Project Trust’s 1989/90 Zimbabwe and China volunteers had a joint 25th anniversary reunion last weekend. For Zahid Torres-Rahman, Returned Volunteer (Zimbabwe, 1989/1990), Project Trust Board Member and Founder of Business Fights Poverty, the event was a reminder of how a year volunteering with Project Trust can shape your future.
Arriving at a quaint village hall an hour west of London on Saturday, I was buzzing with excitement at the thought of catching up with my fellow Returned Volunteers, many of whom I had not seen since we set off to be teachers in Zimbabwe or China 25 years ago.
Despite the years, as people gathered there was an instant sense of reconnection – something driven by our deep and shared experience. Standing there in the warmth of the afternoon, as friendships were being rekindled, it was easy to feel that we’d all only just got back from our overseas adventure. Looking at old photos over a traditional Zimbabwean lunch refreshed fond memories of the past.
But while we all had an incredibly powerful experience for that one year, all those years ago, what struck me was the long-lasting and dramatic influence Project Trust has had on our lives. Every single person I met at the reunion has gone on to do exciting and important things.
By my count, around half the people were doctors, something that is not unusual for Project Trust, where the bulk of volunteers go on to work in the medical, international development, education or other ‘caring professions’.
Among the other Returned Volunteers were an investor in social enterprises, an IT guru, the founder of a market research company, a mathematician, a business consultant and a lecturer in the Chinese department of a University. Included in the list of people who couldn’t make it are an MBE and British Ambassador and the Chief Executive of the Liberal Democrats in the UK.
For each of us, and perhaps more than anything, Project Trust has shaped what we have become today.
But even more special that reminiscing about the past was meeting the young families of the Returned Volunteers, and in particular two people who have just been selected to volunteer next year with Project Trust: Joel is going to China and Marella is going to Japan. Seeing the excitement and anticipation in Joel and Marella reminded me of my own as I waited to board a plane at Heathrow two and a half decades ago.
It also reminded me of the incredibly important work that Project Trust has been doing for nearly 50 years, creating year-long overseas volunteering opportunities for 17-19 year olds. Apart from giving young people across the UK a chance to learn about themselves, it also gives them a deep appreciation of the wider world in which we live. I can’t think of a more important time to build a better sense of global citizenship and understanding.
I hope Project Trust continues, for many years to come, to inspire young people to challenge themselves, learn about the world and be a positive force within it.