This month, I shall be leaving London to work on a dairy farming and livelihoods project in Bangladesh as part of the International Citizen Service (ICS), a youth volunteering programme funded by DFID.
Having filled in all the forms, completed the three-day training and received the necessary immunisations, the preparations for my trip are well underway. Naturally, my curiosity about what life will be like in a rural village in north-west Bangladesh has led me to trawl the internet, meticulously reading many websites, articles and blogs. What I have learnt is that there are certain aspects of my trip that I am just unable to prepare for - the vast population will surely be the first to strike me on arrival in Dhaka - yet this research has also served as a pleasing reminder about why I first applied to take part in the ICS.
During the three-month project, my knowledge on dairy farming will undoubtedly improve, but working alongside young people of a different culture, faith and viewpoint will also allow for a greater understanding of a range of development issues.
The ICS, in bringing together young people to work on a development project, brings an opportunity to share skills and increase awareness of wider problems affecting communities. For example, whilst there are many shocking statistics about Bangladesh's extreme poverty and hazardous geography, it is facts concerning women and girls that I, as a young British female, have been most taken aback by.
In being able to compare my own situation with many women of a similar age in Bangladesh, issues such as child marriage and its repercussions become a distinct reality. A report from UNICEF in 2010 found that 66% of girls in Bangladesh marry before they are 18 years old, despite it being illegal. Working with local young people and living with a host-family in a rural community will most likely be a huge eye-opener to such practices.
Early marriage is as linked to poverty and gender inequality as it is to culture and religion, and can have serious effects onwomen's health and education, directly obstructing several of the Millennium Development Goals which the ICS aims to help achieve. Combining the efforts of young people is a unique and invaluable way to empower youth and raise awareness of development challenges, and this does not stop when returning to the UK.
The idea behind ICS is to share what I have learned and encourage others to join the fight against global poverty long after leaving Bangladesh, as mobilizing others to act on injustice and inequality is a powerful, relevant and necessary resource both nationally and internationally.