Departing Heathrow bound for Delhi in India, 15 cadets and 5 staff members from 282 (East Ham) Squadron Air Cadets couldn’t contain their excitement for the adventure that lay ahead. This was an adventure that would change the lives of the cadets forever!
It was no easy task; the climate difficulties along with being out of their comfort zone, the cadets embraced the challenges and focused on the main task which was to refurbish a deprived school miles from any town which had below standard conditions. It was certainly going to be a culture shock for the cadets, but they were all confident they would do their best, work as a team, and deliver something very special to the school.
The team spent the first day acclimatising and were welcomed to the country by Captain Stuart Borland RN, the UK Air & Naval advisor in India. Containing most of the world’s poverty, the seriousness and magnitude of the situation in India set in with the team when they arrived in India, more so when they arrived at the train station ready for an overnight journey to the desert which was an experience in itself! Arriving in Bikaner in the Thar Desert, the team spent the day sampling the local culture by visiting the markets. It was then onto the Rat Temple!
The following day, the team were met by their camel drivers and camels. This was the beginning of a 4-day safari. Each day involved trekking by camel 15-20kms and camping each night on a sand dune. Each leg of the journey gave a different story. Visiting little villages along the way, greeted by families, witnessing the life struggles in such an environment, the cadets got to see the true India. Indian kids in the desert have very little, but to the team they seemed quite happy with what they had. “This is all the young people in the desert know. They make the best out of what they have, which is very little. They appreciate the small things in life. This had a great impact on the cadets as it made them appreciate the things they had back in the UK. There were no luxuries here for the team” said Pilot Officer Billy Moore, Exped 2 I/C
Each campsite enabled the team to interact with the locals. Even though there was a language barrier, the team engaged with them playing games like cricket and cards. It was definitely a great sight!
Arriving at the project site, the team got to work on refurbishing a school which was dull and below acceptable standards. The cadets took charge of the project and designed the new décor schemes for two classrooms and an office. The days were long and hot but all pushed on to get the task complete within 4 days, ready to hand over to the school at a ceremony. The cadets brought much colour to the rooms, and transformed them from a concrete dull colour to bright pleasant rooms. The kids from the school were amazed with the transformation.
Cdt Rhys Butler commented “It was very special for me, to be able to do something which would impact on so many lives. I am very proud with what we have done. This will be something I will remember for a very long time!”
For Cadet Corporal Sebastian Stewart, it was a perfect moment to reflect, “I cherished the moments we had in the desert. For me it was a moment to think and relax, to look back at my life in the UK and compare it to here in India. It was emotional at times, thinking about home and what we are doing here, but I am very proud”.
Leaving the desert for the towns, the team were sad to see the last 8 days go. The time in the desert enabled the team to get to know each other a great deal. Night time games, chats around the fire, socialising, it was all special for them. There was no internet, social media, or any electricity! Flight Lieutenant Booty said “It was amazing to see the cadets interact and build a bond which will be special to them for many years. They had few luxuries and depended on each other a great deal to get through the trip. It’s the basic social skills that kids are losing and this trip went back to basics. It was great for them”.
The final days included a safari in the Bengal Tiger National Park and a visit to the amazing Golden Temple, home of the Sikh Religion. The team got to volunteer in the temple kitchen and helped serve the 30,000 people who visit each day. Was an impressive sight for all.
“The expedition gave cadets time to think and reflect on their lives, appreciate and value what they have. It was emotional at times but very special for the cadets. The cadets were so proud of what they done with the school, and personally being present at the handover ceremony made it that little bit more special for them. Seeing them interact with the children, taking selfies with them and laughing, it was priceless! I operate these expeditions as I know it delivers a life changing moment for young people. Youngsters don’t get time to reflect and think about their future and lives. Although India is very busy and full of attractions, colour, and culture, it opens the cadets’ eyes to the world and what they have compared to other kids their age who are less fortunate. By raising their aspirations and empowering young people, they learn a great deal more and become better individuals. This is what life is about. I am very proud of the 15 cadets and the 4 staff that assisted with the running of the expedition. Seeing the school kids smile with what the cadets have given them shows that the mission was a success, and that the team made a difference. A huge thank you to all our sponsors who made the expedition possible including the Ulysses Trust and the RAF Charitable Trust. They all made a massive difference to so many lives.”
Flight Lieutenant Chris Booty RAFVR (T), Expedition Coordinator