Annamaria inspires in the poverty fight
A recent graduate without hundreds in the bank, Annamaria Stewart thought her dreams of volunteering abroad would remain just that. But through Progressio, an international development charity based in Stockwell, last year she was able to travel to El Salvador as part of the government-funded International Citizen Service (ICS), where she worked on conservation and education projects. Now, she is trying to convince others in her South London neighbourhood to take the same leap.
I grew up in an estate near Brixton that people say is deprived. Growing up in an urban environment can be challenging and sometimes we have so many life obligations, or are under so much pressure to get a job and make money, that we forget to develop ourselves.
I was always interested in volunteering abroad, but most of the charities that offer this type of programme are very expensive. Thinking that it would set me back thousands, I parked that idea a few years ago. Then I came across the ICS programme.
I first applied for the volunteer role but in my interview Progressio saw my potential and encouraged me to go for the team leader position. I never believed I had the skills to lead a group formally.
In El Salvador, the main challenge was being away from my family, but I had a great host family who supported me, fed me and loved me which helped me get through it.
As a group leader, I had to be the leader, the big sister, the mum, agony aunt and defender. We often have misconceptions about our abilities, but when you’re in a different environment, with no access to your luxuries, you realise you won’t brake if you’re pushed further.
Now I’m back I’m doing more things that I would have avoided before. I’ve learned to have more faith in my abilities. I now say ‘I can’ and own it confidently.
I now want to make sure young people from communities similar to mine are aware of opportunities like this. I want that young boy or girl who is lost or misguided to take a chance with this programme, give all they can and get everything back. I know that it has changed me for the better, mainly because now I understand that I am stronger than I thought.