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Meet Naseem: The wrestling enthusiast turned youth activist

19-year-old Naseem Haque from Newcastle really has made the most of his year off. Having earned a place studying Computer Games Programming at Newcastle University, he wanted to use his time in a meanginful way.

As a volunteer with VSO ICS, he got a chance to live in Kenya for three months working on business and education projects, running a talent show and organising a litter picking drive amidst a jam-packed schedule of volunteering.

He even starred in a 360 degree virtual reality film to show people how varied an ICS placement can be. Now at home finishing a cookery course, wrestling-enthusiast Naseem is keen to apply his new skills to the next phase of his life.

Part of Naseem's work involved working with local schools to plant almost 1000 trees
© ICS / VSO / Adriane Ohanesian
Part of Naseem's work involved working with local schools to plant almost 1000 trees

If there’s been an opportunity available, I’ve always been one to go for it. That’s one of the reasons I decided to do ICS.

In the area where I live, it's so easy for young people to get into drink and crime. But I’ve never let anything hold me back.

Going away in January was ideal. I had a year that I wanted to fill with learning new skills, and what better way to escape the weather in England? Most people are making resolutions – but it’s better just to go!

I never thought of Kenya as somewhere I’d want to go but now I’d love to return. It really is a beautiful country. I was wary about life over there, what things would be like, whether I could eat Halal as a Muslim.

Take a 360° tour of Naseem's placement - use your mouse to scroll around

But there was a big mosque nearby and everything was easy for me to do. I had a view of Mount Killimanjaro from just across the Tanzanian border. I ate so much I put on a stone.

We worked with various partners and organisations. One of my projects involved environmental issues at local schools. We worked with a local forestry to get 900 seedlings that the students planted.

We held debates on environmental questions and organised a huge litter drive that the local government approved – they even gave us a car with a megaphone so we could get the whole community involved. Hundreds of people cleaned the streets that day!

We got training on business skills from local businessmen. We then relayed that learning to women’s groups and small shop owners.

Naseem with his counterpart Anthony in the garden of their host home
© ICS / VSO / Jack Howson
Naseem with his counterpart Anthony in the garden of their host home

Many women are responsible for making ends meet but aren’t literate enough to tally their costs and work out their profits. With diagrams and calculators, we talked them through how to keep on top of their spending and income. I’d like to think that’s still being used.

We built a park at a children’s rescue centre so that it felt more like home for them. We worked with a polytechnic for engineering and organised a youth talent show that the audience could vote on – 110 people turned up that day.

I never expected to get it all done. Ten weeks isn’t a long time once you’re out there. But we did nearly everything we’d planned. As part of our mid-phase review committee, I made sure everyone got a personalised award to boost their confidence and feel acknowledged.

Working with my counterpart Anthony was great. Obviously I was worried about whether we would get on, but we became like brothers.

We are so similar, we talk all the time even now I’m back home. We have no differences – he’s the coolest guy.

Naseem meets Maasai chief Benson Meoli in Alasti, southern Kenya
© ICS / VSO / Adriane Ohanesian
Naseem meets Maasai chief Benson Meoli in Alasti, southern Kenya

Being Muslim and Asian-British didn’t mean I got treated differently. No-one needs to worry about their background – you become part of a team and you all have to work together. Everyone gets treated with respect.

I’ve learnt so much about organisation and the importance of planning. I’m definitely going to bring that to university and get my work done on time. I’m a lot more capable of things than I was before.

When I got home, I organised a wrestling show and talked about ICS and the importance of physical education for your health. It was a way I could promote our local community centre where there are loads of clubs to get young people off the streets. 

Living in Kenya wasn’t the culture shock I was expecting. Everyone was so friendly and it was a really easy way of life. I know I’ll keep on volunteering. Even when the work is tough, it is so much fun.

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