AS contrasts go, it could hardly be more extreme – leaving behind urban life in Edinburgh for a three-week expedition in the remote Yukon territory of Canada.
Exploring one of the world’s toughest landscapes was the hardest but most rewarding challenge of Castlebrae High School pupil Leah Carrigan’s life.
Leah’s school is situated in an area of multiple deprivation and she had never been on a plane before, let alone encountered tough mountainous territory in testing weather conditions.
As part of a group of courageous Young Explorers on the British Exploring Society’s (BES) Ambassador Programme, she trekked, camped, learned bushcraft skills and canoed 230 miles along water courses, building confidence and resilience, making new friends and developing leadership skills.
Leah, 16, said: “I stepped on the plane and out of my comfort zone...when I landed a day later I realised I was far from home and everything I knew.
“Seeing our base camp for the first time was a complete shock. It was so basic – a never-ending field with no facilities.
“Over the next three weeks we hiked up steep mountains carrying all our supplies in all weather conditions. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I persevered to the end and I learned that I can do anything I want to if I try hard enough.
“Being in a group full of many different types of personalities taught me how to interact with people from all walks of life. It doesn’t matter if you’re different, you can all get along. I surprised myself because I worked hard to include everyone in my group, and through this I became a leader. The leaders of the group asked me to come back and be a junior leader. I took these skills back to school and feel I have proven what I am capable of.”
She added: “This experience has changed my life for the better. It has made me want to travel more and has opened up my social circle. When my friends or family ask about my experience I tell them it wasn’t easy at all. It was mentally and physically challenging, but also extremely rewarding. I would 100 per cent recommend this experience to anyone as it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Claire Drummond, head of charitable giving for Aberdeen Charitable Foundation, which helped fund the trip, added: “As can be seen by Leah’s example, this programme has the ability to build skills in communications, confidence, motivation, problem solving, environmental awareness, resilience and community. It transforms lives.
“Castlebrae High School is just three miles from our Edinburgh office and its involvement in the BES programme is a great fit with our charitable foundation’s vision to support and impact the local communities where our employees work. Through Leah’s example, we can see the hugely positive impact these opportunities can bring.”