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How To Have A Positive Impact On The Communities We Visit


Travelling abroad to lend a hand in a community hasn’t always been as useful as it was intended to be. Traditionally, students might go to help out in a rural community by building walls, painting schools or teaching – but with little or no experience in these areas, they may have ended up doing more harm than good.

World Challenge aims to change that. Each of our community initiatives has been hand-picked to leave as positive an impact as possible. And our students are treated like students – they don’t take on roles they’re not qualified for. From working with communities in remote Borneo to living with the Maasai Mara in Tanzania, our teams engage in meaningful projects, leaving a lasting impact for the better. So how do we do it? Read on to find out more…

Traditional Masai Village Project

A strict vetting process

Before teaming up with new initiatives, we have an extensive checklist to go through. Our first question is always: “Why do you want our teams to come to you?” We want to ensure there is a genuine need, and we are picky when it comes to selecting community projects. We won’t ever choose an initiative that is simply seeking financial help, or cultural tourism. We also want to ensure that communities don’t become dependent on us being there, instead, we support their development in a way that’s sustainable without our presence in the future.

Our vetting process ensures that the proposed initiative is worthwhile and meaningful, and something that would benefit both the communities and our teams. Our ground teams are on hand to help with this assessment. They help us establish connections with communities that would benefit from hosting our teams – they are often reaching out to, or being contacted by, communities seeking to generate more stable incomes and keep their cultural heritage alive by sharing it with visitors.

There is a myriad of reasons why communities might need help from our teams. In some cases, the younger generations have left the community for a career in larger cities, leaving the older, more frail generations without manpower for farming, moving materials and infrastructure. This is where our travelling students come in – to lend a hand where there is a genuine need.

Mangrove Planting Community Project

Cultural immersion and an exchange of knowledge

Contributing to a community initiative on a World Challenge trip is about much more than helping with labour, or whatever communities need assistance with. It offers a full-blown cultural immersion like no other. Often, teams will stay in homestays – the best way to get a feel for how locals live. Living alongside a family gives our teams a unique perspective. Students get immersed in their daily lives, participate in activities that the locals do, such as basket weaving, traditional jewellery making, cooking local dishes and learning about what makes their cuisine unique.

This cultural immersion runs both ways. There is a lot that our students can learn, but also much that they can offer the communities they spend time with. Pre-conceived perceptions about language and culture are challenged on both sides, for example. And teams’ genuine appreciation for a community’s culture and traditions can have a real impact on the preservation of cultures and heritages. Our presence in a community should always offer an exchange of knowledge and learning – it should never be a one-way street.

Longhouse Home Stay

Offering financial support and keeping our footprint light

Hosting teams offers communities a double whammy of on-the-ground assistance and financial support. A lack of funds often results in poor infrastructure, so students might be helping out with vital construction work. Often teams fundraise, to be able to donate some funds to the community they are visiting. And while men in the family are often considered to be the main breadwinners, hosting teams also allows women in the community to make an income.

Our visits offer communities another stream of income, steering them away from cash crops and other unsustainable livelihood methods. We camp or stay in local homes whenever possible – meaning that our money is kept in the community we’re working with while also keeping our footprint light. To this end, we also carry reusable bottles, eat locally and don’t leave anything behind. Keeping our footprint light also means we support communities with everything from litter picking to tree planting.

Tree Planting Community Project

Creating global citizens

Our visits have a lasting impact on both our travelling teams and the communities we visit. Local students are often inspired by our team visits to go out in the world, learn English and pursue education. In countries where the dropout rates are very high, this feels all the more positive.

In some cases, our visits have even brought communities closer together. As one of our Borneo providers puts it: “The wonderful groups that head our way not only gain a great deal themselves but contribute physically, consciously and subconsciously to the local area and people. By undertaking community tasks and improving the infrastructure of the community, they help the community to come together in unity and offer them hope for a better future.”

Speaking of the groups that have contributed to improving the local primary school, the provider added: “They have turned the school around, making it a safe and vibrant school, which in turn has motivated the teachers and changed their attitude from working in a back-of-beyond substandard school to a place they feel motivated to work and educate the future generations.”

Written by Ellie Ross