Raleigh Sarah Elliot
Article 26 April

Volunteering: Work with 18-24 year olds in Costa Rica

"It doesn't take much effort to get out there and get on with it". Sarah Elliot, Student, 34

I volunteered to join Raleigh, a youth development organisation dealing with 18-24 year-olds. The whole point of Raleigh is to empower young people and help the local community at the same time, so they set up expeditions in places like Costa Rica, Borneo and India, and run a mixture of community and environmental projects.

I was a volunteer manager, which means I was one of the people running the expedition. My motivation for wanting to become a volunteer was two-fold, really. I’d met several people who’d been away with Raleigh and they all raved about it, saying it was literally the best thing they’d ever done in their life, so it was kind of a 100 per cent track record in terms of recommendation. Secondly, it’s about breaking the cycle of this consumerist treadmill we’re all on. I’m not particularly motivated by the thought of acquiring wealth, so I wanted to take a step back from all that and do something a bit more meaningful.

Raleigh is very reactive – there’s little bureaucracy and paperwork involved. We’re asking the local community, “What do you need?” and then we’re endeavouring to provide it, whether that’s installing a system to provide clean and safe water, building a school, or helping to improve the infrastructure of a national park.

I had some real ‘top of the mountain’ moments during my time with Raleigh. Literally at times – for example, we were trekking with a group who had been really struggling up a mountain, but then making it to the summit, and the kid that was having a tantrum at the bottom that morning was looking at you and going, “wow, this is awesome” – that’s an incredible feeling.

Because of the way that Raleigh work you get access to places that you never could as a traveller – bits of national parks that are completely off limits, communities that there simply aren’t transport links to. I remember waking up one morning having been camping on a beach that you wouldn’t get access to as a traveller. It was just the most beautiful sunrise, and you just feel so privileged to be there.

People worry that volunteering is going to look like a big holiday on their CV, but it can be quite the opposite; it can look incredibly constructive. One thing that’s really exciting is that Raleigh have just launched a new Masters degree programme that means everything you do as a volunteer manager can be converted into a very real, quantifiable qualification, in my case as part of a Masters with Birkbeck University.

When you mention volunteering, some people close their eyes, order another skinny latte and forget about it, but it doesn’t actually take that much effort to get out there and get on with it. It’s a bit nerve-wracking to start with, but it’s made me  far more confident and proactive.

How to do it

Volunteer managers work 8 or 13 week projects in Borneo, Costa Rica, Nicaragua or India. Visit www.raleighinternational.org or call 020 7183 1270 for details