A MOSSLEY man, who recently returned from working in Africa, has urged people to volunteer in their communities to sample the fulfilment it can offer.
David McAvoy worked in Botswana for three months with the charity Skillshare International.
Along with three other volunteers, the 20 year old worked in the small rural village of Maun educating children and adults about the HIV AIDS virus and helping to raise awareness of abuse, among many other things.
He said: “It was one of those once in a lifetime experiences that I will never forget, it was amazing.”
Throughout the three months David provided help and support through various projects run by Bonepwa+ in the southern African country.
Bonepwa+ is a non-profit non-governmental organisation which provides a structure for small groups to work together and provide support to the community.
David continued: “We wanted to provide something that would last longer than our stay, so we got together to think about what the organisation could really use.
“We decided to build a shelter, nothing complex or too big, just a simple shelter that they could be used for meetings and other events. Bonepwa+ is a coalition of 30 groups and has 144 members and before we built the shelter they were renting places, which was obviously a drain on their resources.
“We did as much work as we could ourselves and then used local labourers for the bits we couldn’t do to build the shelter. It was basically a concrete foundation, nine gun poles and a sheet of aluminium, just something to provide a shelter from the sun, but it will help the organisation so much.”
He added: “We also held and raised 2,500 Pula - which is about £250 - that paid for an electric generator.
“That may not sound a lot, but to many people it would be more than about two months wages and the money will go a long way.
“When we had the shelter built we combined its official opening to hold an AIDS awareness event and invited the entire village along.
“We had a great day and I taught the kids the song ‘Melody in my heart’, which has actions to go with it and we had everyone singing and dancing along - it was a fantastic day.”
During his stay in the country David also volunteered with various youth organisations.
He continued: “Botswana has one of the highest rates of HIV and AIDS rates in all of Africa and the people are just intolerant to the very notion of the disease, they just refuse to talk about it.
“So during our time we used various different techniques to work with people affected and infected with aids. This included educating them on the causes of Aids and also on how they can support themselves. The country is very poor, but they do so much to help themselves.”
He continued: “Through the Coaching for Hope programme we taught children about the dangers of Aids through football.
“I had worked on a midnight soccer project at home and any sport has a great potential of bringing people together.
“Through the Coaching for Hope project we taught the kids about the dangers of HIV and it went down really well, they seemed to take on board what we were trying to teach them.
“I also worked through another project - Hope Mission - which was for girls who had been abused either physically, mentally or sexually.
“That was very difficult, but the girls were delighted to work with us and in the end it was very difficult to leave them.
“Their spirit amazed me and when I asked one of them what they would say to young people back home she said ‘tell them to stay strong, believe in yourself and stay educated’ - which was just incredible for them to know the value of education.
“To the children out there school is not something they dread, they love it and when they can’t get to go, it depresses them.”
David said the trip changed his outlook on life and he has become more aware of how fortunate he is in life.
He continued: “I may have been wasteful before, particularly with water, but after our water was cut-off for three-and-a-half weeks, I have a different opinion now.
“We only had to walk a short distance to get the water, it was only 10 or 15 minutes, but with a 15-litre bucket of water on your head it was made even the more difficult.
“Then when you were washing, you stood in an empty bucket and poured water over your head and hoped that most of the water ended up back in the bucket.”
He went on: “I went out there with the idea that what you see on the media is what it would have been like.
“And, don’t get me wrong, there were people being sick on the street, or with little or no clothes going about the streets.
“But a lot of the people were happy, they would be smiling and would say hello and had no problem talking to you, they just had a warmth in their hearts.
“We really integrated into the community. I learned a bit of the language which helped and they were so grateful to us for it. Their appreciation - that you are giving up your time to help them - is unbelievable.
“After we were there for about a month-and-a-half the people - because they took so much to us - gave me the African name, Tshepo, which means trust and that was truly overwhelming.”
David has been a youth worker in the Mossley area as an outreach worker for a number of years and is part of the Newtownabbey Youth Council.
He added: “It was only three months, but it felt like so much longer. Everyday we were working from 8am to 5pm and then we were volunteering at night.
“But youth work is my passion and I want to go on and develop my skills and study it and become better. I have seen how you can make a difference around the world, now I want to make a difference in my own community.
“I got so much from going out to Botswana I would say to anyone to do what they can to volunteer.
“You don’t have to go to Africa, there are things in your own community that you can volunteer for - it really is so worthwhile and fulfilling.”