Thomas: Volunteering with UNA Exchange challenged me and gave me more skills

Meeting people from other countries and developing their own skills is often the best start for challenged youngsters to begin international volunteering . Read the experience of Thomas, who prepared himself for his first travelling experience through leading an international project at an organic farm in Wales.

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Thomas is from Neath in South Wales. When working with a YMCA project in 2014 he was introduced to UNA Exchange and the Step by Step programme. Taking part in many residential projects, he quickly became and active and valued part of the organisation.

THOMAS’S STORY

I got in touch with UNA Exchange because I wanted go abroad and I didn’t know how to do it. I have never been outside the UK. I wanted to meet new people and see more cultures, see what they do in other countries. I wanted to get more experience of travelling.

Thanks to YMCA Wales introducing me, I joined a UNA Exchange training focused on helping you with travelling – we talked about how to get a passport, about problems (and solutions) you can have while travelling, what to do if you get lost. This training was really useful for me, I learned so much. After the training I talked to Sheila Smith from the Step by Step programme and she helped me join a project in Cardiff and a couple of trainings.

Leading a project at the organic farm
After I did the leadership training I was asked to lead an International Volunteer Project at an organic farm in Caerhys, Pembrokeshire. In the beginning I was really nervous, worried that my English would not be great to lead a group and that it would be hard to entertain the group in the free time.  After a day or two I settled in with the group. We did a lot of weeding, watering and harvesting carrots and lettuce. I was also feeding the pigs, which was my favourite activity in the farm!

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As a leader I had to check that all volunteers felt happy and alright. I tried to find out what they wanted to do and keep planning ahead. We entertained the group in the evenings and we usually played some games. I also had to make sure that everyone was ready for work in the mornings (that was sometimes quite challenging). Sometimes I did some activities and energizers in the mornings to get the group ready for work but luckily I had a very nice and easy group so this was not problem after all.  I remember they were all happy.

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The host farmer Gerald was a great person, very funny and he took us to good places like a music festival and lots of activities – we visited St. Davids, a cheese farm, we had a barbecue on the beach after swimming in the sea. The nicest thing for me was simply when we spent time together sharing a meal. 


I think the best thing I took from this experience is that I now do more cooking, and trying different types of foods from different countries. Before I did not know much about cooking.  I also learned that I love most vegetables from volunteering with UNA and I became healthier. Before doing UNA Exchange projects I didn’t eat anything very healthy – without tasting it I said to myself that I did not like it.  I learned that vegetarian food is actually really nice, because I tried lot of it while projects.  


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This experience changed me a lot
With UNA Exchange I now plan to travel abroad in the next year and do more group leading. Going abroad will be an education for me – I would like to learn the languages of different people, try new foods, see different landscapes and go up mountains. 

I think this experience changed me a lot – I used to be a very, very quiet person. That is why I was a little bit scared leading a group, because I don’t talk much. But I did the UNA Exchange leadership training and other projects, I went through it and it challenged me and changed the way I behaved. It gave me more skills, I learned communication skills and leading and teambuilding skills. Every project and training I have been on gave and taught me something. And every time it was amazing and fun.”

FOLLOW THOMAS!

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  • Would you like to become a leader of one of our International Volunteer Projects in Wales this summer? We are always on the lookout for project leaders and we offer special training to develop leadership skills. Find out more about our training opportunities and get in touch with us to discuss your possibilities: exchanges@unaexchange.org 

  • Would you like to know more about our Step by Step programme? Find out more about supported volunteering here
  • Are you a local organisation and would like to support your young people with fewer opportunities to volunteer abroad or in Wales? Become our partner!