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Olivia worked for two weeks in Ghana at the VACI-Ghana organisation, undertaking teaching and counselling duties. The teaching aspect involved mass education of current issues in Ghana, including HIV/AIDS awareness, youth unemployment and a lack of female empowerment. Olivia worked with classes of children ranging from 13-18 years old. She developed a number of teaching methods to convey her messages, including songs, games and class tests.

Olivia’s counselling took place in VACI-Ghana’s counselling office, based in the grounds of a local school. Sessions took place during break times, and children would approach at their will to discuss, or gain advice, on topics ranging from career aspirations to pregnancy. This was complemented with outreach work, where Olivia and fellow volunteers would go to local meeting points, such as the beach, and offer counselling services (listening and advising) to the local people.

Olivia chose her work experience opportunity as she has aspirations to work as a child psychologist, so identified that she would benefit from gaining more experience with children. The children with whom she worked during her placement all came from broken backgrounds, many having experienced trauma in early childhood. This helped Olivia to learn how to deal with related issues, which will be of benefit when applying for further work experience in psychology. The experience also allowed her to deal with abstract situations, outside of her cultural norms, thereby increasing her cultural awareness. She recognises that this will be attractive to prospective employers, highlighting her preparedness to take on challenges and connect with people of different cultures in an ever ‘shrinking’ world.

The whole placement experience proved highly rewarding to Olivia, as she was able to make a tangible difference to individual people whom she met. In one instance she worked alongside an orphan who had run away from home in Nigeria because of an alcoholic father. Having been alone on the streets for almost two years, he had missed out on crucial education, so had low confidence and self esteem. Olivia listened to his experiences when he wanted to talk about them and tried to restore some confidence within him, talking about future opportunities and aspirations, praising him and trying to make him feel important and special- something which she found lacking in many of the orphans with whom she worked. As a result of Olivia’s work, the child contributed increasingly in classes and, at the end of the placement, informed Olivia that he aspired to be a pilot, demonstrating that he was beginning to believe in himself more.

As well as developing her counselling skills (including listening, advising and empathising), Olivia also found that her placement experience with vulnerable children from particularly difficult backgrounds taught her patience, as well as enhancing her public speaking skills.

Without work experience bursary assistance from the University of Birmingham, Olivia would have been unable to undertake her placement. She notes that she would not have been able to gain such a rich experience in the UK, due to Western legislation on counselling – her experience has provided her with an opportunity to stand out in a very competitive sector.