Young people often get pinned down for being unmotivated and lacking a “get up and go” attitude. However, in today’s desk-driven world, it can seem hard for them to make a positive impact on the world around them. My response to young people who are ready to take on something more meaningful than their current nine-to-five jobs has been a simple one: look up Raleigh International.

As a sustainable development charity that works in Borneo, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, India and Tanzania, Raleigh International aims to harness the passion in young people to: provide safe water and sanitation, protect vulnerable environments, and build resilient communities. It uses volunteers from countries around the world to work alongside those from local communities that they operate in.

The impact of Raleigh’s work is crucial to communities in which they operate. Country director Julian Olivier explains the significance of Raleigh’s work by sharing one of his success stories in the Curu Wildlife Refuge in Costa Rica. “We worked on an artificial reef project with the aim of protecting a vulnerable habitat whilst providing sustainable livelihoods. Eight years on from completing the project, the natural reef has re-established itself, the marine area has been declared a protected area, the local fishermen have set up profitable diving companies, five fish species new to Costa Rica have been discovered and fish populations have recovered,” says Olivier.

Gap years—when one stops their work or school life to take on other interests—are becoming increasingly popular among Americans. They have long been a rite of passage for British youth, originally seen as a way to “find oneself” through volunteer work in developing countries. However, in recent years, it has been less about being embedded within a local community or new culture, and more about finding a well-trodden path of bars and beaches that other travelers have passed through.

With Raleigh, things are different; volunteers are integrated into the community that they operate in, and they live, work, and play with those very people. In the words of its CEO, Stacey Adams, “Raleigh is about belonging to a global community working to build a sustainable future. It’s a way of life, complete with a set of values of courage, discovery, drive, integrity and impact. It’s not ‘a cool thing you did once.’”

Take twenty one year old Jonathan Ong’s volunteer experience, for example. Ong took part in an expedition to Usevya, Tanzania, after finishing his service for the Singaporean military. Having always wanted to visit Africa, he joined Raleigh with the mission to do something meaningful while he was there. For Ong, the whole experience was eye opening. “Something that struck me hard was the hunger of the local schoolboys for knowledge and success. It really made me re-evaluate my life and realize how fortunate I am for the opportunities I have been given.” By the end of the expedition, Ong was proficient in Swahili and could converse with the locals.

To guarantee that the work they do is truly sustainable, Raleigh always uses young local volunteers from the communities they operate in. By improving the skills of young people in each community, they ensure that the work is maintained after Raleigh leaves, therefore the communities will no longer rely on outside help. Adams says, “Youth engagement in economic development is key, as no country can be sustainable without the young people actively earning a living and being a productive member of society.”

Raleigh is currently piloting a new entrepreneur program, as part of the UK government-funded International Citizens Service, where Raleigh takes a local entrepreneur in Nicaragua and Tanzania and partners them with volunteers to help their business grow. By doing this, they hope to tackle youth unemployment and give vital skills to young volunteers and recipients in order to help improve their lives.

The benefits of a Raleigh expedition also help volunteers with their future employment opportunities. James Stacey, a Raleigh alumni who volunteered with Raleigh in Zimbabwe in 1989 and now a partner at Earth Capital Partners says that, “From an employer’s perspective, people who have been on Raleigh bring a can-do attitude, positive mind set, more developed leadership skills and problem-solving abilities.”

Whether people join Raleigh to escape a job, to travel, to volunteer, or to make themselves stand out, they come out their expeditions with a belief that individuals can make a positive difference in the world and in the lives of others. The Action at Home program ensures that volunteers maintain the momentum they leave with so that can carry on the good work back at their schools, workplaces, or local communities. “We want our alumni to continue as active citizens, understanding more about the challenges the world faces, and committed to working together to build a sustainable community – both locally and globally.”

If you’re inspired to go on a Raleigh expedition of your own, find out about all of the opportunities here.

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From the Editor
At Conscious, we are inspired by remarkable people, and so we set out to tell stories that highlight real human interactions and human dignity. You can read more stories like this when you pick up your copy of Conscious Magazine. Subscribe today via our Conscious Shop and subscribe to Conscious Updates.

Photos provided by Raleigh International