Serving others, from Pembroke Dock to KwaZulu-Natal

Sophie Merrix (second from left) with other participants on the ICS programme

First it was Bolivia, now it's South Africa. Sophie Merrix has given up her job yet again in a determined effort to care the world's poor.

Having helped care for street families in Bolivia, Sophie, who lives in Pembroke Dock, now finds herself leading a team that will serve with the Zoë-Life development agency whose goal is to transform the lives of children, vulnerable families and communities affected by disease, poverty and injustice.

Sophie will be working on behalf of Christian relief agency Tearfund in conjunction with ICS (International Citizen Service).

"I am absolutely thrilled with Sophie's decision to serve God in the way," said Sophie's Pastor Rob James.

"She is an inspiration to us all all. We believe Jesus hit the nail on the head when he told his disciples that we discover true fulfilment when we reach out to serve others. Selfishness is corrosive and destructive whereas caring for others is enriching and extremely rewarding.

"Sophie gained an immense amount by going to South America and I am sure that when she returns from this trip she will have so much more to contribute to her community here too. She is a great advertisement for our church strap line which says we exist to 'Love God and serve others'."

Zoë-Life works throughout the KwaZulu-Natal province as well as into different parts of South Africa. In this project Zoë-Life will be working in the breath-taking Valley of a Thousand Hills in the Kwazulu-Natal region. Beginning in 2004, Zoë-Life was contracted to implement a province-wide HIV training intervention for hospitals and clinics. The result was a fantastic 1,800 trained and supported healthcare workers.

Zoë-Life has since continued to partner with hospitals, clinics, organisations, churches and government throughout South Africa, developing health strategies, courses and resources for the people of South Africa.

International Citizen Service (ICS) is a once-in-a-lifetime volunteering opportunity open to all 18 to 25-year-olds, backed by the UK government. It gives young people the chance to work side-by-side with local volunteers in developing countries, to make a meaningful contribution to fighting poverty, and to gain valuable skills that will stay with them long after their placement is complete.

ICS is led by VSO in partnership with a hand-picked group of respected development organisations and UK-based 18 to 25-year-olds are welcome to apply, regardless of background, qualifications, disability and work history.

Sophie said, "I love the ICS placement programme because it is holistic. Fundraising and doing a home action plan upon our return are just as important as the trip itself and it means that the excitement and fun start and last a lot longer than just on the trip. I have been truly blessed in my fundraising with people helping and providing for me in the most unexpected of ways.

"I am excited about all the experiences the group will go through over the next couple of months and pray that they have a lasting impact on all our lives. We will be working with incredible people who do incredible work every day and I am so grateful for this opportunity. I look forward to sharing my experience with everyone when I return."

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