Expedition volunteer

Dougie went on Expedition to Nicaragua & Costa Rica in Spring 2013

“I always wanted to do a gap year and follow in the footsteps of my siblings but I also wanted to do something a bit different.

When I heard about Raleigh International and what they did I knew it was the organisation for me. Family friends and my teacher had done Raleigh and said it was incredible.

Raleigh gives you the chance to do things that you would never get to try at any other time in your life. I feel like I now have a global network, not just UK based friends. The memories that I will return with aren’t just a photo album, it is what I have learnt and developed as a person.

The water project we worked on in the village of Matapalo in Nicaragua was amazing. It is very rare that you would get the chance to go somewhere so remote in a foreign country and be treated as one of their own. Living amongst a community who embraced us like family was overwhelming, they took me in like a son.

The village was one of the many communities in Nicaragua without access to a clean and sustainable water source. This meant that families, mostly women, spent hours every day collecting water from the river, which was contaminated and detrimental to their health. Often girls in the family are kept back to help their mothers with chores like this, which prevents them attending school.

We worked hard on the project, together with the Matapalo community and to turn on the taps at the end and celebrate with them was very rewarding. To go from watching my host ‘Mum’ struggle in her daily life, carrying a 25 litre water can to the river numerous times a day to seeing her turn on the tap 4m away from her front door at the end of the project was incredible.

We also did a lot of work to raise awareness of gender equality issues which is a real issue in Nicaragua. We hosted children’s activities which gave the women time to get away and talk together, which sounds so simple but it’s something they never get the time or opportunity to do. We also crossed language divides through shadow puppetry to show women’s roles in the village which worked really well. I felt that this programme wasn’t just about infrastructure, we had time to consider global issues and to help raise awareness and start discussions about other ways the community could find to strengthen its resources. To be able to get that out of the project was amazing and I am really keen to stay involved with campaigning on International Women’s Day and raising funds for Raleigh.

All volunteers stayed in homestays. You stay with a family along with another volunteer, who you become close to as you are experiencing this unique thing together.

On the adventure phase of our Expedition we did a trek which was so tough but so rewarding. We walked 250km, from one side of Costa Rica to the other.

There was one day when we were stuck in the jungle, we had two compasses which were facing completely different directions, and we didn’t know which one was right. It was about 4pm, dark was coming and we only had limited food and water as we were on our way to the next food drop. The decision was made that we had to stop, set up camp and get on with it and that is exactly what everyone did. It was the making of our group, no one complained, everyone set up and looked after each other. 16 days before that when we started everyone would have panicked, but we had been through so much already, everyone knew we could do it if we worked as a team. We slept it off and got moving again in the morning, we hadn’t had breakfast and only had limited water. It was the lowest moment but on reflection was a moment of understanding of our capabilities as individuals and as a team too.

It really struck us that people across the world are constantly living within limited means and daily struggles to access food and water. We didn’t realise that trek would give us this sense of understanding, however it really put things into perspective for all of us and made us think about the meaning of social justice.

All in all trek was amazing, you fantasise about finishing it for 19 days and then you arrive on this beautiful deserted beach with the sun setting, it was pretty special.
It was an unbelievable feeling of accomplishment and relief. It’s the friends that you make, the views and the confidence you take from having completed an immensely challenging physical and mental challenge that make it all worthwhile.

Actually experiencing those things that you have watched documentaries on for years about a poor, rural community, to go there and live it and have an entire group of different nationalities all giving their opinions on the social issues was so interesting. It was a crucial part of the Raleigh experience, getting the volunteers to think about the wider influence of their actions. People from different parts of the world and from different backgrounds would also have different views on things, but to get people to understand those views and to give them the opportunity to speak up in an open forum was really beneficial.

Brilliant, fantastic, amazing, all adjectives which describe an unforgettable experience.

I will be going to Durham in September to study International Relations and I feel that through Raleigh I have had my eyes opened and it has definitely confirmed for me who I am and what I want to do. With my international relations degree I plan to either try and join the foreign office or to enter journalism.”