A Maldon woman who spent 12 weeks working on a project fighting poverty in Kenya is calling on others to consider volunteering overseas to help people escape the vicious cycle of poverty that cuts short the lives of millions.

Former Plume student Lauren Holland, 24, is due to graduate with a masters degree in sociology from Essex University this July.

She travelled to Kenya in January with international development organisation VSO, as part of the Government-funded International Citizen Service (ICS) programme.

For three months, Lauren lived and worked alongside young volunteers from Kenya and the UK to help tackle poverty in disadvantaged and marginalised communities.

By living with a local family, she was able to immerse herself in the culture and gain a greater understanding of the challenges people face in that part of the world.

Lauren said: “It isn’t until we experience a way of life that is so disparate to our own that we learn to appreciate the smallest of things.

“The joy, happiness and positivity I observed among the people I met was not only inspiring considering the struggle and hardship they encounter every single day, but a reminder that happiness does not derive from wealth, consumerism nor material possessions.”

Placed on the Livelihoods programme, Lauren was involved in helping local community groups and entrepreneurs increase their accessibility to sustainable livelihoods.

She helped them develop new ideas and explore different ways of making money to ensure long-term employment and economic growth.

As well as having facilitated sessions on business, entrepreneurship and marketing skills, Lauren participated in a number of other activities, including teaching girls how to make reusable sanitary towels, attending VSO events aimed to raise awareness on issues such as child marriage and mental health, and visiting schools to deliver education sessions on HIV/AIDS and drug and substance abuse.

She said: I didn’t think I had the confidence to do something like this nor live away from home for a three-month period, as I’ve only ever lived away from home for one week – but now look at me!

“I’ve completed the programme, taken another step in fulfilling my dream of making a positive change in the world and grown as an individual, as a result.

“This opportunity has not only opened up my mind to the world of international development and the issues that affect millions of lives in the developing world, but has allowed me to discover myself and re-confirm my purpose in life – that is, to work with those in need of help, hope and faith in humanity.”

She added: “A message for all those who have a passion for helping others and contemplating applying for ICS but are somewhat nervous in making that step – do it.

“You won’t regret it. Not only will you change lives for the better, but yours, too, will be changed through this experience.

“Through travelling, you will widen your perspective, acquire new ways of seeing and understanding the world, ideas and opinions, experience how other people live and their everyday reality, and most of all, you will learn that races form one great human family.”

Lauren said a quote from Mahatma Gandhi – “Be the change you want to see in the world” – summed up her experience.

ICS is funded by UK aid, so young people do not need to pay to take part.

Before she left for Kenya, Lauren showed her commitment to the programme by fundraising £885 for VSO, which will ensure communities in developing countries can continue to benefit from the work of volunteers.

n To find out more about ICS or to apply, visit volunteerics.org.