Expedition volunteer

Emma, 19, went on an Expedition to Nicaragua & Costa Rica in Summer 2014. Volunteering helped her to learn a new language as well as opening her eyes to sustainable development.

“Before volunteering with Raleigh International I was doing my A-Levels at college with the intention of going to university to study dentistry. I decided to use the summer between college and university to volunteer overseas, as I was keen to travel and find out about a part of the world which I’d never been to, but I also wanted to do something which I felt was worthwhile and meaningful.

I really enjoyed raising money for Raleigh before my Expedition. I organised a disco, a sweet stall and some events at the bar where I was working. Through one of the contacts I made through the disco, I was offered a Boarsthurst Educational Grant which really helped me to reach my fundraising target. It was amazing to get such support, and talking about my placement to everyone made me feel really excited about volunteering with Raleigh. I felt very independent raising the money myself.

The first project I worked on was based in the remote community of La Laguna in the north of Nicaragua. Before the project began, people from the community had to walk for around two hours a day to collect water, so the aim was to supply two villages with a safe source of tap water as well as raising awareness about hygiene and sanitation. We dug trenches from the water source to create infrastructure, digging side by side with members of the community. Digging the trenches was very tiring and hard as it was physical labour which I had never done before and it used muscles which I had never had to use. The pace of work was very fast, which took a few days to get used to, especially in the Nicaraguan heat!

Despite the hot weather and hard work, it was really enjoyable and working alongside the community members was amazing. They worked tirelessly, never stopping for a break, which really inspired us all and showed us just how much the project meant to them. The project will help the communities to access clean water and hopefully will enable them to have better lives. They will be able to save time, wash properly, have better hygiene and in the long term this will help to improve their economy. The progress we made in just three weeks was really rewarding, we could see where our hard work was going and it was incredible to be part of it.

While staying with the community in La Laguna, we also ran a number of action days as part of an awareness raising campaign to share ideas about water issues, sanitation and hygiene. The first action day was with the whole community, we made a tippy tap and explained good hygiene and sanitation practices. Later the community took this knowledge and made another tippy tap at the school, which was really encouraging to see. We also ran a women’s group, with the aim of empowering the women of the community and giving them an open space to talk about specific water and sanitation issues. It was the first time the women had come together for a meeting without the presence of men, who usually dominate community meetings. It went really well, we discussed issues which matter to all of us and it helped to build relationships.

The community members asked us for English lessons, so we ran an English Day. There was a really big turnout and it was very rewarding. I led the session alongside a Costa Rican volunteer called Koki. Our class focused on basic greetings as well as vocabulary for tools which they wanted to learn so that we could communicate when we were out digging with them. It really brought us closer as a community and it gave us another way of communicating, as not everyone could speak Spanish. It was a real challenge to take the lead and I was nervous as I’d never done anything like that before but I really enjoyed it and it has given me confidence. I felt as though I was making a difference and that people appreciated it.

From my experience of volunteering with Raleigh, I have learnt so much from people from all around the world. I’ve found new ways of communicating even when there are language barriers. At first I found it hard to speak in Spanish but then I realised that it was really appreciated if I made an effort- it was great to learn a different language! I also made lots of new friends and feel that I am now more open to meeting new people. I’ve become more confident in general and I’ve learnt that I can do anything if I put my mind to it.

As well as this, I’ve discovered a lot about different cultures and I’ve realised that people live in different ways with different priorities. The family I stayed with during the homestay didn’t have the material possessions that I have back home, but they were very family-oriented and had much stronger bonds between family members. It was inspiring to see how they worked together on the water project. I have certainly become more aware of sustainability and development issues and I’m more conscious of the impact of my actions. I’ve realised how important it is to think about the bigger picture rather than just now.

It was an incredible experience, with amazing people and beautiful places. I’ve been involved in things I never thought I would. I just can’t believe the whole experience!”