In 1983/84, Mark Appleton volunteered in South Africa with Project Trust teaching at a residential mission school for children with physical disabilities. Volunteering as a teacher, he gained useful skills that he has used throughout his career as a doctor.

Knowing how life changing his experience with Project Trust was, he was thrilled when his daughters Hannah and Katie told him that they would like to volunteer with Project Trust. While Hannah volunteered in India and Katie in Nepal, they all feel like they have a shared, invaluable experience.

Hannah, Mark, and Katie in the national dress of their host countries for The 2.6 Challenge.

Mark

I was a volunteer in Mthatha, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa in 1983 and 1984. I taught science and sports in a well-resourced, residential mission school for children with physical disabilities. There were also workshops for adults with disabilities and volunteers from many other countries, resulting in a vibrant community. The most memorable parts of my work related to the children transcending their disabilities and increasing their independence; such as leading small group hiking and camping trips and taking a group of talented sports children 1000 km to attend the National Schools’ Paralympic Games.

A group of girls from the residential mission school that Mark volunteered at.

At 16, I was the youngest volunteer that Project Trust had selected for placement, and I was naïve and impressionable. On a personal level I certainly benefited from the opportunities presented by hitch-hiking through such a vast and varied country during the long school holidays. As well as gaining independence it lead to lifelong political engagement when I saw, and subsequently learned about, the appalling effects of the state-legislated racism caused by apartheid.

I am now a doctor, specialising in pathology, working in the NHS. Skills that I gained whilst teaching have been particularly useful throughout my career. My year also gave me a hankering to return to Africa whenever I could, and I spent part of my undergraduate training in Sierra Leone and have also undertaken sabbatical placements in Malawi to help research the pathology of paediatric malaria. I was due to travel to Kenya next month, taking Hannah, who is a medical student, to visit a colleague and look at breast cancer services. Unfortunately Covid-19 has put this on hold.

Knowing how life-changing my year was, I was excited when both Hannah and Katie told me that they would like to volunteer with Project Trust; and certainly more enthusiastic than my wife initially was! However, I was able to reassure her, that with such a fantastic and professional organisation behind them, they were in safe hands. There was also a certain amount of envy with their placements in India and Nepal.

Mark with project partner Mike Roe at their leaving presentation.

Talking to Hannah and Katie, and having the opportunity to visit Hannah at her project in rural Gujarat, has shown me that the ‘Project Trust Experience’ has thankfully changed very little over the last 30 years. This enduring ethos demonstrates that it provides young adults with an invaluable time to discover things about themselves and the world beyond their upbringing at a particularly impressionable time in their lives. I am slightly disappointed that neither of my daughters got to discover my love of African rhythms first hand, but I have been able to benefit from their discovery of Asian flavours!

Now I just have to persuade my youngest daughter Maia (age 13) to become a Project Trust volunteer too, and my work will be complete!

Hannah

I volunteered in India in 2017/18, where I taught a variety of lessons in a primary school in Gujarat. I grew up listening to my dad telling stories and raving about his experiences in South Africa, so I was always aware of Project Trust. Because of this, I knew I wanted to take a year away from studying before going to uni. I was also really keen to spend some time in India specifically, as I have family there but had never been before. I looked into other gap year options, but ultimately came back to Project Trust as it gave me the chance to really immerse myself in a new community, and balance travelling with volunteering in a structured, supportive setting.

I had a fantastic time teaching, and it gave me a lot of confidence and independence that made the transition to uni so much easier. I’ve just finished my second year studying medicine, and so many of the skills I developed as a teacher, such as communication with people of all ages and backgrounds, leadership skills and project planning, have been invaluable. My course is 6 years long, so I’m so glad I took a year out to do something different while I had the chance!

I love that the three of us have this shared experience. I don’t have to worry about annoying them by constantly saying “When I was in India…” – I know they get it!

Mark with his wife Samantha and daughter Katie, while visiting Hannah in India in 2018.

Katie

I volunteered as an English teacher in a secondary school in Nepal. I started in September 2019, and unfortunately my year was cut short when I had to return in March. I was hesitant to follow what my dad and older sister had done, but I looked into Project Trust by myself and I genuinely really wanted to do it. I love the fact that we were able to go to different countries – although we have Project Trust in common, we had such different experiences. We like to compare stories and argue over who had the best project (Nepal wins obviously!).

It’s such a shame that we had to come home early, but I will definitely be returning to Taman when I next get the chance. With a lot of migrant workers being forced to return to Nepal from India at the moment as a result of corona virus, a lot of support will be needed. I will be looking for ways to help – I will always feel linked to the places I visited and the people I met.

Please help us to ensure that Project Trust can offer another generation of young people life-enhancing experiences, by donating to Project Trust as part of our Urgent Appeal campaign.