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“To experience the world first-hand like this gives you more of a global outlook.”: Catriona’s story

On deciding to take a gap year after her A-levels, Catriona joined a Raleigh Expedition in Nepal in 2018.

Catriona, from Inverness, volunteered in Nepal on a Raleigh Expedition during her gap year in early 2018. Catriona decided to take a gap year after she missed the grades required to secure a place at her preferred university, so volunteered with Raleigh International as a way to build new experience while doing something meaningful before returning to the UK to train as a teacher. 

“Before Raleigh I was doing my A-levels in school. My plan was to go to University of Aberdeen to do Geography. But that didn’t work out as I missed out on the grades. So, I thought it’d be good for me to have more time to think about what I really wanted to do.

I soon realised that going to university straight away wasn’t really what I wanted. I wanted to go travelling, to see other places that I have never experienced before. I wanted to get much more experience and a wider view of the world, to go out and see things and think ‘I could do this, or I could do this, or I couldn’t do this’.

“Quite a lot of my friends have done various things overseas. Each of them said that when they returned from travelling that they came back with a totally different outlook on the way they are and how they live back home. They said they’ve learnt a lot and have brought those learnings back home. It made them do things differently. So, I wanted this too. Volunteering abroad is a way to break the cycle, it makes you think about what you’re doing in life and makes you look more at how privileged you are.

“I looked into a few organisations that ran projects abroad, but Raleigh was the only organisation that did the adventure trek and development volunteering together. That made it for me.”

Catriona volunteered with Raleigh International in the remote, rural village of Benitar in the Gorkha region of Nepal. She lived with a host family on her Expedition. This area was severely affected by the 2015 earthquakes. She worked as part of a team on a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) project which includes infrastructure and behaviour change elements.

“We’ve been digging trenches for the new water distribution pipeline in the community of Benitar, which will help improve their clean water access. We’ve been digging on both sides of the village, working alongside the villagers. Each household is going to receive a new, personal tap stand, so we’re going to be helping each family here, not just a few.

“The new household tap stand will give families independence, so they can use the water whenever they need it. When they have their own tap stands, they won’t need to share public tap stands and they’ll have a lot more water access which is currently limited and takes a long time to collect.

“On top of our pipe digging work, we’ve also been doing awareness raising. We did a session in the local school on health and hygiene practices, such as the importance of handwashing. We also did a session with women in the community on menstrual hygiene. I hope that our work around awareness raising and behaviour change will benefit people in Benitar the long term, as they will be able to pass what they’ve learnt on to the next generations.”

Catriona takes part in a pad-making workshop with women in the community.

“I’ve learnt a lot of organisational skills while volunteering. We have to plan a lot, but we also never know if the plans are going to stick, so we have to be very flexible and adaptable. I’ve gained a lot more confidence since being here as there’s lots of opportunities to provide ideas and push ideas forward. I’ve learnt patience as well, as things often don’t go to plan and take longer than they should.

“I think if you want a job, or want to stand out from the crowd, this experience gives you the skills to be able to do things differently and to have a different experience to offer. The soft skills I’ve learnt here will be easily transferable to a large range of things back home.

“This experience has put me out of my comfort zone. Before this, I thought I knew a lot about the world. I’d done A-Level geography and I’d learnt about Nepal, both before and after the earthquake. I thought I had quite an awareness of what the world is like and what it would be like here. But this has been completely different to what I thought it would be. So, to come here and really experience it, it’s given me an understanding of communities from the grassroots. We’ve not had a sugar-coated experience. I think to experience the world first-hand like this gives you more of a global outlook.”

Catriona and her team run a hand hygiene workshop

“I’m hoping to study childhood practice, with the aim of going on to do primary school teaching. It’s a four year course in Edinburgh and is very transferable as once I have this qualification I can be a teacher anywhere in the world.

“Don’t push yourself into doing what everyone else is doing. Take time to think about what YOU want to do. Schools often just give you one route, they don’t look at the wider route apart from academic work. But if the academic route doesn’t work out, I’d say take time to think instead of jumping into something you don’t want to do.

“I know this is the best thing I could have done. I’ve got a lot more independence and I’ve got my own story now from my gap year. They have their university stories, but I’ve got something completely different.”

Need more information about Expedition?

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Whether you have a specific question or want to discuss which Expedition is right for you, schedule with a member of the team at a time convenient to you. 

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Find out all about Raleigh International and Expedition in our help information guide.