Bangladesh adventure changed Holly’s life
PUBLISHED: 13:22 31 May 2017
Teenager Holly Adams, from Lympstone, has told of her life changing experience, volunteering in rural Bangladesh, thanks to the help of the Adventure Trust for Girls - the charity gives financial help to girls from Exmouth and its surrounding areas so they can learn new skills.
A teenager from Lympstone has shared her life changing experience volunteering in Bangladesh, thanks to the Adventure Trust for Girls, a charity giving financial help so girls from Exmouth and its surrounding areas can learn new skills and boost their confidence.
Holly Adams, aged 19, spent a gap year, before starting Durham University, working with the International Citizen Service volunteer programme where she spent three months in rural Bangladesh, South Asia.
Here, Holly explains how the Adventure Trust for Girls can help others looking for a life changing experience, and shares her memories of her time volunteering in South Asia.
Holly said: “This last year I have taken a gap year before I start Durham University in September and I have been using the year to have new adventures and learn new skills.
“I spent the last three months in rural Bangladesh working on the VSO ICS project, which was an amazing experience. For the project I was asked to fundraise £1,500 which was a real struggle as I had been au pairing in Spain at the beginning of this year.
“After hearing of a friend who got support from The Adventure Trust for Girls, I wrote a letter explaining the project and how I felt it would have an important impact in the community.
“The Adventure Trust for Girls gives financial support to girls between ten and twenty living within eight miles of Exmouth to encourage girls to experience adventures and gain new skills and self esteem; the charity gives you the opportunity to go on adventures which you might have thought were not even possible.”
I would love to say I jumped at the chance when VSO ICS offered me a placement in Bangladesh last September. But after 20 minutes research I was adamant that I was not going to go. With the sense of threat from the July café attack still looming, and countries like Canada advising against ‘all non-essential travel’, it seemed ludicrous to accept the placement. But the more research I did into the country the more I realised that Bangladesh was a place that needed our help desperately.
UNICEF reports that 71 per cent of girls in rural Bangladesh are married before the age of 18 and the country continues to see one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. Thinking of the amazing opportunities and education I received growing up in Devon, I felt a responsibility to accept the placement and use it as a chance to try help as many young girls and women as possible create better futures for themselves and escape both poverty and child marriage. February 13 came around faster than expected as all things do. I said my scared goodbyes and with medicine for every possible scenario packed and arms full of vaccines, I kissed Mum goodbye and joined the big group of 30 volunteers.
There is no way you can be sufficiently prepared for living in Bangladesh: the noises, the smells and the colours will throw off your senses and reawaken you. Straight out of the airport doors and you are thrown into a life where you fear for your life when your Rickshaw attempts to squeeze between two large busses with people spilling out the windows on either side. You will never be prepared for the sheer quantities of rice and Daal that you are expected to eat with your hands at every mealtime. Our host mother never accepted our attempts of say ‘I am full’ in Bangla and continued to pile our plates high with rice and fish curry.
It’s the differences that bring you alive. We’ve become so bogged down in routine that we’ve become almost robotic in our daily lives. Can you distinguish one day from another? In Bangladesh, I could. There was the day when I first delivered a speech on the importance of staying in education to two hundred and fifty schoolgirls. And there was the day that my friend, Sarah, and I stumbled across a girls’ orphanage where we spent all afternoon playing games with the girls until we had to run back for curfew. And then there was our community action day when we managed to get a member of parliament to speak out against child marriage to a crowd of one thousand people. And the days we provided tailoring training for unemployed women, some of whom had escaped abusive homes and child marriages. After they had completed the training we provided them with their own machines so they could continue to be financially independent after we were gone. There was the time we performed a play in Bangla about the implications of ‘eve-teasing’ - public sexual harassment of women by men - on young girls. We had to keep freezing when the inevitable power cuts happened and resume when the generator kicked in.
Perhaps one of my proudest days was when I established the beginnings of a Stop Child Marriage committee. It took a lot of persuasion to get all the important members of the community to agree and sign the contact, however, it now stands as a barrier against child marriage and a way of giving a voice to the most vulnerable. Every single day changed and brought its own challenges but every night we would all gather on our roof and look at the stars in awe.
However, the biggest lesson I learnt was that across the world we are more similar than we are different. For three months I shared my room with Anika, a Muslim girl from North Bangladesh. And what a relief we were partnered together as we shared a mutual appreciation of sleeping in very late. Every morning 8.55am I would, half-awake myself, drag Anika from her bed and we would sleep walk into the office. Then in the evenings we would laugh for hours as she attempted my exercise routine or I tried my hand at some Bengali dance. The time we spent together was an important reminder that the differences within nationalities and religions are far greater than the differences between us. I cannot help thinking that this is a lesson we all need reminding of. I could write pages on the people I met and the things I saw, however, I know it will never mean anything to anyone but me. It was my journey and for anyone who wants to learn more I suggest you give it a try.
I would like to say a huge thank you to The Adventure Trust for Girls in Exmouth who sponsored my adventure. Without their support I would not have been able to have such a life-changing experience.
For more information on The Adventure Trust for Girls, see www.adventuretrustforgirls.org.uk
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Exmouth Journal. Click the link in the orange box above for details.