Ben Mallinson - 2013 Program Participant

Volunteer teaching young children in Egypt

Ben engages with the children in the afternoon program

Can you explain your program and location? 

I did my volunteer placement with Baladna Projects, January to March 2013. Baladna Projects are based in a small town called El Quseir in the Red Sea District of Egypt. Initially, I was to be utilized as an English tutor and to insert some singing and dance in to a school holiday program for children.

What inspired you to volunteer abroad in Egypt?

After several years of study and hard work building my professional career, I decided to take a break to travel overseas and experience different cultures. Fortunately, the company I was working for at the time allowed me to take extended unpaid leave so I could return to my job. I visited Egypt as part of a tour group in December 2012, and I felt a strong connection with the place, its rich history, culture, and above all the people.

Upon returning to London, where I was staying at the time, I decided that I didn’t want to just do the normal “working holiday” as so many Australians do. I wanted to give of my time and use my skills and attributes in a meaningful volunteer placement. As I had a strong connection with Egypt, I decided that was the best place to do it.

Why did you choose to volunteer with Baladna Projects specifically?

After my initial phone interview, I felt positive about the placement that was available. I also felt that my creative background, my good grasp of the English language, and other skills would be a good fit to the work Baladna Projects do.

What made participating in Baladna Projects interesting? 

No day was the same! One day I would be teaching English, the next day I would be leading an excursion to the Lost City of Quseir, the next day I would be teaching children to dance, and after that I might have to assist with holding a high pressure hose to fill up the water tank on the top floor. The placement provided constant variety and constant challenge. 

Volunteers in Aswan, Egypt

Ben joins the Roaya volunteers for a project in Aswan

What can future participants expect while volunteering with Baladna Projects?

The variety and also, the opportunity to truly get some insight in to how the local people live their day to day lives was very humbling. 

What was your favorite part about your placement?

I loved working with the kindergarten children, teaching them basic dance routines for an upcoming performance and assisting with other activities. It was an amazing privilege to be able to interact with these children, and I came to appreciate the preciousness of children and how important it is to mindful of the influence we, as adults, have on children in our society, especially in the critically important developmental bracket of three to seven year olds. 

If you could do it all again, what is one thing you’d do differently?

I would be more conscious of having a highly flexible attitude and reminding myself that certain things will be out of your control, and that the most important thing is to just get on with things and do my best.

What did a typical day of volunteering entail? 

Keeping the community centre clean and tidy, teaching dance to kindergarten children, teaching English to young people and some adults, assisting with planning and support of activities related to various projects, such as Keep Quseir Beautiful (KQB), and assisting with various tasks for the school holiday program.

Local students celebrating their international teachers birthday in Egypt

The Baladna children celebrating Ben on his birthday

Did you experience culture shock? What did you do to get through cultural challenges? 

Yes. Sometimes the difference in culture and being in such a different environment to what I was used to was overwhelming; when this would happen, I would try and get some alone time when I could. I found that most of the time these feelings would come to pass after a day or so.

What kind of long-term impact has volunteering in Egypt had on your life?

I have amazing memories from my volunteer placement that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I thoroughly appreciated the exposure to such a dynamic cultural experience. The placement gave me a greater sense of personal resilience, and made me realise that I can do things in life that I might have previously thought unimaginable.