The annual Virgin Atlantic scholarship trip is an integral part of our partnership with WE. Each year, we receive hundreds of applications to win this trip of a lifetime: 18 days in a WE Villages community in India. And each year, we’re stunned by the strength of the candidates and their passion to make positive change in their communities.
As you can imagine, it’s not easy whittling hundreds of applications down to 30. But over five hours of heated discussions, many cups of tea and even more biscuits, we did it. And we were lucky enough to meet the group in India for a few days. And what a few days it was! We couldn’t have selected a more inspiring bunch of young people. One of the students, Oliwia, kindly agreed to write an account of her experience. We know you’ll be as blown away as we were. There are two posts, this one, in which she writes a letter to her ‘hesitant pre-application self’ and a follow-up post which is a list of ten things she learned on the trip.
A letter to my hesitant, pre-application self:
Dear Pre-application Oliwia,
India will change you in more ways than you can imagine at this moment in time. Whether that be for better or for worse, however, will be completely and unquestionably up to you and how you choose to approach this trip. You may return home with solely a new-found courage you discover or with an entirely new perspective on the world and a surge in your veins to, in your own little (or not so little) way, make your mark upon it.
You will be surrounded by people who will see the best in you and empathise with you in a way you never realised was possible. They will feel the same emotions and aspire to achieve the same goals as you. Working together will make your strive for global change a journey nonetheless long and sure to be rocky, but a lot less lonely than it was first looking to be. Your facilitators will act more like friends than authority figures, able to crack a few jokes, bust some moves have a genuine conversation. They will also guide you, however, when you feel overwhelmed or helpless or insignificant, or an amalgamation of the three. You will aspire to be like them when you are older.
The cohort will consist of volunteers from all across the UK and all different walks of life. You may not agree with everybody’s attitudes, actions and opinions, but the group dynamics will be exciting and brilliantly productive regardless.
You will spend hours daily (although not every day) at the building site, working as a team with the other volunteers to transport rubble and rock (making space for the foundations of a classroom), eventually beginning to do some bricklaying. It will be tough, and you will many a time hear others complaining, understandably exhausted. It will be rewarding, though, particularly since at the end of each session you will see the same three little boys, who will one day perhaps receive an education in the classroom you are helping to build, sitting on the wall, watching you all work, fascinated by all that you are doing. They will love playing will all of your camera equipment, and it will be heart-warming (and worth the struggle!) to watch them enjoy themselves, snapping pictures of all of your friends and even themselves. May I also add that you will out of desperation be forced to tackle the school’s squatting toilets (thanks again, El!), and that that will be a huge personal step for you and one of the proudest moments of your trip.
You will walk to the top of Kumbhalgarh Fort, accompanied by the second longest wall in the world, and overlook the surrounding Rajasthani mountains as they inch upwards, desperate yet unable to reach you – you will experience the Sublime. You will be able to walk through Udaipur market, your skin bathing in the scents of spices and leather as you make your way down the wide, winding paths. You will feed catfish at the local temple and watch as they flip over and on top of each other in an aggressive search for the food you throw at them. You will climb barefoot onto marble in the pouring rain to catch a better view of the locals’ shrine, situated atop a hill on the course of your nature walk (and surprisingly not catch a cold).
You will see an elephant, and you will watch monkeys jumping and swinging from tree to tree and tent to tent, just metres above your head, as you make your way to breakfast in the mornings. You will watch the rising sun pierce through clouds above the local plains as you walk the journey to ‘catfish temple’. You will witness the six o’clock mist enveloping the Araveli mountains each day as you leave your tent, and you will fall enamoured with the view of the neighbouring lake at twilight as the colours of the sky reflect like rainbow ribbons in its substance.
You will feel breathless as you witness the effortless, natural beauty of the country around you. You will feel humbled by its people and their customs. You will feel inspired by the grinning children whose lives hold so much less privilege yet so much more innocence than your own did at their age.
They will give you a sense of urgency and desire to help, yet with that, you will hurt. You will miss your friends when things get tough. You will want your mum to tell you that everything is going to be okay and that it’s not your responsibility to make sure that these people lead better lives than they did before you came. You will feel an obligation to help them, and you will be angered by the injustices of fate and misfortunes of nature from which they suffer. However, you will be able to, with the support and guidance of your facilitators and fellow volunteers, transform this anger into something more productive: a plan. You will be given the time and opportunity to work up your very own ‘action plan’. This can be anything from starting a social media campaign to raise awareness about feminism to fundraising for an Alzheimer’s charity. The spectrum of possible charitable or social justice action will be your oyster, and you will return to England ready to enforce a change of your own.
Finally, I think it’s incredibly important that you know this one thing: you do not have to have cycled from Crawley to Kraków and raised over £65,000 for Mary’s Meals. And you do not have to have been funding the school fees of three girls in Nepal for the last years to be considered worthy of taking part in this trip. What is important is what you want to and what you have the potential to achieve. As long as you have a strong, genuine desire to “be the change you wish to see in the world”, this will be communicated in your application and received by the judges. Trust me. Have faith in yourself, take chances, and it will get you far. I promise.
We also asked two of our judges who went along to meet the team for their memories of the trip:
“To see first-hand the enormous contribution the WE Villages programme makes to this community in Rajasthan was humbling, eye-opening, amazing and many more adjectives beyond. To do so alongside the 30 young people we’d selected to go on the scholarship trip made it even more memorable. Many of the students hadn’t even travelled outside of the UK before; so to watch and listen to their learning experiences in India highlighted the power of the WE programme. The trip made us all feel very proud of the support people at Virgin Atlantic provide, whether by taking part in trips, in fundraising or in donating to such a great cause.” – Matt, VP Corporate Comms
“Visiting Rajasthan and being able to witness in person the amazing work the WE Villages program has carried out with the community there was a powerful and truly moving experience for me. To meet and work alongside the students who were selected for the trip, who were incredibly bright, passionate and driven about making an impact, was very inspiring and is a testament to the power of young people in bringing about social change that WE is all about. Spending time with the school children and people in the community gave me memories I will hold dear to me throughout my life and a fresh perspective on what’s important. The values that Virgin Atlantic as a company is proud to stand for and support is truly manifested in our partnership with WE.” – Olivia, Executive, PR
If you are interested in applying for next year’s scholarship trip, keep an eye on the we.org website for an announcement later in the year.