If you’re at a stage in life where you’re not sure what to do next, then why not be one of the 200,000-250,000 16-25 year olds who go on a gap year. In 2010, I was one of these young people, when I went on a 2-week World Challenge Expedition to the spectacular country of Uganda.
What is World Challenge?
World Challenge aims to build life skills within young people by sending them to amazing destinations to help the local communities there. Having sent over 8000 students to over 40 locations including Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Borneo and Fiji, it’s safe to say they’ve become experts in life-changing experiences.
How it All Started
In one boring school assembly, World Challenge gave a presentation about their latest expedition to the East-African country of Uganda. This expedition would be headed up by our geography teacher: Ms Richards. She was joined by our PE teacher Mr Tully, our school administrator Mrs Hare and a World Challenge Expedition leader: Robert.
I knew that this was something I would always regret not doing, so I immediately signed up for it, along with 9 other students. With two years to prepare, we started work on fundraising our trip.
And how much was it? £2,500. And this was £2,500 that had to be fundraised both collectively and individually.
This seemed like a scary number at first, but we raised the money with ease. Our team bag-packed at the local supermarket and held charity quiz nights. Some people raised money through washing cars or by holding parties, while I baked and sold my own cakes and muffins.
But just look at some of these testimonies. Money was raised through babysitting, cleaning or even performing magic at weddings.
Aside from the funding, we had an insane amount of preparation to do. We would be camping in Uganda far away from our creature comforts. This meant no mobile phones, no laptops, no microwaves, home-cooking or clean, non-iodine purified water.
We had to buy hiking boots, socks, backpacks and camping equipment. We also went on a training expedition in Ashdown forest and planned our itinerary. Our main objective would be helping to build a school, but we also picked what we would do in our free time.
And suddenly two years had passed, and it was time to leave. We flew to Kampala airport and boarded a very crowded taxi to a hostel at the foot of the Rwenzori mountains. In the first few days, we trekked 2,500km.
This was exhausting, but we saw some gorgeous sights – although I’m not sure why I’m complaining. We had porters who carried our bags, and things must have been much tougher for them.
From here, we travelled to Masule Primary School in the district of Kasese, where we spent the bulk of the expedition building foundations for a new classroom. This was by far the best part, not at least because of how lovely the children were.
Remember, we were travelling in 2010, when South Africa was hosting the World Cup. The children were insanely proud of this and Wavin’ Flag quickly became our anthem.
As well as laying bricks, we also taught them what different animals sounded like, and in exchange they presented us with a traditional African dance and gave us lots of sugar cane to eat.
After all of our hard work, we treated ourselves to two amazing safaris, one on water and one on land, and we saw all types of animals from buffalo to elephants and crocodiles. The two weeks flew by and it was time to go home.
Throughout the expedition, we all learned and changed a lot. Everybody had their own individual job: some people were accountants, while I oversaw getting everybody up on time. And when I say on time, I mean at 7am. Just imagine how popular that made me!
We also all took turns leading the team for the day. When it came to my turn, it’s fair to say that I started off disastrously by dropping all of my money all over the ground. But as the day progressed, I came into my own. This blunder taught me the importance of staying positive and not being dragged down by negativity.
And things of course did get negative. At times, tensions ran high and tempers became frayed, but we pulled through every single time and got the job done.
Why Should You Go on a World Challenge Expedition
Short answer, because it’s probably going to be one of the best things you will ever do. People always say that a gap year is the best thing they’ve ever done. And that’s not just a cliché. It’s true.
My expedition gave me some valuable life lessons. As a naturally shy person, it built my confidence and gave me some strong leadership skills. It also gave me strong logistical skills, as everything had to be planned, budgeted and recorded.
But, most importantly, it brought us all closer together and gave me an experience that I would never forget. And at the end of it all, I made this Youtube video that I sometimes watch to remember one of the best experiences of my life.
Originally published on Hungry little travellers.