When the African Children's Education Trust, a charity run by volunteers that funds scholarships and school-building programmes in Ethiopia, was looking for a new trustee, it appointed its first postgraduate student, Sammy Ayalew Assefa.
"I was studying in northern Ethiopia when A-Cet asked me to come to the UK to help out in its office," he says. "The charity sponsored me to study for a masters at De Montfort University, Leicester, while carrying out volunteer tasks in its office such as posting and banking."
The step up to trustee was a big one and he says he had little appreciation of the full extent of the challenge. "To do this, you need to appreciate how much responsibility is involved," he says. "You should say what you think and not be reserved in your views. The board's decisions can make or break a charity, regardless of its size."
The board's focus, he says, is shifting from sponsoring students to building more schools, because the latter might have more impact in the long term. "We have no paid staff, so ensuring continuity can be challenging," he says.
A-Cet receives no government funding and relies on private donations. "Finding money is not easy, and we don't have big fundraising events," says Assefa. "So we have to find ways of keeping our operation efficient – for example, we might try to recruit more volunteers."
Assefa completed his studies a year and a half ago and is now a research fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
"I use my annual holiday to go out and visit the schools and projects – for me this is the highlight of my involvement with the charity," he says. "The quality is amazing and meeting the students is inspiring – it is good to see something like this working."