All posts by ivanpasc_Avdin

Callum Russell

Callum Russell, a blind student, volunteered in South America with Quest Overseas

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My disability and how it affects my everyday life
I suffer from Lebers Congenital Amaurosis. This means that I have no light or colour perception. I am independent, but I have to be guided in unfamiliar locations.

Why I wanted to be a gap year volunteer
I had volunteered at my local MENCAP as part of my Duke of Edinburgh Awards. I also volunteered in the Music department at my school. Through these experiences, I found volunteering rewarding, as it developed me as a person. I had also always wanted to go travelling with South America my preferred destination, mainly because of my interest in languages, but also because friends and family said it was a place that had to be visited. So the opportunity to volunteer on a project in Peru was too good to turn down.

The story of my gap year
I spent the first part of the year finding the right project. I then spent five months fundraising and planning. The project needed about £1700, but travelling, including guides, flights and hotels took the cost up to about £4000. There weren’t any sources of funding available for disabled people, so I had to save as much money as possible, agree to the odd paid talk, and ask for contributions from the family for birthday and Christmas presents. If a blind person is to travel and volunteer independently, it needs to be well planned and sufficiently funded. When the call came, people were very willing to help.

Finally, I boarded a plane bound for Rio de Janeiro to start my time abroad. My trip was a mix of working in a Peruvian school, where I gave drum lessons to local children, and travelling, which included Rio, Buenos Aires and the magnificent Inca trail. The accommodation for the project consisted of two rooms with bunk beds, requiring volunteers to bring sleeping bags.

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How my disability was accommodated by my gap year organisation
When I approached Quest, they were surprised, and when I was invited to interview I knew I had a lot to prove. But after talking things through with the programme director, we concluded that it would be possible for me to participate.

I didn’t take part in the construction of houses, because a blind person with a hammer is not a very good idea! This is why I taught music lessons instead. Quest Overseas also made sure that my team leader was fully aware of my disability. This was a challenge for her, but her willingness was apparent from the minute I met her and we soon built a strong relationship founded on respect and honesty.

The way my disability was treated by the local community
The local community was less impressive in this respect. In general, people were friendly, but disorganised. Some of them, particularly the teachers in the school, didn’t engage with me. They never said anything to me, not even “hello”. I think they were unsure as to what to do. Some people can be scared by disability and choose to avoid it, rather than tackling it with an open mind.

My advice to others who have disabilities
Anything is possible. Don’t see your disability as a barrier. Accept that things may not go perfectly. Prepare well. Above all, enjoy yourself.

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Emma Walton

Emma Walton has Cerebral Palsy and volunteered in the UK with CSV (Community Service Volunteers)

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My disability and how it affects my everyday life
Due to deprivation of oxygen after being born 3 months premature, I have a form of Cerebral Palsy known as Diaplegia.  This is a neurological condition that causes tightness in my muscles and affects my balance and mobility.  My walking is slower than average and I get tired more quickly.  Certain conditions can be tricky such as snow / steep hills or up and down stairs without a handrail.

Why I wanted to be a gap year volunteer
I had done some short term volunteering before with learning disabilities and a communication group for stroke survivors.  I found it rewarding and a good learning experience for the type of therapeutic support work that I wanted to do after my Psychology degree.  After graduating, I realised that some longer term work experience would be valuable, and would contribute towards securing a full-time job.

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The story of my gap year
A few weeks after my final exams I filled in the online application form for CSV and was invited to an Open Day.   Here I found out about the range of full-time UK-based projects and had an informal interview so that my interests and skills could be matched with suitable projects.  I was sent information about potential placements by email but there was no pressure to accept one straight away.

From applying online to being placed on a project took less than a month. I worked in a residential property as part of Haringey Young Adults Team (Social Services), supporting young people to gain independent living skills, and preparing them for leaving care and moving to their own accommodation.  I lived with the young people and supported them with issues such as getting back into education or learning to cook and manage their money.  I was also responsible for maintaining the house, dealing with repairs, testing fire alarms, encouraging cleaning and doing room checks.   When I wasn’t at the house I spent time at the team office updating paperwork, doing admin or helping colleagues organise events.

I found this very challenging as it was a completely new role in an unfamiliar location.  I had a lot of responsibility living on my own with the young people.  However, everyone I worked with was friendly and supportive. CSV provided regular review meetings and were a helpful mediator if I had problems to discuss before approaching my Manager. I came away with a lot of experiences that have helped me apply for jobs, and the opportunity to live in London for a year.

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The way my disability was treated on the project
CSV were helpful in taking on board my goals and anything I might find difficult such as providing personal care for others.  My Manager was understanding about aspects of the role I might struggle with, such as helping young people move their things into their room or changing a high light bulb.

I didn’t feel the young people treated me differently because of my disability.  I experienced the same positive and negative reactions that any social worker would have to deal with as part of their job.   I was able to get their help if I needed to move something heavy (usually with the reaction that a nagging parent might receive).  I saw this as a pretty good sign that they were aware of my disability but equally aware of my job role!

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Advice to other people with disabilities
Have confidence in your ability to achieve your goals and don’t be afraid to try something new and challenging.  It can be daunting at first but you’ll be amazed at the things you can learn and experience.  Don’t be afraid to discuss alternative ways of doing things with others, especially if it means you can be confident in what you are doing.


We were unable to obtain photographs of Emma Walton’s own gap year project.  These are from other people working with Community Service Volunteers (CSV).

Note: Community Service Volunteers  (CSV) has recently changed its name to ‘Volunteering Matters’.


Rachel Bermingham

Rachel Bermingham
volunteered in South Africa with African Conservation Experience

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 My disability and how it affects my everyday life
I have Asperger’s Syndrome which means I can make social interaction and communication difficult and I have a lot of anxiety. I also have Tourette Syndrome which means I have some motor and vocal tics which can draw a lot of attention; hyper mobility syndrome, arthritis and fibromyalgia which result mostly in a lot of pain and fatigue.

Why I wanted to be a gap year volunteer
The vast savannahs of the African continent have always been a big draw for me and combined with a passion for conservation, volunteering in South Africa just made sense. I had volunteered with the RSPCA, both at a shelter and writing for the teenage section of the organisation’s magazine and it was a really rewarding experience. I learnt a lot and it was great being able to give something back to animals, who have always had such a positive impact on my life.

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The story of my gap year
I found my chosen projects early on, and at first planning was just theoretical. When I started looking into it, I found that the two projects I wanted to join would cost just over £3000, which my maturing children’s bonds would just about cover. I was lucky in this respect as it meant I didn’t need to do any fundraising before travelling – which would have been difficult alongside studying for the final year of my degree. I had to postpone my trip a few times, which made me start to doubt whether it was meant to happen, but eventually I got on a plane – absolutely terrified! – and flew out to Johannesburg.

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My trip was split between two projects: Hanchi, a horseback conservation project; and Phola which involved working with a wildlife vet. Both of the projects ran out of the same reserve, where I stayed in a rustic camp, slept in a tent surrounded by wildlife and showered while being watched by birds! Hanchi involved feeding the horses daily, as well as riding out to track the collared rhinos. I also tracked cheetah and helped to look after some abandoned baby antelope. While on Phola, I was able to get hands on vet work, which has really set me up for my vet training! I met a great group of people and even spent a weekend at Kruger National Park.

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How my disability was accommodated by my gap year organisation
Having found my projects through ACE and knowing that they sorted all the flights, paying the projects and everything, it made sense to go with them. I was initially a bit worried about listing my disabilities as people can have preconceptions about my abilities. ACE were really helpful and keen to make sure I joined projects that I could make the most of and enjoy. Although they felt my initial choice of vet project was perhaps too intense, I am glad they suggested Phola as staying in the same place for a month I felt I did get more out of my projects than moving after two weeks!

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The way my disability was treated by the local community
My disabilities are largely “invisible”, so most people who meet me probably wouldn’t be aware that I have the conditions. It’s quite hard to know how the local community might have treated me if they had known, but generally people were friendly and welcoming without knowing.

My advice to others who have disabilitiesIf you want to do something, do it. You may have to work harder to get there but it is so worth it. I made some of my happiest memories while volunteering in South Africa. There are some great people out there willing to help and some great experiences to be had, so go out and get them!

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Zanna Messenger-Jones

Zanna Messenger Jones has profound hearing difficulties. She volunteered with Outreach International in Ecuador

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My disability and how it affects everyday life:
I am profoundly deaf, I wear a hearing aid and a cochlear implant and I prefer oral communication. With both hearing aids I hear about 30% of all conversation, which means that I miss out a lot in social settings such as meal times, and when in busy areas such as markets and train stations. I have to be extra careful when crossing roads and I don’t cycle alone as I can’t hear vehicles behind me. I sometimes miss announcements, e.g. at airports. I cannot hear on phones, which is difficult in emergencies. I have to be even more cautious when driving as I don’t hear emergency vehicles, motorcycles or bike bells.

Why I wanted to take a gap year:
I wanted to get out and explore the world, and to immerse myself in a completely different culture, learn a new language and meet new people. Ecuador was the start of new adventures. My sister had done a project with Outreach International and had a superb experience. I wanted something challenging with an organisation that came recommended. Outreach really knew their stuff and I felt confident with them.

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The story of my gap year:
I flew to Quito and stayed with a host family and several volunteers. The first week was an intensive Spanish course. Although not specifically for disabilities, the course was excellent, and one-to-one teaching is the easiest way for a deaf person to learn a language. I volunteered in a kindergarten in a shantytown working 8/9 hour days. My job was to feed the children at meal times, take them to the toilet (not my favourite task!), clean their teeth, change them for nap time, play, and give lots of love. The project was the best part of the trip!

For the last three weekends, I hiked to the top of a volcanic Lagoon, Quilotoa, kayaked, chatted to an alpaca herder who loved getting his picture taken and went to the official middle of the world while eating avocado ice cream, and climbed Mt Pichincha. Superb!

How my disability was accommodated by my gap year organisation:
Outreach International interview prospective volunteers. They like to explain their projects in detail, which they do very effectively. When I first explained my disability, I was asked which way would be best to communicate for the interview. We used Skype, with instant messaging so that I could be sure that I answered the questions. I had my mother next to me as ‘translator’.

At the volunteer pre-departure briefing, I was at the front of the room so I had full view of the speakers and presentation. This provided general written information which with the descriptive booklets meant that I was able to follow and understand the brief. I was booked on the same flight as another volunteer so that I wouldn’t miss announcements.

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The way my disability was treated by the local community:
The local community in Ecuador treated me as any other person, though my red hair caused a stir! My Spanish teacher Mercedes was wonderful and she always made sure she repeated what she said and/or wrote it down. My host family made me feel as welcome as the other volunteers.

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My advice to others who have disabilities:
If you want to travel then go for it. Forget your worries; just be careful, as any wise person should be when travelling. If anything I noticed my disability less when I was on my project than I do at home. The people I worked with were so welcoming and empathetic, they enjoyed learning about me and my culture as much as I enjoyed learning about theirs. If you go to a country that predominantly speaks a different language, I can assure you that you won’t be the only volunteer who doesn’t know what is going on!

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The charity VoluntEars provides opportunities in Sri  Lanka for hearing-impaired and deaf young people.  Go to their website



Sally Cervenak

Sally Cervenak volunteered with Africa and Asia Venture, teaching in a rural boarding school in Kenya, and was subsequently diagnosed with Bipolar II and Anorexia Nervosa.

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Understanding Bipolar and how it affects my everyday life
My diagnosis is a recent one and I still have a lot to learn. The term ‘Bipolar’ (also known as Manic Depression) describes polarising states of mind: Hypermania (intensely positive moods) followed by  severe Depression. Hypermania is great at the time, but I also feel out of control and vulnerable, mentally on fast-forward, exhausted through lack of sleep, unable to stop, and when I do it will be with a crash!

What characterises Bipolar II is the severity and length of the low mood. Without warning I am in an abyss,  sinking deep into a world void of people, where I am lost, with nothing for company but my own thoughts. When I was growing up I panicked. Now, having been diagnosed and given medication, I can recognise that it is Depression, and not me. Now I can choose to control it, rather than let it overwhelm and control me.

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Understanding Anorexia Nervosa
My Anorexia Nervosa began at age nine after I moved home and schools and found myself adrift in a world beyond my control. Controlling my body shape was a mechanism of self-protection, an attempt to regain control. This was undiagnosed when I began my gap year. When I arrived aged 19, I had no idea that my habits might be noticed by people who did not know me. It sometimes gave rise to tension among fellow-volunteers, though the local teachers were always friendly and accepted me as I am.

My gap year story
I have always experienced low self-esteem, but I have also had dreams and ambitions. Following a presentation in my school by African & Asia Venture  (AV). I was determined to work with children in Africa. I was helped by a lovely lady on the AV staff, and in the months before I travelled she rang me regularly to check how things were going. There is help out there if you need it.

I travelled to Kenya and was placed with two other volunteers in a rural boarding school in Nandi District, with ten other volunteers in the group in nearby schools. The three of us lived in a small house on the school compound, and were woken at 6.30 by singing from the nursery class next door. Assembly was in the open air in glorious early morning sunshine.

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Through discussion with local staff we learned where we were most needed: mainly for creative arts, English and PE. Teaching ended at 2pm, so we ran extra-curricular activities in the afternoon: hockey in my case, while my housemates taught dance and music. In the evening the kids were back in class doing ‘prep’. Sometimes we would join them in the dormitories and share  stories or run ‘fashion shows’.

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The positive impact of taking a gap year
I may not have evidence that going to Kenya, and also to Germany where I was an au pair in the first part of the year, were the right things to do, but I followed my instincts and they led me to places I had only dreamed of. I had the most hilarious, exciting, interesting, worthwhile FUN three months, making a small difference while putting my own life into perspective. Going to Kenya gave me confidence, and the more time I spent away, the stronger I became. So my advice is: GO FOR IT!

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Ben Weeks

Ben Weeks worked in engineering through the Year in Industry/ETD gap year programme.

I didn’t initially plan to take a year out before university, but it turned out to be one of the best decisions of my career. After not achieving the results I wanted for my A-levels, I made the last-minute decision to apply for the Year in Industry scheme – ending up working as a Production Engineer for Chemring Countermeasures Ltd in Salisbury, a manufacturer of non-lethal disposable countermeasures.

The Story of my Gap Year
At Chemring, I worked as a Production Engineer – helping to design, develop and maintain the processes and machines used to manufacture the products. The team at Chemring was very welcoming and let me jump straight into the action, showing me round each building and department before setting me onto my own projects.

During the year, I helped keep production running smoothly while also designing and making several new tools and jigs. One of my most significant projects involved replacing metal press-filling funnels – which were expensive and an ignition risk – with 3D printed electrostatic dissipative plastic funnels, reducing downtime, increasing safety and saving £135,000 per annum.

Being able to make real differences like this not only increased my passion for the field of engineering, but competing in the YINI’s yearly Contribution to the Business awards (for which I was awarded the IET Prize for Innovation) showed that many other people have had a similar experience during their placement years, and that we students were seen as much more than just cheap labourers and tea-makers.

The photographs below are of students on other Year In Industry (YINI) projects.

Annabel Parkin Cameron Blackwell photo by slope Annabel Parkin MM Case Study photo

How did I benefit from my experience?
I firmly believe that I would not have performed as well during my degree had I not undertaken this year in industry. The extra perspective from being inside industry, and the experience that came with this, gave everyone who had been on a gap year a significant advantage both in terms of practical application of theory for projects, and a better work ethic for exams.

Further to this, despite not returning to my placement company as I preferred not to relocate again, I was employed as a Design Engineer well before I’d even received my final grade. I’ve not known anyone to have been through this scheme and struggle to find employment afterwards.

Annabel Parkin Emily Marley Babcock Marine Annabel Parkin YINI beth

What were my financial arrangements?
One of the most significant differences between this kind of industrial gap year and the more typically thought-of volunteering or travelling – both of which are also great experiences – is that you are paid a salary. While not being a huge amount, earning a full wage for the first time in my life helped me to become accustomed to independent living, paying bills and not relying on mum and dad for money. It also meant I could buy the essentials I needed for both work and university – namely a new laptop and a bike – and my left-over savings from the year meant I encountered far less financial difficulty at university than I otherwise would have.

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My advice for others considering a gap year
I would advise anyone to take a year out before university, especially if you’ve never lived away from home before. The amount of valuable experience which is thrown at you in bucketfuls will truly help you realise your potential, excel at university and be far better prepared for what you will encounter in life.



Anna Garrett

Anna Garrett, Type One Diabetic, volunteer in India with Project Trust

Listen to Anna’s story

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My disability and how it affects my everyday life
I suffer from Type One Diabetes and normally use an insulin pump but during my gap year I was medicating with around four or five injections a day.

Why I wanted to be a gap year volunteer
I didn’t feel ready for university and was looking for a chance to push myself and find my independence; living and volunteering abroad seemed a brilliant way to achieve this. I felt that a long term project was a much more worthwhile idea than just travelling because I could learn about the culture from the inside rather than getting very fleeting glimpses as I whisked through on my way to the next beautiful Indian holiday spot.

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The story of my gap year
I decided to go abroad with Project Trust so attended one of their selection weeks on the Isle of Coll in the outer Scottish Hebrides; herding highland cattle and learning to Ceilidh. I was chosen and set about fundraising £5,400 that Project Trust require as well as £1,000 for personal travel which I mainly raised through raffles, sponsored events, part-time work and lots of help from family and friends. I was pleasantly surprised how easy fund-raising was; when people know you’re raising money for a good cause, they are very willing to help.

I spent 12 months working as an English teacher at a blind school in Hyderabad, India. Most of my time was spent teaching the younger classes as well as providing social care; taking Scottish dance classes and directing the school nativity. Accommodation was a single room with two beds, living on site with 500 blind students. I also travelled across India in my holiday time; riding elephants in Kerala, paragliding in the Himalayas and visiting the Taj Mahal.

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How my disability was accommodated by my gap year organisation
When I started considering taking a gap year, the first thing I did was to call Project Trust and make sure that I would be able to go away. We decided that it would be possible for me to participate but only if certain safety precautions were followed; such as my attending an urban project so I would have local hospital access and be close to constant electricity (I need a fridge 24/7 to store my insulin). Project Trust has a fantastic support system; all volunteers have a desk officer in the UK, so I always had someone to contact if I was having any health concerns.


The way my disability was treated by the local community
The community were over-cautious with my diabetes, asking if I’d taken my medicine and insisting I needed to go and lie down. Giving my medicine in public was a problem, with strangers taking my photo or trying to touch my arms when I was injecting. I found it difficult. In every other way the school were completely accommodating of my presence (I was in the 8th set of volunteers) and made every effort to make me welcome. I received a lot of attention outside the school; my partner and I were the only white people in my town, which was intimidating at first but the attention is friendly and people were just curious.

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My advice to others who have disabilities
Don’t see yourself as any different and go after what you want. Be brave, passionate and approach everything with an open mind. Enjoy every minute of it!


Rosie Bancroft

Rosie Bancroft, a below the knee amputee, volunteered in South Africa with African Conservation Experience (ACE)

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My disability and how it affects my everyday life
I was born missing my right leg below the knee and have had many operations since, as my bones and knee in my stump have caused a lot of problems. I am extremely independent and I don’t find my disability often affects me. However, I find walking a struggle sometimes and I can be in a lot of pain.

Why I wanted to be a gap year volunteer
I was about to start my Zoology degree when I went on my trip. The idea of working with the ‘Big 5’ in Africa was amazing, I set my heart on going as soon as I saw African Conservation Experience’s projects!

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The story of my gap year
I chose a project volunteering with a wildlife vet, helping him in surgery in his practice and on the game reserves, darting and treating endangered animals like rhinos and leopards. My trip cost about £2500. I sold some of my old things, did a sponsored 10k swim and used my savings to pay for it.

At the airport I met another girl who was volunteering and we flew to South Africa where we were met at the airport and looked after very well. We stayed with the vet’s parents-in-law in an annex to their house. We ate, slept and relaxed there and I can’t put into words how unbelievable the family were. I’ve never met people so caring and with such love for life. They totally embraced us and made our trip so special, I felt like part of the family!

Our days involved getting up early for work at the practice where we would assist with surgeries and seeing any poorly animals that came in (from baby baboons, rare caracals and antelopes to dogs and cats). In the afternoons we went out on calls to game reserves, breeding centres and farms to help treat animals in the wild. This was the best bit and we had the amazing experience of injecting a rhino, petting a cheetah, riding in a helicopter and so much more.  I learnt so much and grew as a person, and got close and personal to the most incredible animals.  It was hard work and sometimes not easy emotionally or physically, for example if your patient doesn’t make it, but so worth it.

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How my disability was accommodated by my gap year organisation
When I spoke to ACE and explained my disability, they were so supportive and chatted on the phone for an hour making sure we had thought of any possible issues and how to deal with them. At first they were concerned how I would be able to do things like jump on and off a pickup truck in the African bush or stand up through surgery, but I explained I would adapt to anything but might have to do things in my own way.  The vet was so supportive and helped me off the truck, offered me chairs and even piggy-backed me through the bush when we were running after an antelope!

The way my disability was treated by the local community
Everyone I met in South Africa was wonderful and I never received any negative response about my disability. The family I stayed with treated me exactly the same and were fascinated and impressed by it.  The other volunteers were the same.

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My advice to others who have disabilities
I am proud to be missing my leg and wouldn’t change it for the world as it makes me who I am.  Never think that having a disability means you can’t do something. You will almost always be able to find a way, it might not be how everyone else does it but that doesn’t matter.  If you want to do something, like travel the world or inject rhinos, then go for it! My trip was one of the best experiences of my life.

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