Volunteer Olly: What is it like to volunteer on a Raleigh Borneo expedition?

4th April 2018

When I first heard of Raleigh, it was from a close friend years ago. He told me about the amazing things he had got up to and the huge impact he had on people’s lives who were less fortunate than him. What he didn’t talk about was the daily challenges that he had to endure and overcome on phase to ultimately get the most out of the expedition. And that’s what I want to talk about – life on phase.

Life on phase is a totally unique experience. It is a complicated mix of patience, toughness and mind-set, something which I personally have never experienced. You have to quickly learn to adapt and overcome or the challenges will begin to frustrate you. I am on my second phase now and, in classic Raleigh style, it is so different than the last yet equally as amazing. Life on phase is simply a methodical list of tasks needing to be achieved daily, which in the grand scheme of things is easy. It is the things in between, however, that are the true test.

You quickly and seamlessly slip into the Raleigh routine without noticing. You wake up early and at the same time every morning filling the three bowls and boiling the kettle is always the first task of the morning, a vital ingredient to the morning routine of breakfast. Next it is the situation report to Fieldbase which is a vital necessity on phase. That is then followed by a morning of hard work, more often than not in adverse weather conditions. Lunch quickly comes about and, similar to breakfast, the three bowls and the kettle once again emerge as part of the daily lunchtime dance carefully choreographed by weathered Raleigh volunteers. Before you know it mess tins have been piled high with food then engulfed into oblivion like one of Houdini’s magic tricks. Lunch is followed by the clean-up team who sterilise the camp like an operating room before surgery. Hard work in the relentless weather conditions then recommences. As quickly as the morning work finished, work in the afternoon disappears. Light starts to fade and camp starts to turn into night mode.

Camp has a surprising number of similarities with the nightlife of London than I would have thought. All the weird and wonderful characters start to emerge in the form of mosquitos and fire ants that want to bite you into oblivion. At 6pm every night longs o’clock comes about. Something which becomes as vital and as important as eating. Longs is always followed by the hot topic of dinner which is always an experimental concoction of Raleigh Rations, achieving maximum taste from minimal ingredients. Then before you know it your basher, something previously so unfavourable and disliked, calls your name and once again you slip into a spell bound sleep waking only when nature calls. Before you know it, another day has seamlessly passed, each being so different from the last.

Raleigh expedition at its core, stripped of everything, is simple set of routines that need to be followed. It is having to drape yourself in layers of clothes at 6pm every night to protect ourselves from mosquitos even if its 500 degrees outside. It is having to navigate the Total Wipeout course that is the journey to the toilet or long drop at 4 in the morning. It is having to continuously re-administer gaffa tape to that one leak that happens to be above your basher. It is playing fruit ninja with all the insects that get attracted to your head torch. It is standing around the food that’s just been cooked making sure you don’t get any less food than your fellow volunteers. These are just some of the daily battles that each volunteer endures. However, it is everything in between that makes the individual volunteer experience as amazing as it is so notoriously known for. Ask any Raleigh volunteer, old or young, and they would all say the same thing. They wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s all these small things in between daily routines that complete your Raleigh expedition and that I never want to end!


Words by volunteer Olly Sampson.

Photography by Daniel Buttifant.

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