This coming January 2015 will be 10 years since I went on AV to Kericho in Kenya and it feels like it was only a couple of years ago - mainly because I think of my experiences there and my friends so often! Friends that I will have for life and see as often as I can - often a year or more will have gone by between seeing each other but we fall back into friendship like we were never apart because we share a unique experience and bond together, and know each other inside out. One thing we share was that all our friends and family for years after we returned complained that we never stopped banging on about Kenya and how amazing it was!
When I was 17 I wasn't having a good time at school, I even considered moving to a new school for my last year of A Levels. Then my mum suggested that maybe I would like to take a gap year before Uni and do something adventurous on my own and I immediately thought, yeah that sounds like a good idea I totally want to do that! Once I was accepted onto the Kenya 2005 programme I had something to build towards and that got me through my school year. The AV team are so friendly and send you lots of info about fundraising ideas and get you fully prepared for your trip.
The orientation days were really helpful, not just in getting orientated in terms of the country, teaching and general info, but it's also the most important bonding time with the other AVs and is great fun before you pair off and go to your schools. I met my 5 best friends during that period as well, but got on with just about everyone - there was a real mixed bag of people. I lived on the Kericho tea plantation teaching at Marinyn Primary - the placement was fantastic, the teachers and kids lovely and just so absolutely delighted to have you there! The more you put into your placement the more you will get out of it. It's all about getting to know your kids, get involved in and start up after school activities and bringing them fun things that they just don't have the resources/facilities for in imaginative ways. And they'll love you for it! But even better, you'll love doing it and you WILL cry the day that you have to leave your school. With the money which you donate to your school by either buying or doing something, Laura and I painted pictures in all of the classrooms which the kids just loved and I really hope they're still there!
The whole thing is an adventure from start to end, working out how to get into the town, where and how to shop and going travelling about the country on weekends and in the free travel period. You'll want to make the most of every opportunity. I can't pretend that there aren't scary times and some hard times but that's why you signed up right, to have an adventure and to test yourself! And my experiences (of all types) in Kenya literally set me up for life, and my best friends would all say the same of themselves. The most amazing experience I will NEVER forget because it shaped who I am today. I went to Kenya an un-confident teenager and I came back full of confidence, experiences and the knowledge that I can always do something if I put my mind to it. When you're 18 none of us think about our CVs, our future careers and what we'll have to say for ourselves when we graduate and have those first 'real' job interviews. But man was I glad that when that time came I have an experience like AV to put on my CV and to talk about - and people are always so impressed. It shows them that you're a get up and go person, that you like and can overcome a challenge and that you didn't just spend a year out travelling so you could lie on a beach.
I actually feel quite emotional writing this nearly 10 years on - I wouldn't be who I am today without AV! I'm a confident, strong and successful person who knows her own mind and looks for adventure and challenge as often as I can. In the years after Kenya I used to promote AV at my old school by giving talks and also represented them at a UCAS fair (a university exhibition fair) which was fantastic - I got to rave about my fantastic experience for 2 whole days to people who were interested! In the ten years since I've always said that EVERYONE should take a gap year before uni and do something similar to AV - you'll be a totally different and more ready individual to go to uni afterwards. I always wish some of the people I've known could have had my experience that could have helped them in their lives! And I ALWAYS suggest that teenagers of people I know look at AV and consider a year out doing something worthwhile - as you can tell by the length of my review it was the best and most significant thing I've ever done in my life. I think it goes to show as well that one of the girls from my group loved AV so much that she joined the company and worked for them for a long while, while the dad of one of my best best friends from Kenya is now a company representative in the north of England. If you're lucky enough to become an AV, it will touch your life forever, and I'm so glad to have been a part of it.