Guest article by Dave Prior (Volunteer Manager with Raleigh)
(Standing far right, beige t-shirt in photo)
Before joining Raleigh, I was a Watch Manager in charge of a watch at Dorset Fire and Rescue service in Springbourne, which means I was an operational fire fighter working with a group of seven other fire fighters.
At the same time I've also done a lot of work looking after young people and working with The Prince's Trust, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Children's Society while I was working in the fire service.
It started as a short career break by mutual agreement with my employer so out of the three months, I've taken one unpaid, one paid by the service and a month's unpaid leave. I realise that a public service doesn't have the funds to let someone go for three months but they've been great at being flexible so I could come away.
I'm involved in the youth delivery for the service so I run and oversee all the courses that we deliver but they'd like us to take our training to a regional level and take them outside of Dorset in the future.
Also, last year I got a National award for equality and diversity within the British Fire Service and I wanted to build on that by looking at International accreditation which is when I learnt about the Birbeck course on International Field Leadership and spoke to my employers about doing the course.
I also really wanted to come to India and explore the country and experience the culture. I also wanted a new challenge of working with young people in a new country.
I looked at a number of organisations similar to Raleigh but I really liked the fact that Raleigh were not for profit, that they were well experienced and well established. My employer was also happy to buy into Raleigh as it was a well known organisation, but when it came to the fundraising, everything I did failed!
I wrote off to all the main suppliers for Dorset Fire and Rescue service asking for support and got a limited response due to the current economic climate. I even tried to host lunch for local female employers at the fire station but couldn't sell any tickets! In the end my photography sideline job has made up the difference.
My primary role on expedition was to ensure that there was a safe environment for us all to work in, from both a physical and welfare point of view. Then it was really about facilitating the young people's involvement and being the link that allows them to contribute.
During the first environmental phase at Huskurhaddi digging elephant trenches, the challenge was to try and make everyone realise why they were doing what they were doing as we never saw any elephants so on the face of it, it seems pointless. S
o we had an afternoon where we all sat down and talked about it, about the effects on the community and the long term effects and it didn't turn everyone around totally but it helped a lot of people.
At Huskurhaddi we got to meet the whole community of 300 people and work in the school. In another village, Vellary we were in a much smaller community so it felt like we were seeing and being part of it in much more detail.
The second phase was the biogas at Vellary, which was really good and the project I'd wanted to do the most. I'd really wanted to do the biogas project for all three phases so I could see the process start and work on it right through to the end but I realise that I was a little ambition so ask for that.
The second phase for me was perfect as it was in Vellary and I think the project work Raleigh does there is just great. I can't see a downside to it at all environmentally, even the carbon footprint of the cement we're using pales into insignificance I think.
One of the challenges was the masons doing too much work as the venturers really wanted to do most of the work. During expedition, I used my ability to energise and motivate the group to make them feel like they're part of something important, which they are.
One of the best moments on expedition was during an inauguration of a house that we'd been working on in Vellary and the lady that would be moving in just broke down in tears. She wanted to say thank you to us and it was really emotional and humbling.
I've learnt so much. I've learnt that India is an opportunity for me and I'd love to come back in the future. I've learnt I can get by in a culture this different and as I retire in 5 years, I'd love to come back to India and be more adventurous.
For me this has been the pinnacle of working with young people and I'm not sure where I can go next. Working alongside another project manager with different experiences and ways of working was interesting and I learnt a lot from the others.
After the expedition, I originally planned to take some time off to go to the beach for a few days before flying home, but now having been and worked in Vellary I want to go back for a few days and finish the house we've been working on as we didn't manage to get it completely finished during the final phase.
It's been a life-changing experience. I can't put it into words really. It's a culmination of everything I've been working towards and feels like what I should be doing with my time.
I'm happy to be going to back to work as I love my life here in the UK but it's just been amazing, absolutely brilliant to see the changes that people go through while they're here.
For more information visit www.raleighinternational.org