I joined IDD in 2009 to complete an MSc in ‘International Development, Conflict & Security’ under the guidance of Paul Jackson, Danielle Beswick and Heather Marquette. Prior to the MSc, and on the advise of Paul Jackson, I had taken up a 12 month post with a Liberian NGO, in a Project Development role, with a focus on rehabilitating and repatriating Liberian child soldiers from the Buduburum Refugee Camp in Ghana.
The post in Ghana was to provide me with some practical experience that would inform my studies. I was, however, still extremely fortunate to secure a place on the MSc course at all: although my career in the environmental and risk management sector had been relatively successful, I was certainly no academic. I had no A-levels, no undergraduate degree, and had scraped through school achieving little more than a lackluster spread of Bs & Cs. I was, understandably, therefore quite nervous when I attended an admissions interview at IDD with Paul Jackson and Heather Marquette in 2008. I was 28 years old and had not written an essay for over a decade.
During the interview I was ill-equipped to enter in to dialogue concerning complex policy or research methodology. So I focused on what I knew: development challenges as I saw them and my desire to play a part in their resolution. I remember the sensation of being intently listened to and I remember the joy of being offered a place but I do not remember very much in-between (nerves!). I do know, however, that that day explicitly marked the beginning of a new direction for me: a month later I had left my comfortable private sector career, liquidated my material assets, and was sitting on a plane headed for a refugee camp somewhere in West Africa. I will be forever grateful to Paul Jackson and Heather Marquette for believing in me, taking a risk, and giving me that opportunity. I hope they would agree that it turned out okay.
The first paper I submitted at IDD was - although I was of course certain of its excellence at the time - actually quite awful. I achieved a very generous low pass. However, it is a credit to the IDD team that within six months I was able to submit several Distinction-level post-graduate papers. I completed my MSc with just two points off an overall Distinction. But, of greater importance, I completed my MSc with a more acute passion for the subject area than when I began. That, I feel, is testimony to the IDD staff, the learning environment they provide, and my fellow students at that time.
Six years later and after founding an NGO - which focuses on removing the roadblocks that prevent West-African children from securing effective access to education - I am currently in-post with that same organisation as Chief Executive Officer. We (www.volunteerwestafrica.org) currently have 18 active programmes which build local capacity under the headings: prevention of child exploitation; children’s health, nutrition & hygiene; access to early years education and childcare; enriching the lives of vulnerable children; and vocational training & prevention of youth unemployment. We have a staff of 16 and we host hundreds of volunteers/teams from the international community each year. Although our organisation is humble in size and resource, we have saved the lives of several children and we have changed - for the better - the lives of a great deal more.
I now live and work permanently in Ghana - the country my MSc sent me to to gain a little practical experience. And while the daily challenges of our work keep me focused, it is the foundation that IDD gave me which allows me to remain effective. Without a balanced understanding of the issues, particularly ethical approaches to international development, I would not be suitably equipped to guide my team or oversee our project implementation. I am still no academic, but I only know that as IDD exposed me to those who are.