Camels, Deserts, Schools and a Tiger!
Published: 02 Mar 2016 updated: 12 Apr 2016
The streets of Newham in East London suddenly look very strange to 15 Air Cadets who have just returned from an expedition to the Thar desert in Rajasthan, India.
The RAF Charitable Trust awarded a grant of £3,936 to the expedition, which aimed to give youngsters from a deprived area of the UK the chance to take part in a life-changing experience, helping others with significantly less than they have themselves.
The cadets and four adult instructors, from 282 (East Ham) Sqn, travelled to India last month (February). They quickly adapted to desert life, travelling five days by camel to reach a remote village, where they worked with local people on a community project to refurbish a primary school.
Expedition Co-ordinator Flt Lt Chris Booty said: "This was the expedition of a lifetime, and no easy task for the cadets. As well as tackling climate difficulties they were also well out of their comfort zone, but embraced the challenges and carried out the refurbishment of a school in a deprived area.
"It was certainly a culture shock for the cadets, and the expedition gave them time to reflect on their lives and, from what they witnessed whilst in India, appreciate and value what they have."
He added: "At times, it was emotional but very special. The cadets were so proud of what they did with the school, and the official handover ceremony made it that little bit more special. It was a great sight to see both cultures working together, breaking through the communication barrier and having fun, playing cricket and cards on sand dunes."
After completing the school project the group had time to experience some of the sights of India, including Jodhpur Fort, Ranthombore Fort in the jungle - the highlight was seeing a Bengal tiger in the wild - and the Golden Temple at Amritsar. Here the cadets volunteered to help in the kitchens, cooking and feeding the visitors and the poor.
Cadet Cpl Marcus Cleyders, 16, said: "Going to India was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it made me realise how lucky I am to have what I have and not take things for granted. These two weeks helped boost my confidence and ability to work with others. Many thanks to the Charitable Trust, and to my Officer Commanding and staff for enabling me to undertake such a magnificent expedition and create a memory that I will never forget."
Flt Lt Booty added: "I am very proud of the cadets and staff who took part in the expedition. Seeing the school kids smile with what the cadets gave them shows that the mission was a success, and that the team made a difference.
"A huge thank you to all the Charitable Trust and the other sponsors who made the expedition possible: they all made a massive difference to many lives."
Photo Caption: Travelling to the project site by camel train.