Having recently graduated from his Biomedical Sciences degree at St. George’s University, 21 year old Arjun Wara decided to leave his Dagenham home for 10 weeks and ‘challenge [himself] to change the world’. Arjun completed his International Citizen Service programme with sustainable development charity ‘Raleigh International’ in La Quinta, Nicaragua and has found the experience changed him too.
The government-funded ICS operates in Africa, Asia and Latin America, where volunteers team up with their peers to work on sustainable development projects. The ICS programme asks volunteers to raise £800 prior to departure. Arjun successfully raised the money in time with his £300 Individual Grant for Volunteering from the Jack Petchey Foundation, and various fundraisers – including a sponsored skydive!
Arjun’s group, known as ‘Charlie 4’ consisted of 5 Nicaraguan and 7 British volunteers. The team conducted health and hygiene related surveys to research the key issues La Quinta locals faced. This information was then implemented in themed action days based on recycling, sanitation & hygiene and gender equality.
“We felt recycling was the biggest issue in La Quinta,” says Arjun. Therefore, the volunteers hosted numerous events to educate locals on the value of reusing waste - including a recycling-themed Olympics which involved making sports equipment from rubbish.
The group also constructed aluminium, plastic and organic waste recycling systems around La Quinta. The bins were constructed using material donated by the community to ensure sustainability. Anticipating that the bins would soon fill up, the group also built a bamboo storage hut for the government’s recycling trucks to collect from. “Whilst this recycling system wasn’t initially part of our program at the start, we felt that due to the littering problem in La Quinta, it was essential for everyone there,” says Arjun.
Other project highlights include building tippy taps and eco-latrines, teaching English to school children and generally getting to know the community by attending church and local festivals. “The day we left La Quinta was an emotional one,” Arjun recalls. “Many of the community members cried and expressed that they enjoyed our company and were grateful for all the work we had done for them.”
Reflecting on his experience, Arjun says “This project made a big impact to La Quinta. When we first arrived, we were surprised by the lack of hygiene and the vast amount of litter. However after our action days, we noticed that the community began to wash their hands and that they were using our recycling bin system. This system not only benefits the environment but La Quinta’s residents are also paid for the amount of recycling bags that they give to the government. This money can be spent into further development of this great community.”
Arjun has left Central America feeling much more confident about what he can achieve with his Biomedical Sciences degree. “I realised how much I can do and what I can accomplish when I’m focussed, motivated and driven. I want to become an incredible doctor and provide healthcare to rural areas across the world - possibly working with the ‘British Red Cross’ or ‘Doctors Without Borders’”
“ICS was a truly unique experience. I can only thank my family, friends, Raleigh and most importantly, Charlie 4 for everything they have given me.”
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