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Gap year that makes a difference

What other Gap year dresses you up as a fairy, flies you across the world, puts you at the heart of the issues it works on, gives you access to political leaders, has you camping outside student unions in cardboard boxes and filming and writing resources? But not in that order…

James Atkins, Christian Aid’s Leicestershire Gap-year volunteer, reports.

Helping to grind cassava plant into flour

In the space of one month, earlier this year, I made the colourful transition from hotel waiter to regional youth advocate for one of the biggest development organisations in the world.

Two months into my new position, I found myself with a group of volunteers like myself, sitting around a fire below a star-littered sky in the rural wilderness of the Democratic Republic of Congo. We were chatting in broken English and French to the chief of a village who three hours previously had proudly showed us the fruits of a Christian Aid-supported programme that helps farmers to irrigate their land and learn new agricultural skills. This improves their income and means they can send their children to school.

'The trip was truly an inspiration'

Nothing could have prepared me for my visit to the DRC and the real aid and development programmes that we saw in action there. It was truly an inspiration. We spent two weeks in and around the capital, Kinshasa, visiting Christian Aid partners and really finding out where all that money in the red envelopes goes. ‘Where doesn’t it go?’ would be a better question.

‘Vorsi Congo’ greeted us with traditional Congolese song and dance before introducing us to their HIV stigma-tackling programme that reaches an incredible ten million people over the country.

‘Recic’ activity is deeply rooted in communicating community responsibility and accountable governance ideals, and made my polite, mild mannered, ethically aware, middle class ethos and upbringing seem a world from their reality.

‘PDI’ work primarily with poorer farming communities helping them get the most from their crops, providing them with cattle to practice ‘bovine traction’ - using cows to pull ploughs - and supporting them to run small bee-keeping businesses to sell wax and honey.

Unstable log bridges make it hard to transport produce

Since my return from the DRC, I have given talks to hundreds of people, participated in vast rallies, authored press releases, been interviewed on radio shows and, more importantly, seen the young people I work with becoming impassioned and invigorated by their new understanding of a world larger than their own.

This is my experience of the Christian Aid Gap year scheme… so far! I can’t wait for the next six months.

If you’d like to receive a visit from a Christian Aid gap-year volunteers, or find out more about the scheme, visit this list of local contacts.

For the previous ‘Your story’, click here. Send us your own stories to learn@christian-aid.org