In June, a group of excited students and staff from SW!TCH Expeditions underwent a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to swap Dagenham (in east London) for a life-changing experience in Sierra Leone.

SW!TCH Expeditions is an independent school run by LifeLine Projects, which enables youngsters (who struggled with mainstream education and were on the verge of dropping out) to gain skills and qualifications through an expedition overseas.

Led by Nathan Singleton, they travelled 3,000 miles to join in life with the team at LifeLine Nehemiah Projects.

Why did they go?
The SW!TCH team wanted to bring their students an appreciation for what they already had, but took for granted. In Dagenham, you don’t ask questions like, “Can I drink this water?”. “Will I get malaria from this mosquito bite?”, “Am I in danger of amputation if my leg becomes infected?”, or “How many cockroaches will I share my bed with tonight?”!!!

Living in a first-world country can make you very immune to the difficulties and lifestyles faced by those in developing countries. So SW!TCH EXPEDITIONS has set out to show young people these other, different cultures, to help them appreciate what they have and to see that they can transform the lives of others by donating their time and energies.

In order to get there, they spent lessons preparing for life in a remote rural village with no ‘mod cons’  – flushing toilets were just a dream!

And they had to crowd fund to raise the money in order to get there – but they did it! They raised over £12,000!

What happened?
“This trip exceeded all our expectations” reflects Nathan.  “There was huge opportunity for personal breakthrough in staff and students alike.”

One student discovered a new-found appreciation for simple things – such as not having to share her bedroom in Dagenham with cockroaches! Her attitude shifted considerably over the week, especially when she realised that one of the Sierra Leonean students had actually given up their bed for her! Then she was able to deal with cockroaches without tantrums.

Another student confronted a fear that was causing an eating disorder – a significant personal breakthrough.

The students helped support the work of LNP in Freetown, visiting classes in the school and meeting the boys from the Nehemiah home.

They also met some of the new mums, babies and mentors from the pregnant teens mentoring scheme, set up by LifeLine’s Lucy November.

So exciting to see all those wonderful new babies!

Teaching Frisbee to children from the school.

Flooding knocked out the internet – SW!TCH students got stuck in to help!

They took part in back-breaking work digging in the compound, despite the hot, sticky weather and rain!

They travelled overland to the rural village of Punduru, where LNP is working with the whole village to strengthen farming techniques and provide literacy and numeracy, with a greater support for women and disabled villagers.

What are the outcomes?
At their recent graduation, one parent said, “When he was at school, my son was never allowed to go on a trip but SW!TCH Expeditions has taken him on an adventure of a lifetime.”

Nathan reflects, “In five or ten years’ time, these students will still speak of how their trip to Sierra Leone changed their lives and their view of the world.  If it hadn’t been for the dedication of our staff, the mentoring and the alternative provision programme, these students would probably have been permanently excluded from school and not be where they are today.”