Catriona (Gap year volunteer)

Catriona, aged 19, 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. She now plans to train as a teacher after returning to the UK.

Why she volunteered with Raleigh

“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. One of my best friends came to Nepal on Raleigh last year and she told me all about it, so I thought that Raleigh would be best for me.”

Work and impact

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. Once we finished digging the main line – which took around 8 to 9 days – we started digging trenches for pipes that will lead to personal households in the community. 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. At the session, we listened to the community about how they take care of their menstrual hygiene, which was amazing because we got to see how much they already knew about this issue. 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.”

Personal development and skills learnt

“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 want to go into primary teaching, so improving my flexibility and learning to be adaptable will help a lot. I’ve learnt a lot of things which are transferable. I’ve had to get used to being in a new environment and have had to get to know lots of different people really quickly. 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. It has given me a wider appreciation of what people are living like here on a day to day basis, especially as I am living in the way that they live. 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.”

After volunteering and returning to the UK

“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.

“I hope that when I go home, and when I have a classroom of children of my own, that I can bring the learnings from my volunteering experience to them and help them to be much more appreciative of what they have.

“I would definitely love to get involved in more charity work in the future. There’s quite a few places I’d love to go to and charities that I’d love to work with. I’d like to do charity work based around schools, because from what I’ve seen I think there’s a lot more work that needs to be done with that.”

Advice for others considering volunteering on a gap year

“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. Because quite often when young people don’t get the grades, they just take another course because they think university is the only way to go.

“Everyone that I’ve spoken to that’s taken a year out has said it’s the best thing they’ve ever done, hands down. I was worried to begin with, because all my friends were going to university and I thought I’m going to miss out. But now 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.”

“Don’t hesitate to give it a go. I didn’t know if I was going to enjoy it – I was worried before I went with Raleigh, I wasn’t sure if it was something for me – but there’s not one bit of this that I’ve not enjoyed. It’s a new learning experience every day. The people here are amazing, and the places and villages are amazing too. The communities here are just so inspiring. So just go for it!”

What her parents think

“My parents were a bit hesitant when I first told them I wanted to go to Nepal, as I hadn’t done anything like this before. They weren’t sure how I was going to adapt because I’m quite a home bird. But I think they both knew that I would love this whole experience if I threw myself into it. So, they are so glad that I came here. They went on the Raleigh International website and did a lot of reading about it, and they were really impressed with the thoroughness of the information and stories from past volunteers. They were really happy.”

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