In a world of increased polarisation between cultures, anything that lowers barriers is important. I joined VSO as chief executive in March of this year and in that time I have seen enough to convince me that there has never been a more important time to encourage people to volunteer internationally.
In Kenya and Uganda children who are both deaf and blind face huge challenges. Many are literally hidden away from the world around them, as parents struggle to understand what is wrong with their child or how to communicate with them while dealing with the social stigma of raising a disabled child.
I'm in New York this week to engage in the Post 2015 development process first hand. I know I'm not alone when I say that the process to agree a new agenda for the fight on global poverty is confusing and impenetrable. This week's focus is on financing and implementation. It's the "who's-going-to-pay?" and "how's-it-going-to-happen?" parts of the puzzle.
Comic Relief's Operation Health project, the focus of this year's Red Nose Day campaign, will completely renovate a dilapidated health centre in Iyolwa, Uganda. Operation Health is at the centre of a fundraising drive to improve healthcare across Africa by showing how money well spent can be used to improve health systems.
This is all the motivation I needed to become a member of the volunteer health team. I work closely with Iyolwa Clinic to make sure pregnant women in the community are identified early and all possible precautions are taken to ensure a safe delivery. I make sure the women attend their prenatal appointments, get regular check-ups and take their medication.
It was late last year when I heard about Operation Health for Comic Relief. Putting aside the obvious question "How on Earth did they get my number?" I was immediately paralysed by the size and the timescales of the project. Renovating a dilapidated health centre in rural Uganda in just nine weeks sounded ambitious, but I was immediately sold and knew I had to be a part of it.
Simply put - the clinic is not fit for humans. We have rats on the floor, bats in the ceiling and nowhere near enough space for the 1,400 patients that seek our help each month. Consultations on the floor or in the corridor are common practice and with no space to exercise quarantine controls, the risk of cross-contamination amongst patients is high...
Greener than many of its neighbours, and home to both the highest mountain range in Africa and the source of the mighty Nile, Winston Churchill famously described Uganda as the 'Pearl of Africa'. Unlike much of the country, however, due to its harsh climate and low annual rainfall, the Karamoja region is predominantly a semi-arid plain - causing many problems for the communities who live there.
Emotionally I'm way out of my depth. I'm just a smart-alec comedian who wants to try and help. (Or do I just like the idea?) Now the teenagers have trickled back, cheated of innocence and bringing with them their trauma and children born in slavery. Some seem dead behind the eyes, but physically alert and ready to fight or run at a moment's notice. Soon after we arrive I'm asked to entertain about 80 youths, who don't speak English and have been waiting two hours in the sun for 'the internationally famous comedian' to make them laugh. This could go wrong.