Monday, 16 October 2017

Raleigh International - Why You Should Volunteer Abroad!

If you don't know (apologies if I mention it every other sentence...), I took a Gap Year between year 13 and going to university. Now if I'm honest, my main reason behind this was to retake some A Level modules to boost my grades and actually get myself into university, however I did have other - more fulfilling - reasons... Ever since living abroad, my love for travel has always taken over my holidays and spare time, so when the opportunity for a gap year arose, I obviously took it. Due to the academic reasons I mentioned earlier, I didn't have a massive expanse of time to work with and by this I mean I had 2 months in which I could do the proper 'gap yah' thing! So I plonked myself down in front Google and started searching programmes that I could take part in. Having previously done NCS - The Challenge, I knew I wanted to do some sort of volunteering with my time, so started looking up companies who did projects abroad. I researched companies such as Gap Medics and Camp America and finally settled on Raleigh International. And that, you lovely lot, is what this post is going to be about... so grab yourselves a cuppa tea, it's going to be a long one... 


Raleigh International is a sustainable development charity. They work in 5 different countries including Costa Rica, Tanzania, Nepal, Borneo and Nicaragua, creating lasting and sustainable change through the use of young volunteers - such as you! They work on three problematic areas in all 5 countries, including water and sanitation, natural resources and building resilience within vulnerable communities. They do this by running two different programmes, Expedition and ICS. I did the expedition programme, so that is what I will be focusing on, but if anyone is interested you can find more information about ICS here.  So, Raleigh expedition, what is it, who can go and what do you do? Well, it includes three aspects - community work, environmental projects and an adventure trek. All of which you complete in teams of 12 volunteers and 2 leaders. You can volunteer if you are between the ages of 17-24 years old and if you're 25+ you can apply to be a Volunteer Manager. Now, to find out what exactly you might get up to, just keep reading!


I decided to go to Costa Rica on my expedition. I had never been to South America and thought it would give me the opportunity to practice my none existent GCSE standard Spanish skills...I did try I promise! Anyways, for those of you who don't know Costa Rica is the most biodiverse country in the world - how cool is that? The 500,000 species living here represents 4% of the total species worldwide. Oh and a heads up to the squeamish ones out there, 300,000 of those are insects. I know. Terrifying. But fear not people, if I can survive 5 weeks, anyone can (I wouldn't touch a money spider with a barge pole). 


My 5 week experience was split into 2 sections - a natural resource management project and the trek. I arrived in San José and was immediately engrossed in the Raleigh spirit. The staff and all the volunteers make you feel so welcome. The first few days are spent training you and introducing you to your group or 'Delta' in our case (shoutout to Delta 3 - you rock!). I was in a group of 12 people, all from different countries and cultures, including girls and guys from the UK, China, Belgium, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Our delta spent the majority of the 5 weeks working at two national parks - Parque National Carara and La Cangreja . In the first national park we were digging and building a path through the park to allow tourists to come and access more of the park. This would ultimately increase the popularity and therefore income of the park, meaning more money could be spent improving the park and encouraging sustainable farming in the local area. We also re-potted more than 400 plantlets to give away to local farmers to help increase the biodiversity in the area. In the second park, we were laying down gravel on a path that had already been built, to make it more durable and weather resistant. Although both projects were hard work, they were so fulfilling and the sense of achievement we all felt was amazing once we finished.

The last week of the expedition was the dreaded trek. In all honesty this was my favourite part of the whole trip (I know, I was shocked at myself too). As a team we had our ups and downs, and I sincerely apologise to my group when they had to experience a Katie sized melt down when we arrived at our camp site, only to find that we were sleeping in a cow shed (mud and sh*t included).  The trek is still the most difficult thing I have ever done, both physically and mentally, but I still loved it. The memory of my best friend and I finally getting to the top of a literal mountain after basically crawling up it - honestly we should've had a harness and pick axe for that thing - and then the emotional whirlwind of seeing our end point, will stick with me forever - shout out to Nae for keeping me going through blood sweat and tears (I seriously owe you one many). And no I'm not joking, there really was blood (calamity Jane over here) sweat and tears. But overall it again was such a massive achievement for our whole team to finish the trek and I don't think I have ever bonded with a group of such lovely people as much as that - it really is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I would do it again in a heartbeat.


It really is as simple as signing up online. Raleigh then send you through all of the relevant information and documentation that you need. You then have to raise the required amount of money, get yourself a Visa and book your flights. Easy as pie! Oh and then get yourself ready for a summer of a lifetime (cheesy but so so so true - trust me)!! If you don't fancy volunteering abroad, you can always fundraise at home and donate to Raleigh just like any normal charity, to help bring sustainability to developing countries, and help both the environmental and social aspects.

And breathe. Now that was a long one! I hope I didn't go off on too much of a tangent...hopefully you found this post useful or just informative on some of the things this amazing charity does. It is something I feel so so strongly about and it honestly was one of the best summers of my life, so I would encourage anyone and everyone to get stuck in if you can! 

Lots of love, Katie xo

* pictures taken by Cesar Vita, Alex Qu and Anna Ruddiman

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