The UK’s foreign aid budget has been thrown into question over the last few months following unfounded criticisms from tabloid newspapers.
UK Aid saves lives. It helps children access education, develops cures for some of the world’s greatest health threats and supports communities to stand up for their rights.
Our volunteers, partners, and people we work with around the world see the impact of this aid every day. Ahead of a parliamentary debate on aid taking place on the 13 June, we asked five of our volunteers to tell us what makes them proud of aid.
People standing on their own two feet
Mark White volunteered in Uganda supporting unemployed people develop vocational skills
Mark was overwhelmed by the teachers he was working with, as well as the students – particularly Margaret, who had set up her own cafe:
“For a young woman with no education, no training, no background in running anything herself at all, to run her own restaurant and be successful was remarkable,” he said. “Remember, this is a society which is not very positive about women generally.”
Margaret received entrepreneurship training as part of the programme so she can now do her own accounts. She’d even earned enough money to buy a motorbike taxi, which she then hired out to bring in extra money when the takings went down in the cafe.
“People realise they can stand on their own feet and that’s what aid was doing here,” says Mark.
People driving the change
Takyiwa Danso volunteered in Machakos, Kenya, supporting girls to stay in education
Light of Hope, one of the organisations Takyiwa supported helps to give young girls the right sanitary products and information so they can continue their education.
In this part of Kenya, girls normally stay at home during their period, missing out on a lot of school time each month. As a result, they struggle to keep up with the work and many drop out of school altogether.
Light of Hope would visit different schools and give small talks on sexual reproductive health and hand out sanitary pads to help these girls stay in school. They worked from a very small office on top of a hairdressers and have very few resources.
“They were just two people who were passionate about helping young girls in education,” says Takiywa.
With the help of ICS volunteers, they have been able to reach even more girls.
“Aid is about more than just giving money to a community. It’s about the skills, which is what VSO really focuses on. It’s about the people driving the change and that makes it sustainable.”
Seeing the work continue
Stephanie Green volunteered in Ghana, developing women's business skills
One of Stephanie's projects worked to set up savings groups to help women manage money collectively. One of her best memories was the 'share out' day, where at the end of the year's cycle the saved money is shared out among the women.
“To see a group of poor women with cash in their hands coming away from that meeting - being empowered because they’ve managed to save money for a whole year was quite amazing,” she said.
The saved money is used to support a variety of things, including sending girls to school as well as investing in their own businesses.
“What was very important for me is that I was able to leave the project behind knowing it would continue. The people that were working on it now had the skills and the abilities to be able to continue without any other outside help.”
The savings groups are still running, and growing in size every day.
Inspiring young people to be active citizens
Bethan Sproat supported education initiatives in Nepal
As part of her work Bethan worked with students, encouraging them to become peer educators who would take extra responsibility within the school.
“We got this one guy who was absolutely brilliant but not very confident – his name was Agash. He was quite a popular guy and he’d go and tell everyone, and a lot of people would turn up.”
After Bethan returned to the UK, she found out that Agash was continuing to be an active member of the community and on his own initiative had started to run a computer workshop with people in the village.
“I think a lot of the work supported by UK Aid definitely has this impact of empowerment,” says Bethan. “It gives people knowledge so they can go forward and be confident with what they believe in and what they can do themselves.”
A little goes a long way
Steve Houghton will soon be volunteering in Tanzania supporting vocational colleges
Steve’s been supporting development charities for years. After a lottery win funded a trip to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with his brothers, he decided to visit a number of the charities in Africa he'd been sponsoring.
“I realised the little bit of money that was sponsoring them was making a terrific difference to their lives. I thought, maybe I’ve wasted my time climbing mountains, maybe I should help.”
After visiting the VSO office he was so impressed with the volunteering model he decided to offer up his own skills.
“World poverty is such a big problem that it sometimes feels like we can make no difference," he said. "What we can do is change the world for one person at the time."
Why are you Proud of Aid?
Do you have your own story to share? Use the hashtag #ProudofAid to join the debate on social media on the 13th of June.