London T17

This summer I spent seven unforgettable weeks in the foothills of Nepal with Raleigh International, an experience of a lifetime. I knew I wanted to volunteer abroad during the summer and signed up in February, choosing Raleigh’s Nepal expedition as I wanted to experience the beauty and famously friendly people for myself. Raleigh is a charity which works in several carefully chosen countries worldwide to foster community resilience and long term sustainable development. As it is a charity I had to raise money, a daunting task, but by June, thanks to a generous grant by MPW, the support of my wonderful family and friends and after one triathlon and a mammoth bake sale at MPW I reached my £2550 target.

I flew out the morning after my last exam, and after 18 hours arrived in Kathmandu airport. I soon realised I had said goodbye to the flush toilet, running water, and electricity - even mobile phones - for the foreseeable future.

The first part of the trip was a 15-day trek in groups of about 11. This was amazing, but so hard. We climbed from 600m to 3300m and back down again, carrying up to 25kg and covering about 300km, which felt more like 30,000km. We all became so close; waking up in the middle of the night with a leech down your pyjamas does perhaps require this.

After a brief 2 days recuperating back at the training camp we set out to begin the real work: a 25-day community phase. Adhikari Gaun is a tiny rural community of 19 houses. Most of the villagers had never seen Westerners before but they welcomed us like long lost children. Our job was to build earthquake-proof housing for the neediest families, using locally sourced materials and bricks made from compressed earth, in partnership with an organisation called Build Up Nepal. The idea was that we would build the first three houses, with the help of their engineers and the villagers, and gradually hand over the reins. We worked for about 6 hours a day, drinking sometimes more than 5 litres of water, and trying not to melt under the baking hot sun. Standing in the enormous holes, seeing the cement and rocks go back in, accompanied by reinforcing iron bars and slow growth of houses made all the sweat and pain worth it.

Leaving the village was harder than pickaxing the largest of the boulders, and the goodbye from all my new Nepali friends of a hilarious traditional party the night before and then drowning in flowers and tikka - red powder for your forehead that somehow ended up all over my face - was so beautiful. I wanted to go back to Nepal as soon as I got off the plane at Heathrow and was suddenly confronted with bright white screens and electricity everywhere, and food other than rice (!) and really hope that I can return and see my village someday. I shall be keeping in contact with all my friends from all over the world, and treasuring the memories from the most challenging but worthwhile experience for the rest of my life.

I am so grateful to MPW and everyone else who enabled me to participate, and to Raleigh for providing the opportunity, and could not more highly recommend them to anyone and everyone.

Lara Tritton