganda

Nicola Swann was a fundraiser for an autism charity in London before volunteering with VSO in Uganda. She’s sharing her skills and expertise in fundraising with the Uganda Society for Disabled Children, a charity that provides crucial support to disabled children and their families across the country. Here, Nicola describes the highs and lows of life in Uganda and dodging goats on her way to work…


Mary Njuguna - Programme co-ordinator, Pretoria, South Africa

Mary Njuguna, programme co-ordinator (South Africa, education)

South Africa is home to over a thousand informal settlements; communities with limited resources, sanitation and formalised welfare. Children often suffer within these communities and miss out on an education. VSO volunteer Mary Njuguna is working with local organisation Children on the Move to help get children back into school and enjoying life again. 


The time is now: Catherine Mahoney in Ethiopia

Catherine Mahoney (Ethiopia, education)

Having spent most of her career working in the Third Sector, Catherine Mahoney was always interested in volunteering abroad. But it wasn’t until she’d given up her full-time job – and become a Grandma! – that the time was right for her to volunteer.


Caroline Pitcairn, continuing professional development facilitator, Malawi

Caroline Pitcairn (Malawi, education)

Primary teacher Caroline received support from her school when she decided to volunteer abroad with VSO in northern Malawi. Here she describes her voluntary work the warmth and generosity of her colleagues and neighbours and her sometimes very muddy commute to work...


A sporting chance: NomFundo Ndlovu, Johannesburg

SCORE trainers, South Africa, education

Across South Africa there are thousands of disadvantaged and vulnerable children who leave school at a young age and miss out on their right to an education. Others become vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and sex trafficking. However, VSO and local partner SCORE aim to tackle these problems through sport and are helping many at risk children on their way to a better future. One girl is NomFundo Ndlovu who has discovered her two passions in life, education and football. 


VSO helps fight child sacrifice in Uganda

VSO helps fight child sacrifice (Uganda)

Child sacrifice is on the increase in Uganda. VSO volunteers are working with the African Network for Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN) to ensure affected families receive counselling and legal support.  Vivien’s ten-year-old son was abducted for child sacrifice but survived. Here she tells her story.


Clare Barrell, organisational development officer, South Africa

Clare Barrell, organisational development officer (South Africa, education)

Ahead of South Africa’s World Cup, VSO volunteer, Clare Barrell, 26, from Hertfordshire has spent the last two years working with local charity SCORE, helping vulnerable children find a better future through the power of sport. Here she gives an insight into the life of a volunteer in the run up to Africa’s first ever World Cup.


Five minutes with...Stella Wragg, mental health worker, Sri Lanka

Children (Sri Lanka - Health)

VSO was thrilled when psychotherapist Stella Wragg decided to volunteer again. With the experience of her first VSO placement in Nepal, Stella is now preparing to volunteer in Sri Lanka.

Her expertise will be put to excellent use improving the care available to people who are living with mental illnesses as a result of years of civil war and the 2004 Tsunami.

Here she reveals her hopes and fears about her upcoming placement.


Cheryl Evans, literacy adviser, Guyana

Cheryl Evans, literacy adviser (Guyana, education)

Primary teacher and VSO volunteer Cheryl Evans has been supporting literacy in Guyana’s primary schools for nearly two years. Here she describes the transformations she has seen in children’s reading and writing, the “heaps of new skills” she has developed as a volunteer and the sights, smells and sounds of life in Guyana.


Tanzanian youth speak boldly about HIV and AIDS

Rebecca Gyumi  (Tanzania - Education)

With over one million people in Tanzania living with HIV and AIDS, raising awareness among young Tanzanians is a high priority for VSO. We’re working with local partners like Femina HIP to help young people create a healthy future.


How to apply

Interested in volunteering with VSO? Find out what you need to apply and begin your application process now.