My Raleigh International experience was one of the best of my travel life

‘It was certainly a reality check in terms of the privilege of my life thus far’

Friday 20 May 2022 08:40
Comments
<p>Becky Barnes pictured with members of the local community in south India on a Raleigh International project in 2011</p>

Becky Barnes pictured with members of the local community in south India on a Raleigh International project in 2011

Wide-eyed and eager, with my massive rucksack tightly packed with my mess tin, insect-repellent and long johns, I arrived in Bangalore, South India in January 2011 for a 10-week adventure with Raleigh International.

Little did I know that I was about to gain love, life experience and life-long friendships.

In 2010, graduates like me were struggling to land jobs post-university. Aiming to offer work and life experience, the adventure charity - whose alumni I knew included Prince William and Kate Middleton - had launched a bursary programme for people like me.

So I was one of the early-twentysomethings, with no career to call my own, who had jumped at the opportunity to fundraise for the trip - before flying solo to India. Here I would spend the best part of three months making new friends and trying something totally new.

Becky digging a trench to keep elephants off crops at a Raleigh International project in India

I actually managed to extend it to nearly six months away, spending the last shreds of my student bank account - and money raised from summer jobs - to visit more of India, Bali, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia.

Raleigh’s 11A dispatch (big cheer, please) to Bangalore included a trio of three-week-long sections - a community project, an environmental project and a gruelling 200km Western Ghats trek in blistering heat with our tents and meals piled into our backpacks.

The first project - digging trenches around crop fields to stop elephants getting in - caused a crowd of local people to gather daily to laugh at how terrible we were

While many naive youngsters head off on gap years thinking they’re going there to transform the local community, I quickly had a sharp dose of reality as I realised that may not be the case.

The first project - digging trenches around crop fields to stop elephants getting in - caused a crowd of local people to gather daily to laugh (good naturedly) at how terrible we were at this manual work.

Building toilets in India on a Raleigh International project

On the community project, we helped build toilets, which was actually quite transformative for that village - especially for the women, who previously had to wait until dark to go to outside, risking their health, snake attacks or sexual assault.

So maybe we did make a bit of a difference.

The experience taught me a lot about the notion of “Type two fun” where you find something hard at the time, but retrospectively cherish the memories.

It was also a great opportunity to get away from our phones (we had to hand them in) and have a post-finals alcohol detox (we weren’t allowed to drink).

We had saris especially made so we could attend a wedding during our time in the community

Some low moments of the trip include having to always use a long drop (a big hole purporting to be a loo) - if you were extra lucky, you’d be the one digging it for the camp. Also walking 200km in sweltering heat while never having access to a shower - and when you were able to wash in a river, us girls having to do so in clothes that covered us to elbow and knee. It was certainly a reality check in terms of the privilege of my life thus far.

There was, naturally, a team video filmed to Eye Of The Tiger, and a talent show where we sang Afroman’s ‘Because I got high’ with the lyric-change ‘I was going to work, but then I got chai’

Standout joyful memories include one of our most-loved Raleigh leaders regularly and spontaneously shouting: “WE’RE IN INDIA, GUYS!”, bumpy bus rides with Bollywood tunes blaring, long conversations while trekking through the mountains, so much laughter - and of course the amazing scenery, food and wonderful people. I’ll never forget the call of “Longs o’clock!” as dusk descended and we had to cover up to prevent mosquito bites.

There was, naturally, a team video filmed to Eye Of The Tiger, and a talent show where my group sang Afroman’s “Because I got high” with the lyric-change “I was going to work, but then I got chai”.

The people. And the T-shirt

All this is why it’s a devastating blow that Raleigh International has closed down. My 10-week adventure, 11 years ago, is forever etched in my memory in so many ways - it’s a joy remembering it today. I’m so grateful for the resilience it taught me, for the experience of living with remote villagers in southern India and for the trio of pals who I still talk to weekly after sharing a tent with them.

Thank you Raleigh, you’re forever in my heart. And, yes I did get the T-shirt.

Did you go on a Raleigh International adventure? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in