I initially decided to volunteer abroad last year because I couldn’t face another dull summer break at home, writes Heather Cartwright.
Although I have always wanted to travel, financially it has never been a viable option for me until I started researching volunteering opportunities overseas.
I came across the Citizen Service, a project which in conjunction with several established charities, sends young people aged 18-25 to help with projects across the world.
After attending an interview with the charity Progressio in London I was accepted onto the programme and asked to fundraise £800, money which is used to promote the programme rather than going towards our travel and living costs which are covered by the charity.
Although it seemed like a daunting task at first, with a little planning and shameless plugging I was able to arrange a number of events and reached my target goal a month before departure.
At the start of July last year I flew out to Nicaragua in Central America with 15 other UK volunteers.
We were based in the remote northern region of the country, and over the course of three months worked on a number of development projects designed to promote eco-tourism in the area.
This ranged from construction work on a restaurant, to creating a brand for local coffee producers, to trekking up the side of a mountain to plant signposts for potential tourists.
There are a lot of things I wish I had been told before I went away. For example, I wish I had been warned about ‘Nicaraguan Time’ aka if we
arrange to meet at 12 don’t expect anything to get started before 3.
Although I came to love the laid back nature of life in the country, when I first arrived I found the lack of organization frustrating.
I also wish I had been made more aware that the slow nature of development work meant that it would be highly unlikely we would see any great changes in the community over the short time period we were there, something which could be disheartening for the group on occasions.
I regret not having a better grasp of Spanish before I went to Nicaragua; although my language skills improved no end whilst I was there, the language barrier made it difficult for me to connect with the Nicaraguan volunteers in the same way the Spanish-speaking UK volunteers did.
Something that also marred my experience was getting pretty seriously ill a few months in; I would advise anyone not wanting to end up with intestinal parasites to be diligent over their food and water consumption!
That said, the trip was such an amazing opportunity and I would love to take part in a similar project again in the future. Although there were days when I was homesick, the friends I made were always there to make me laugh and forget about being miserable.
Although three months seems a very long time to be away from home, it allowed me to immerse myself in the country’s culture in a way I never could have done otherwise. I think the project broadened my horizons by teaching me new skills and giving me the confidence to
go out and explore the world.
Before the trip I would never have considered moving abroad for work, something which I am seriously contemplating when I graduate this year.
Helping impoverished communities in Nicaragua also made me realise that it is important to me that I pursue a career that helps those who haven’t been as privileged as I have.