Explore Stories The L.A.B Scotland


Explore Stories

The video diaries of young Scots volunteering abroad paint a picture of their personal journeys, the challenges they encountered and the people they met.


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My name is Sean Neilson, this time next week I will be achieving some

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of my dreams, working with children in Thailand.

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It came about by searching on the Internet. I was looking for

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something I could make a difference in. One of the things that popped

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up was working in Thailand, it was working with children, with

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cerebral palsy, which I found quite spectacular, that the first search

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I made, it was almost like a sign. My young brother, was called Ryan.

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Very much my best friend, in the whole wide world. For quite a few

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years I was a young carer for Ryan, and I helped to look after him with

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my mum. Ryan suffers from cerebral palsy.

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He was unfortunately in a wheelchair, he couldn't walk, talk,

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sit up. He couldn't do the things that everybody takes for granted

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every day. Like quite a few people, young

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people in school, from primary school to secondary school, I was

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bullied, a lot. All the way through. Although I wouldn't have wanted to

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have been bullied like I was in school, it allowed me to become

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closer to my brother. But unfortunately I lost my younger

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brother. I lost my best friend, and it happened 11 years ago, and I

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it happened 11 years ago, and I There is never a day I don't wake

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up and think about Ryan, that he's not on my mind, and that I don't do

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things that will make him proud of me. I need to challenge myself.

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Ryan would be proud of me if I challenged myself, that is why I

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picked the project. It came about research on the Internet, finding

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it, applying to the Magnus Magnusson Trust, a very nerve

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racking trust, they listened to my story, I didn't think I would get

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it, I got the great news the following day, I just remember

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saying to the lady he was part of the trust fund, who was there to

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reassure me. I said I don't think I will get it, because I was a bit

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upset when I came out. She said that is because you are speak beg

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your brother, if you have showed them how much you love your brother

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and how much you want to make a difference in somebody else's life

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and there won't be a problem. She sent me the e-mail the next day,

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telling me I had been accepted. This is my first video diary, it is

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about four or five days until I leave to go to Thailand. I'm

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extremely excited, extremely excited, I have never been to that

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side of the world, I'm really looking forward to it. But I'm also

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very nervous. I'm also, you know, just dying to get started. Dying to

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get there, dying to make a difference, I will be keeping you

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updated on some of the stuff that I am doing over in Thailand. So,

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stick with me, and I will take you Hi, so this is my first video diary,

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I'm acting rather quiet, because it has been a really, really busy day.

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I have eventually arrived here in shaing my, in Thailand, -- shaing

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my, in Thailand, after extremely long journey, it took me almost 20

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hours to get here, I eventually got here. I have arrived in Shang Mai,

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and into the volunteer house, it is just immense, the difference

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So they did give me a few pointers when I first got there, of some of

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the groups that I was going to be working, doing workshops with,

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nothing prepares you for when you eventually start those workshops.

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Today was just extremely emotional. I found today really, really hard,

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really hard. I made a lesson plan to work with children at a home

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called Met Mondek, it is a home for special needs children. One little

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boy has ADHD, one little girl has cerebral palsy. And another baby

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has foetal alcohol syndrome, and another little girl has autism.

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There is a few with severe brain- damage as well. I wasn't going into

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the whole I'm apprehensive, worrying, nothing like that,

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whatsoever. The minute I walked in, I saw the little girl in the

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wheelchair, I just wanted to get her out of the wheelchair and get

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her free of the wheelchair. I noticed her hand was tied to the

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side of the wheelchair, which I didn't agree with at all, I'm not

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here to judge. When I eventually found out why her hands were bound

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to the wheelchair, it was because she would bite her hands. When you

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hear the whole story, and you don't judge, you understand that they

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were doing that for a reason. They were doing it to protect her. But

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it upset me. I just felt, you know, I need to

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educate these people that is not the right thing to do. She needs to

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be free, she needs to be just allow to explore, and I took her out of

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the wheelchair, and got her on to the ground, and I made my lesson

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all about bringing the outinside, and the kids got to feel leaves,

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smell flowers, feel pebbles, they got to do all that today, and they

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absolutely loved it. One of the people from the charity said that

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they had been working with the children for five months, and they

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don't know what to do with the children with special needs,

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because they don't have any experience in that area, that is

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why they were happy for me to be here. And they said they have never

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been able to engage all the children at the one time, and in

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the one project, and I done that today, they were extremely

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overwhelmed. So I was really, really happy. I was happy that

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happened, and I was happy that all the children were able to be

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engaged. That is always they needed. They needed some close body contact.

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They needed some love, some care, some attention, they just want to

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be loved. That is literally it, they just want to be loved. I was

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given Gig i, her snaim was, the little girl with -- name was, the

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literal girl with Searle bral palsy, I was giving her loads of kisses

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and hugs, she ponded well, a big massive smile. I sometimes wish it

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was my wee brother, but it's not. I find it really, really hard.

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So it is the end of another very emotional day today, I was working

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with the, just absolutely beautiful children, of Hope Home, here in the

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city. It is a gorgeous project, there is a foster home, which looks

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after about five or six kids. It is really sad, I felt really emotional

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today, as I always have when I have worked with these kids, it is so

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difficult to see some of their stories, and some of the lifestyles

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that some of their parents lead. Also how some parents just can't

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help being poor. They can't look after their children, so their

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children end up in Hope Home. I got to meet some gorgeous children,

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Utina, he was a little boy I was working with today. He was just

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absolutely beautiful. There ofn't a lot of expression and

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that from them, I -- there wasn't a lot of expression from him, I

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realised why, he suffered foetal alcohol syndrome, his mother had

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been an alcoholic. It was so sad. That wee boy couldn't move, he

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couldn't talk, couldn't walk, couldn't do anything, and his

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mother abandoned him. The fact that this child has been

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damaged by alcohol, that could have been fixed. That could have been

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fixed, that could have been stopped at least, you see the effects that

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alcohol has in places like Scotland. You see the effect it has on people

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and families, when it effects children like that, and that child

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will be damaged for the rest of their life, it is really sad.

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It is really, really sad. I can't change it.

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Then there was Bunrat, and he was a wee boy, or a big boy, he was

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around about the same age of Ryan, I was very emotional with today,

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because I got the chance to feed Bunrat, I got a chance to spend a

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lot of time with him, he reminded me of Ryan, it was really hard. It

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is hard because when I see these children, and I'm with them, it is

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like I'm with Ryan, and I don't want to leave. I do not want to

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leave. Because it's just emotional, and it's heart warming, and it is

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just making me feel good. It makes me feel good that I feel as though

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I'm making a difference. That I'm working with the kids as well, and

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when I do work with them I just forget everything that I have

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planned to do with them, and I just want to hug them and give them

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kisses, and it is really hard. It is really, really hard, but Hope

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Home was amazing today, I'm looking forward to the rest of the week as

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well. Fingers crossed that everything

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goes well, and that I will have a great time for the rest of the week.

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So the time has eventually come when it was going to be my last day,

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and it is today. I have had my last day with my last group, and it

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couldn't have been more emotional. I couldn't have had a better day to

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end my time here in Thailand. I was working with the children of

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Metmondeck, I will never forget the children from there, I will never

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forget every single one of the groups I worked with here in

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Thailand, I will miss every single one of them. No words can totally

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describe the effect that they had on me, and the hopeful effect that

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I had on them. As people. Working with them just changed the way that

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I think about things. The way that I deal with certain situations in

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life. The way that I deal with people, as well. That I have

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learned that you will never be able to live a positive life, or have a

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happy life if you don't live it positively. So that means having a

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good life, enjoying life, it doesn't mean being selfish, it

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genuinely means giving back, and you just see opportunities, where

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your life can be made so much better, just by giving yourself up

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to something. I think that's where your life can change, and within

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three weeks my life changed. My eyes were opened, and my heart of

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opened to new experiences, and new people, and a new culture. I had to

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go 4,000 miles away to be close to my brother, and I won't get that

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feeling from anything else. It is amazing when you give something

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back to people, you feel more of a whole person yourself. That is what

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I will take away from Thailand. Thank you for being with me in my

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journey, thank you for listening to me. Please, please, please, if you

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get a chance, volunteer with any organisation across the world,

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volunteering makes you feel alive, it makes you feel like you can make

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a difference, and the most independent person in the world.

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Volunteering is the way forward. Give yourself up to other people,

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you will find the joy, the laughter and the smiles that you gain from

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Apology for the loss of subtitles for 46 seconds

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the people that you help. So, do it. I want to go to Malawi, it is

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Africa, it is different, you know, you hear about everything that

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happens in Africa, from poverty, I have always thought that I could go

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have always thought that I could go over and I could help. The day I

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got up to go to Malawi, my head was in a mess. We got up very early, I

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have been so nervous for beaks building up to it, I -- weeks

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building up to it, I couldn't contemplate I was going to Malawi

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for a month. The morning was pretty emotional, we had to say all our

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goodbyes at the bus. Once we were on the bus, and once we were off,

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it was just heading straight on to what we were going to be doing, and

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getting to Malawi, we had 24 hours My first impressions of Malawi was

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just the warm heart, it just seemed really nice and calm, relaxing,

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except when you travelled through the slum villages, that sort of, I

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don't know how to describe it, it was very upsetting. You see lots of

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people walking everywhere, there is not many cars, and houses are

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rundown. The scaffolding is amazing, all the scaffolding is home made.

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You can just see there all the bikes are home made, just there. It

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is quite amazing and shocking some of the things you see. It was clear

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you were not in Europe. Especially in Britain any more, you were in

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Africa, and it was obvious when we were on our way to the campsite.

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got there quite late in the evening, to the campsite, for the first time.

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Everybody was quite tired and excited to be there. The first

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thing we had to do was sort out getting our tents up and getting

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food done. For me I was quiteer in shrous, we were tired and we were

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here, you -- I was quite nervous, we were tired and we were here and

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you didn't know what to make of it. Everyone was excited by morning to

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There was four different projects to begin with, starting building

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the toilet block, which our team was on to begin with, we had to dig

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a trench for a new water supply to go down to the bottom of the hill.

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Pretty much what we are doing is we are trying to move this massive log

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out of the way of the track for the water pipe that goes to the

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building. But we are trying to build a pully system, but the hole

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we used to attach to the end of it has snapped, we have to work out a

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new way of doing it. I loved doing sufficient like the

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toilet block and French work, because it was clear that you are

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you were making progress. One of the projects we really saw

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something grow and build up from where it hadn't been before. That

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was an eye-opening experience, at the end you achieved something, and

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it was nice to say you had a part in it, and you achieved something

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you didn't think you would be able On the second Sunday we went to

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Dimasi mission church for the English service. The church was one

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of the best experiences. Kieran, he pipeed us in, he Poor Roy had to

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walk the ten-minute walk playing with us behind him. The church

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itself was really quite interesting. It was not like a church here, it

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is not like sit down, sing a song, or stand up and sing a song, and

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stand down, listen to the priest, stand up and do something else. It

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is more like stand up, sing a song, All the African singing, they are

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amazing at singing, they would destroy any British choir, just a

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group of Malawi women doing a wee sing-song during the service.

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The feeling of community in this church, with all these people you

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never met, it was a really lovely experience. When we came out, we

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were introduced to the people who had been in the service, they were

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students who had been studying there. We met everybody, it was

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such a friendly warm environment, just the sort of thing you are not

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used to at home at all. They were so natural there. The whole feeling

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was not a pressure feeling, it was not like being in church, there

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wasn't pressure, it was a feeling of community and celebration, it

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was nice. We went to the safari, in the

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National Park. Quite close to where we were. We spent one night there.

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The The highlight of the trip must have been the safari, it had to be,

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I had never seen an elephant in front of me before, I have never

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seen a crocodile, I have never seen a hippo standing in my porch before.

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That was just unbelievable. It was, you know, you have to do it, to

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realise just how great it is. You see these elephants on TV, you see

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all these animals on TV and you think it is an elephant. You are

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there and properly studying it, thinking, asking questions, how it

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lives, how the families stick together and stuff like that. There

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is so much you can learn just from the safari itself. When you are

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right up with nature and the animals, the experience is one

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where you feel alive. It was an absolutely amazing thing on the

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trip. It was quite distressing at point

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to see the poverty that people were living in. We went down to Sang ani,

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which is a village nearby us, one day, for a kind of big scout event,

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there was games and things. Some smart fool decided to bring our

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lunch down with us as well. We were sitting having to eat this lunch

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next to this massive crowd of children, five or six years old,

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who were just longingly looking at us eat this food, it was horrible.

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But we couldn't give any food to them, because there was so many of

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them, if you gave some to one you would have to give it to all of

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them. We had spare fruit and we had three bananas left, one of the

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leaders was saying we could give the bananas out to the kids, it

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seemed like a good ideas, we are not going to throw it out. We will

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give it to them. Before we had even said, they must have just heard the

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word "kid" as they will give the bananas, out, there was three left

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and 100 kid, there was a stampede, they charged and grabbed them, I'm

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pretty sure they grabbed the basin they were in as well. I was taken

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aback. It became clear that these people do not live in the best

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circumstances. That just told the whole story itself.

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That was probably the moment I realised how much poverty there was

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in the country. Packing to come home was a bit of a

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somber experience, nobody wanted to do it, we all postponed it to the

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last minute. We were all told to get it done the day or two days

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before we left. Everybody was doing it the afternoon, the morning we

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were meant to be leaving. It was kind of sad thinking that

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you are going to be leaving the next day, and that you are packing

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to go, after being there for so long.

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Seeing the way that people live in Malawi, it certainly made me

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appreciate what we have in this country. You don't appreciate what

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you have, running water in your house, or that you have all these

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electrical appliances, constant intermittant -- constant, not

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intermittant electricity, and even having enough room in your entire

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house for your family, some people don't have that. It is eye-opening.

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Whenever we travelled throughout Malawi, that was when we had the

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opportunity to see the conditions and poverty that people were living

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in. You hear about stuff all the time at home, although we were

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staying near the city in Malawi, we weren't living in an area of utter

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deprivation, but definite signs there. It didn't seem to be

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affected the community too much, but it was quite striking seeing

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conditions you just weren't used to seeing, to actually about there, it

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was real, and it was quite shocking, the conditions, the houses, that

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kind of thing. It was eye-opening, it was spectacular, difficult, but

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completely worth it. I would definitely do something like it

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again. I think you have changed within myself, I have gained

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discipline and friends for life, definitely. I have changed in a few

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ways, but I think I have changed in a way, as in my discipline has

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changed. I'm much more disciplined, I'm well into following through

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with things. I think one of the things I was really hoping would

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happen before I came was that I would feel like I would be more

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capable, coming home that is definitely it, I feel like I'm much

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more capable, and I am able to go out and achieve these you unkinds

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of things. It was more self- confidence, it was an eye-opening

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experience. Commitment, I'm very committed to helping people now,

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giving people assistance. Being in Malawi, seeing how much small

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things can benefit people, as in a pipe to a maize mill, that will

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secure their income to the campsite, because they will have wart Tory

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use in the maize mill, that helps thom to a huge extent. You just

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have to be committed and realise the small things can help. I would

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say I feel much more confident now, especially to pursue these goals in

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the future, somewhere that feels so alien, it can be nerve racking,

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because there are no points of familiarity, it is just such a

:26:31.:26:33.

surreal experience, really. Now I feel I have the confidence that I

:26:34.:26:40.

can go and do this kind of thing. think I will just miss the

:26:40.:26:48.

Young Scots volunteering abroad are the focus of this inspirational film, made through BBC Scotland's L.A.B project.

Sean Neilson spent three weeks in Thailand after winning funding from the Magnus Magnusson Foundation. He was working with children with a range of difficulties, including foetal alcohol syndrome and cerebral palsy; the condition which affected his younger brother Ryan who died aged 12.

Ben, Sean, Jamie and Laurie - all from Edinburgh - were among a collection of Scouts groups from across Scotland who went to Malawi to help build a water pipe system for the local maize mill. Their video diaries paint a picture of their personal journeys, the challenges they encountered and the people they met.

Making an impassioned plea for more people to get into volunteering, Sean Neilson says: 'It is amazing how when you give something back to other people that you feel more of a whole person yourself'.

The L.A.B - learn @ BBC Scotland - is part of BBC Scotland Learning Department and works with school and community groups around Scotland who want to develop their digital media skills.


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