James have never been outside the UK yet and therefore he joined supported volunteering program Step by Step and participated on his first international project. Read how he enjoyed this experience.
James is from Neath in South Wales. When working with a YMCA project in 2014 he was introduced to UNA Exchange and the Step by Step programme. Taking part in many residential projects, he quickly became and active and valued part of the organisation.
I used to be pretty shy with new people before I started joining projects with UNA Exchange; I kept to myself and would do my own thing day by day. One day a youth worker from YMCA Wales, where I volunteered, recommended UNA Exchange to me. I didn’t know too much about it but they described it as a project which everyone should experience in their life. But once you experienced it you won’t get enough of it, you just want to keep going back.
Harvesting vegetables for the community
We went to Cardiff to see Sheila Smith from the Step by Step programme to talk about what UNA Exchange offers. Sheila asked me if I wanted to go to Amelia Trust Farm, just for a weekend, with other people who have been volunteering abroad to hear about their experiences and what they wanted to do next. So I went to that in 2014 and I followed that in 2015 joining a project with Riverside Community Market Association, near Cardiff. We were helping to grow vegetables and selling them in Cardiff. It was brand new project and a great experience to try doing something no one else had done yet. The only problem I had was the toilets, because they were eco-friendly, biodegradable; I avoided them as much as possible because they smelled really bad! There was also a sauna there, which was really cool, and the shower was heated by solar panels.
“The atmosphere on the project just made me feel happy to wake up in the morning, and get on to do things because everyone there was so optimistic and lively”
It was good way to get away and learn new things
It was a really natural place and there were a lot of paths for taking nice walks. I spent a lot of time on the path every day, looking at the ponds and wild life. It is very tranquil and peaceful and you have a lot of time for yourself to think or reflect. There were so many different types of people there, and they were always honest with each other. We bonded really well when we lived and worked with each other in the international group. I find that when you join these projects you get nervous at the start, by the time you are leaving all the people you meet they do not seem like strangers. Sometimes they are more like family than friends, you become so close. The atmosphere on the project just made me feel happy to wake up in the morning, and get on to do things because everyone there was so optimistic and lively, it was very different from my daily life back home. Most of my life reflects around technology, which is nice to get away from as well. It was very good way to get away and learn new things and I’d recommend it to anybody that was struggling to work out what they want to do.
“I have never been abroad yet, never outside the UK. But I really want to experience the way ordinary people live their lives. I just really want to experience as many different ways of living as I can.”
The atmosphere on the project just made me feel happy to wake up in the morning, and get on to do things because everyone there was so optimistic and lively. When I was there I had a great time and I thought I really want to go ahead and go abroad with UNA Exchange and travelling. I have not been on the project since Riverside Community Market in summer 2015, but hopefully I can go in summer 2016. I have never been abroad yet, never outside the UK. I am expecting lot of challenging differences – obviously a different country, different languages, cultures and people. But I really want to experience the way ordinary people live their lives. I just really want to experience as many different ways of living as I can. I can imagine it is going to be quite nerve wrecking in the beginning. But I will have a good time.
Sometimes you have to make a leap
This experience changed the way how I looked on what volunteering was. Before I did volunteering with UNA Exchange I would have wondered why someone would go volunteering in a different country to help them with problems when we have our own? But later I thought: If we don’t help them with their problems why should they help us with ours? Someone has to take the first step so why not us?
When I started volunteering with UNA Exchange I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, what profession, where my life is going or anything like that. Since I have been with UNA Exchange, I haven’t exactly found where I want to go, but it is giving me guidelines, of how to find what I want to do.
If anyone did consider doing anything with UNA Exchange, go straight ahead, it is a great experience for everyone to have. It is something you never experienced unless you step by out of your comfort zone. Sometimes you just have to make that leap and give it a shot…
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