Big-hearted Jeff Young had been living in sheltered accommodation for 18 months and was at a crossroads when he was inspired to help needy people in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
The Haddington teenager had been forced to leave home amid family problems and was living a nomadic existence between supported accommodation before he settled at the Blue Triangle Housing Association in Musselburgh.
Inspired by a Raleigh International presentation on overseas aid he attended there, Mr Young successfully applied for a three-month sojourn to South America with the charity and is now preparing to pack his bags for the trip of a lifetime.
He will help develop sanitation projects, build shelters for the homeless and work with endangered animals such as giant turtles.
But he also hopes his story will inspire other teenagers here to do their bit to make a difference.
“A year ago I had nothing – no job, no home and now I’m off round the world and able to give something back,” the 17-year-old said. “I can’t wait.”
“I want to help because no-one helped me. I want to make a difference.
“There are a lot of stereotypes about homeless people but they are still people. They just have nowhere to live.
“I wanted to do something to help other people.”
With a background in the building trade, Mr Young believes he will be an asset to the project and said he plans to begin a communities course at college on his return to the UK.
He said: “I’m not a pen-to-paper guy. I’m a lot more hands on, so Raleigh is right up my street. Ultimately I would love to work for an organisation like Raleigh.”
The former Knox Academy pupil had to raise thousands of pounds to fund his South American adventure.
He also had to put in many hours training with Josh Davidson from the Venture Trust, to ensure he’s fit enough to face the rigorous workload and adventure challenges that await him.
He said: “I built up the fitness I need for this when I was in my early teens because I used to do Munro climbing with my dad.
“This and the work I’ve been doing with Josh will really help me.”
He added: “Blue Triangle has helped a lot by keeping my place open while I’m away. Carberry Health Link 360 has given me all my injections for travel at a discount. I feel a bit like a pin cushion but it’s worth it.”
Gordon Annand, project manager at Blue Triangle Housing Association in Musselburgh, said: “We are just so proud of Jeff’s achievements.
“He’s remained focused and motivated and has worked really well from the time he has been with us.
“It’s all to do with his hard work. It’s been such a life-changing event.
“If it can work for Jeff, it can work for others.”