Over the next few months Alexandra Gillies will be working extremely hard, fundraising for a trip. But this will not be just any trip.
In August Alexandra, 18, will be travelling to Rajasthan in India to help teach English to school and street children as part of a project by the organisation Basti Ram, which works with under privileged communities.
While there, Alexandra will also go on to complete a trek for her Duke of Edinburgh gold award and she hopes these life-changing experiences will be invaluable in her future career.
“I want to be a doctor, but a doctor abroad working in poorer areas and I wanted to just travel and experience what life is like abroad,” she explains. “I did some research and came across this project and saw there was space in August and thought ‘yes, I have got to do it’ and applied and got in.
“I just really like learning about different cultures and I think it’s going to be an amazing experience.”
Many of the children Basti Ram assists are from tribal communities, situated in remote rural areas around the city of Udaipur in northern India.
Here, children do not have the opportunity of learning because there is no school, while a lack of infrastructure means travelling out of the area to school is not possible.
And while Alexandra will take away much from the trip herself, her voluntary work will have a real impact on the lives of these young people and help create opportunities for them in the future.
“I feel really strongly about the trip,” she says. “Around 61 per cent of pupils don’t have literacy and projects like these which will make such a difference to these communities are very important.”
It will also be Alexandra’s first taste of travelling.
“I think it is going to be amazing and I’m looking forward to seeing how different it is,” she says. “It will be difficult, but I’m looking forward to doing something different and making a difference.”
“It’s the first time I have done real travelling, I’ve never been to a country like India before, especially on my own. I’m really excited, although I think my mum is quite scared.”
Alexandra is full of praise for Basti Ram and the work it is involved with.
“The charity is named after an Indian farmer who worked hard to provide much-needed community facilities for people such as a water tank, schools and a hospital, it’s an amazing story and the charity follows his ethos. “
Part of the charity’s work is a project to develop a mobile school which will visit five isolated villages, bringing teachers and educational resources.
The aim is to create a safe and fun environment in which children can learn, with an awning which will provide a shaded place for the temporary classroom.
It hopes to encourage the children to develop a habit of going to school, helping the whole community to realise the benefits which an education can bring and instilling a belief that they can achieve.
In addition the charity also hopes teaching basic numeracy and literacy will empower the communities and help demonstrate to the local authorities there that there is a need for permanent school buildings.
And it is projects like these which inspired Alexandra to get involved and contact the charity to complete her Duke of Edinburgh award.
The student, who is studying A-levels at South Downs College, got involved with the scheme when she was still at school, and was one of several students taking part.
She completed the bronze award two years ago, finished the silver award last June and believes the scheme is a very valuable experience for all young people.
It builds confidence and self esteem through a series of activities including improving physical fitness, taking part in a residential course and going on an expedition.
“I love it, it’s great fun and a really good way to meet people, people who are similar to you and like doing the same things. It challenges you and gets you doing things you would never have done before,” she says.
The scheme also helps young people be a part of the community through volunteering, which is something Alexandra enjoys. “
I do volunteering at St Richard’s Hospital, I make beds, help healthcare assistants and do cleaning. I also talk to patients and serve lunch, I do that once a week and I enjoy it.”
On top of that Alexandra babysits several times a week and dog walks four times a week, as part of her bid to raise the £3,500 needed for the trip.
She is also organising some one-off events and in between her studies even finds time to do a shift or two at her local pub, the Fox and Hounds. All this work shows just how committed she is.
“Projects such as this are vital in the deprived area of Rajasthan, in order to fulfil Basti Ram’s aim of improving life opportunities for locals through education,” she says. “I am very passionate for such a cause and can’t wait until I get out there.”
n See www.justgiving.com/Alexandra-Gillies and www.bastiram.org for details.