“It’s given me a greater understanding of how others live and it’s a really valuable experience.”: Ewan’s story

Ewan, aged 18, from Harrogate, volunteered in Nepal on a Raleigh Expedition during his gap year in early 2018. Ewan wanted to take a gap year to travel and do something worthwhile before going back to study. After returning to the UK he will start an undergraduate degree in maths and chemistry at the University of Durham.

Why he volunteered with Raleigh

“Before going on my gap year, I was doing my A-levels. I am taking a year out before going to Durham university in September, where I will study maths and chemistry.

“In some ways, taking a gap year feels like a lot to sacrifice; all your friends go off to university and you want to be there too. But on the other hand, I really wanted to travel, and Raleigh seemed like a really good stepping stone to doing something meaningful with my year. I wanted to do volunteering because I can imagine that backpacking for too long could be quite tedious. I wanted to do something that would be worthwhile. I wanted to do something more than just travelling, because I can easily travel later if I want to.”

Work and impact

Ewan volunteered with Raleigh International in the rural village of Rampur in the Gorkha region of Nepal. He lived with a host family on his Expedition. This area was severely affected by the 2015 earthquakes. He worked as part of an international team of young people on a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) project, which includes infrastructure and behaviour change elements.

“The project in Rampur was to build a new 8,000 litre reserve water tank to improve water access in the community. We dug a pit for the new water tank and also dug trenches for the transmission pipeline from the water source to the tank. We dug five toilet pits for community so that toilets can be built. It was important work because in Rampur there are water shortages that can last for days. We experienced that ourselves when we were working there, so we could see that the work we were doing would actually make a difference.

“From living in Rampur, I’ve learnt how water scarcity impacts the most basic things. We always had enough drinking water because we had 20 litre jerry cans, but it impacts other things. We also held awareness raising sessions at the school. We focused on handwashing and played games designed to highlight the way germs spread. We saw kids in the community doing what we taught them after our session, so we could tell they had understood the lessons from our games.”

Personal development and skills learnt

“I did quite a lot of self-reflection while volunteering. To an extent, I’ve learnt what drives me. During my gap year I’ve understood a lot about what I enjoy, which is why I’m keen to go to university – I really do enjoy the learning aspect of everything, so I find that drives me.

“On trek you spend time a lot of time with the team, so you learn to get along with people that you might not usually. I think that’s really valuable. It also a lot showed me a lot about team work and making sure you pull your own weight.

“I feel like I’ll take away a deeper understanding of Nepal and how people live here, as well as a general understanding of living in developing countries. From washing their clothes by hand, to gathering water in the morning, it puts a lot of things into perspective. A few days ago, in our team review, we asked “what would be your first meal when you got home?” – one person just said water out of the tap which you don’t need to purify. It really shows the luxuries we have, which we sometimes take for granted.”

After volunteering and returning to the UK

“I am going to Durham university to study chemistry and maths. After my degree, in the long-term, I don’t know what I will do as a career. But I’ve now got skills which will help. I’d definitely like to do more travelling and see more of the world, and potentially volunteer more, perhaps coming back to Raleigh as a Volunteer Manager in a few years’ time!”

Advice for others considering volunteering on a gap year

“It is a big change from normal life, but it’s definitely a really welcome change. It places you out of your comfort zone, but at no point have I felt uncomfortable. It’s given me a much greater understanding of how other people live and I think it’s a really valuable experience.

“The week before I left for Raleigh I was very nervous. I was nervous that I wouldn’t enjoy it or make friends. But there’s so many great people here and you do such different things, that you’re bound to find people you like and things you enjoy. I think it’s really good experience and I will definitely recommend it to others.”

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