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Unconventional love story of the day: How one woman met her partner volunteering

Most people end up meeting their partners somewhere fairly ordinary. Not so for some of the Irish people who have found love while volunteering abroad…

Aisling with Hassan
Aisling with Hassan
Image: VSO

MOST PEOPLE END up meeting their partner somewhere fairly conventional.

Work. On the internet. College. The pub.

But then there are the couples who meet in a slightly, well, nobler way (sorry, pubs everywhere. No offence).

One development organisation has come up with a somewhat tongue-in-cheek way for people to find The One after they realised 15 of their Irish volunteers had fallen in love while volunteering abroad over the past two decades.

In its Valentine’s Day message, VSO, an international development charity, has told single people not to worry if they’re alone today –  they can always volunteer in a developing country where they can help a community raise itself out of poverty AND possibly find love.

The charity is acting as an unlikely matchmaker and is planning to give out Valentine’s Day cards around Dublin today to spread the idea that volunteers can fall in love while helping to fight poverty across Africa and Asia (with possibly a slight focus on the latter).

Aisling White from Dublin is one such volunteer.

The former Accenture Ireland employee was volunteering in west Africa when she met the man who she was to end up marrying.

Aisling had taken a year’s leave of absence from her job in 2008 to work with a human rights organisation in Sierra Leone when she met Hassan. She was helping the organisation work on its structure, communications and HR – “basically making sure that the organisation was doing the best that it could,” she says.

The two started out as friends before they began dating. However Aisling’s time in Sierra Leone was soon up:

“When it came time to leave, I left, because that was always the intention,” she says. “But we ended up speaking every day after I came home”.

She returned to Sierra Leone in March 2010 for a holiday and by that stage was considering whether or not she would return to Ireland.

“It was a big thing to leave a permanent job in Ireland and move to somewhere like Sierra Leone, but in the end the decision was made for me: I couldn’t not do it,” she said. “We were in love. It was a decision I spent a lot of time thinking about, but once I decided, I knew it was the right thing to do”.

Aisling found a job working with Goal in Sierra Leone and moved to the country for good.

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“I always wanted to do development work – to do something that I would consider worthwhile. My career was very much focused on business so I never thought I’d get the chance to do it – but when the opportunity came up I  jumped at it,” she says.

After living in Sierra Leone for some time, the two moved back to Dublin in January last year to make way for a new addition to their household: their son Daniel, who was born in Ireland and is now ten months old.

Aisling and Hassan both got used to their adopted countries very quickly. She says Hassan misses home but they plan to return to Sierra Leone at some stage so Daniel can meet his extended family.

“We’re used to living in Dublin now,” she says. “We adapted very quickly. Hassan will go down to the pub on a Friday night and have a pint of Guinness. Guinness is huge in Africa, probably bigger even than it is in Ireland”.

“He misses home but Sierra Leoneans are very like the Irish in many ways so he’s gotten used to it”.

Aisling is pragmatic about how they met. “I wouldn’t be promoting volunteering as a way to meet a man,” she says. “But these things just happen”.

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