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Benita Sabharwal Raleigh Graduate Bursary Award

Raleigh expedition to Costa Rica & Nicaragua in Autumn 2009

What made you apply for the Raleigh Graduate Bursary Award, and what were you doing before you heard you had received the Raleigh Graduate Bursary Award?

Benita SabharwalBefore Raleigh, I had just finished my psychology degree at the University of Reading and I was unemployed, searching for jobs and getting nowhere.  Not even recruitment/temp agencies would take me on because I had no experience.  I applied to the Raleigh Graduate Bursary Award because I have always wanted to volunteer abroad where I could make a difference on a first hand basis and now I had a lot of time to do it.  Previously I could not afford to volunteer abroad, but with the bursary, I could.

What did you want to get out of the Raleigh expedition?

I wanted to get some sort of experience or skills from it that can help me in the future with employment.  I also wanted to do something I enjoyed and was passionate about.

What options did you consider after graduation and for any time out?

I considered getting any job just so I can get some experience for future jobs and get some money together to possibly do a Masters in Forensic Psychology.  I also wanted to do volunteering in mental wards in hospitals and a school for children with anger problems because it would give me experience for my Masters and is something I would enjoy.

What attracted you to Raleigh over other organisations?

The Graduate Bursary scheme attracted me to Raleigh because I had researched other organisations and they were all too expensive, whereas with Raleigh I could do what I wanted for less.  Furthermore, what's great about them is that because they are a charity you fundraise the majority of the money and so do not have to pay it all yourself.

How did you raise the funds to join your expedition?

I only had a month to raise all the funds so had to work fast.  Whenever I could I would be fundraising.

  • When I went out to parties for birthdays I would bring a jar and put it on the bar or ask around in pubs telling them all about Raleigh.
  • On nights out I made signs for all my friends to wear saying "kiss poverty goodbye by kissing me hello" and they would give a kiss on the cheek in return for a pound.
  • I did a charity date auction where a number of my friends were put up in a silent auction for a date. It was put together in a week which took a lot of planning; getting the venue, guest list and actually finding people to agree to be sold! Overall this event was a success, giving me almost half the money I needed to raise.
  • My final event was a 40km hike from Uxbridge to Reading in a day. This was done partly to train for the trek that I do on the expedition. I knocked on people's doors in my area for sponsorship and everyone was generous and eager to help which surprised me. My friend who also did the hike with me got sponsored by people in her home town for me.
  • Other things I did included; working and writing to a business that does charity auction items. They gave me a signed football shirt and I auctioned it on e-bay because I didn't have time to arrange an event.

I had to make sure that I got a permit for asking people for donations in my local area and permission from landlords to collect in pubs.  I also made sure that Raleigh's registered charity number was visible so people knew who they were donating to, and used Raleigh collecting tins which had the Raleigh logo and charity number on.  If I had more time I would have been able to get even more sponsors.

Please pick one project phase and describe it in detail.

Benita and fellow volunteers prepare for their teaching projectOne of my projects was building a gravity feed water system in a village called Al Cacao in Nicaragua.  I got to stay with an adopted family.  They were so nice and it was great to learn about their culture.  The entire community worked alongside us to complete the project so you really got to know everyone and they also threw us parties, with piñatas and lots of dancing!  I did not really know any Spanish when I first arrived and was really worried how I would communicate with the locals.  However it was not as hard as I first thought.  I just used gestures and signs to help them understand and ended up learning a lot of Spanish in the community.  I taught English to my adopted brother and sister and they taught me Spanish and I also had the opportunity to One community project involved a lot of diggingteach English in the local school which was a great experience!  The work was really rewarding, involved a lot of digging and a lot of laughs with the community.  They were really friendly and welcoming and I will never forget my family's face when the water first got turned on and how much difference we made to everyone in the village.

Describe one of your best moments on expedition and why?

One of my best moments on expedition was when we were wading through the jungle in knee high mud on my trek phase.  This was my favourite day and everyone else's worst.  It was fun at first getting stuck in the mud and falling over but after about seven hours it started to grind everyone down and we all struggled.  One of my friends got really ill and couldn't continue; he felt completely drained.  No one could come get him because we were in the middle of the jungle so he had to carry on, there was no other option.  I stood by him, forgot about how in pain and exhausted I was and motivated him, really pushing him to keep on going.  He then got this energy from nowhere and ended up from the back of the group to ahead of everyone!  He told me later that he really appreciated everything I did and wouldn't have been able to do it without me.  I loved being able to help someone in that why and it made me realise that a lot of things are mind over matter, if you believe you can do certain challenges then chances are you can.

Describe one of your most challenging moments on expedition and why?

My most challenging moment was trekking coast to coast.  I originally went on Raleigh to do charity work so no matter how challenging that was I could get though it because it was something I am really passionate about.  However I have never done anything like trekking before or thought about it very much.  The more I did start to think about it the scarier it seemed because it involved a lot of physical work that I was not sure I was strong enough for.  Once I started trekking I did find it hard but not impossible like I thought originally and everyone in my group really supported each other throughout.  It made me more exhilarated and proud that I actually completed it because it was a big challenge for me.  Since the trek, when new challenges come my way, instead of finding them scary and avoiding them (which is what I would have done before) I throw these thoughts out the window and go for it because it pushes me further and I end up finding out something new about myself.

What have you learnt?

I have learnt a lot about myself on Raleigh.  I realise I am a lot stronger mentally and physically than I once thought.  I can do a lot more than I give myself credit for and I have a lot more confidence now in what I do.  Furthermore, seeing people who have next to nothing and living in basic conditions made me more appreciative of what I have and made me realise a lot of material possessions are completely unnecessary.

What are your plans following Raleigh? Have they changed since you've been on expedition, and if so, why?

Raleigh has reaffirmed what I want to do.  I was slightly unsure as to whether I want to do a Masters at university or try for a graduate job.  From helping people on my phases and in my groups I realise I do want to carry this on in my job.  Therefore I am definitely going to do a Masters in Forensic Psychology where I can make a difference every day.

How do you think Raleigh will improve your employability skills?  Which skills?  Where did you gain these skills from?

  • I think Raleigh has really improved my employability skills. During each phase you are continuously with a team of people working towards a common goal. I have learnt how to work well with others, helping and supporting each other when we needed it. From this I improved my skills in teamwork.
  • I also got the chance to be a leader for a day which I got feedback on. This really helped me to see what the group liked about my leadership style and what I could work on in the future. Now I am more confident in the decisions I make.
  • Other skills Raleigh helped with were:
    • My communication (I got used to voicing my opinion more within a group setting) organisational and planning (my fundraising events required a lot of organising and planning within a short timescale) and being able to work with a variety of people from different backgrounds and cultures.
    • Furthermore I come across more positive on application forms because now I actually believe I have the skills they are looking for and I have more unique things to say rather than talking about skills from waitressing which a lot of other people have.

How would you sum up your Raleigh experience?

My Raleigh experience was amazing and means so much to me. It has helped me in so many ways that I didn't expect and is one of the best experiences of my life.  I will never forget it.

Find out more about the Raleigh Graduate Bursary Award