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Nicola’s Amazon adventure made possible thanks to Futures Fund

Nicola Barnes digging a hole

Nicola Barnes with children

When Nicola Barnes arrived at the University of Sunderland, it was clear she was set on making a difference.

Already looking to help the lives of many by studying Social Work at the University, when she was presented with the chance to travel to Ecuador to improve conditions for a tribal community, she grabbed it with both hands.  

And, with financial support from the Futures Fund, she was able to venture into the heart of the Amazon rainforest for what would prove to be a once in a lifetime experience.  

Arriving with fellow volunteers from the Eco Student Abroad programme, Nicola was presented with a very different reality to what she was used to back home. The tribe lived in small wooden huts with up to ten people living under the same roof. Many of the children had little to no education whilst the community’s chicken were used as currency to buy essentials.  

For Nicola, it was a huge eye opener. She said: “Family life is very important to the tribal communities and they stay in the jungle where very few have ventured into the capital to find work and live the city life.

“The way they live is so different to how the Western world works.” 

Once there, the Social Work student got to work on improving the tribe’s infrastructure, helping to build sanitation blocks for families. In addition, Nicola also taught the children some basic English and learning how to interact with them is something she believes will prove to be valuable in her career.  

“I helped in the school to teach the children simple English by using picture cards,” she explained.  

The conditions in which Nicola worked in were massively challenging, with the team having to carry heavy equipment and materials into the jungle and dig eight foot holes in the sweltering heat and humidity of the Amazon. However, the hard work she put in made the feeling of satisfaction even greater once the project was completed.  

“Although it was very difficult to work in those conditions, it was also very rewarding once the work was completed.”  

Reflecting on her time in the jungle, Nicola found that the experience changed her perceptions and viewpoints and provided her with new insights and skills that she will carry through into her social work career in the future.  

She continued: “The tribal culture has allowed me to understand the different aspects and perspectives of life and this will be carried with me throughout my social work career and allow me to develop much needed skills in this area.”  

The trip was made possible by the Futures Fund, with the money given going towards the considerable cost of flights and injections, along with a digital camera. Nicola paid tribute to the fund and its donors and added that their assistance was crucial to the success of the trip.  

She concluded: “Receiving the sponsorship allowed me to have an experience of a life time in the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador, South America and capture memories on a digital camera that was purchased with part of the sponsorship money.  

“Thank you so much to the Futures Fund. I’m hugely appreciative of the help that I’ve been given.”

Article written by Matthew Shevlin, University of Sunderland Journalism graduate. 

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