A Scottish volunteer flew 4,000 miles home for Christmas and the New Year after helping to improve the lives of people with disabilities in Sandema in the Upper East region of Ghana.

Natalie Innes from Lochranza has just completed a three-month stint in West Africa and is talking about her experiences to encourage other young Scots to get involved.

The 22-year-old former Arran High School pupil has been working as part of a team of young British and Ghanaian volunteers on a project to promote inclusions for those with disabilities in mainstream education and society in general.

The World Health Organisation estimates that 15 per cent of the world’s population lives with a disability, with 80 per cent of those people living in developing countries.

In rural Ghana, many disabled people struggle to access basic healthcare, and are often excluded from education – a situation which leaves them more acutely affected by poverty, and less equipped to escape it.

[caption id="attachment_172747" align="alignnone" width="349"]Natalie was only just able to see the top of Goatfell on her return to Arran four days before Christmas. Natalie was only just able to see the top of Goatfell on her return to Arran four days before Christmas.[/caption]

Natalie and her team mates have been working with rights-based development charity International Service and its partner organisation Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR). CBR works to break the cycle of poverty and empower people with disabilities to work with local leaders to create inclusive, accessible and healthy communities.

Natalie has seen firsthand the need for attention to be drawn to these issues. She and her team have been working with CBR to reach out to the community via radio, and through youth clubs to dispel some of the misconceptions about disability, especially mental health issues.

Natalie, who travelled to Ghana through the International Citizen Service, (ICS) programme, fund- ed by UK Aid, said: ‘The proudest moment for me was seeing the impact we’d had on young people.

During youth clubs, students were able to state facts about mental health and use the correct terminology. We still have many battles ahead but we are ready to fight. Everyone deserves an equal place in society.’

Natalie, who spent six months as a teacher in Thailand before travelling to Ghana, spent Christmas with her family on Arran before deciding on her next venture for the New Year.

‘I am just pleased to have my daughter home for Christmas,’ mum Kirsty added.

ICS volunteers work alongside young local volunteers in some of the poorest communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America on issues like sexual health, education and economic empowerment.

Volunteers don’t need cash, skills or qualifications to take part – just the ambition to make a difference.

For more information about ICS and how to apply, visit http://www. volunteerics.org/