Take the Leap and do Your Bit!


Milly Whitehead reflects on her journey of understanding what community service and ‘doing our bit’ means to her. She chronicles her experience to share with you.

Age 8

One of my lasting memories of my Mum was trailing behind her while she ‘did her bit’ for the community. Every Thursday after school, we would pop down to Stone (our local town) and hop into the travelling library bus perfectly placed by Brassingtons – the one and only, and simply the best, sweet shop in town.

Buckets and buckets of sweets all neatly laid out on perfectly spaced shelves – the colours, the senses in overload. I was given my 10 pence and delighted in buying my weekly supply of cherry lips, and because we were ‘doing our bit,’ Mr. Brassington would pop in two perfect pear drops. Delicious.

So with my paper bag in hand I would sit quietly on the library bus and watch my Mum ‘do her bit.’

“Mrs. Blog, how lovely to see you …you look so well… you’ve had a new hair-do I see, the pink really suits you. Now come along, let’s help you up, there we go…did you enjoy last week’s book? No? Really? What a shame, you lost your glasses? Never mind, let’s find you something else, maybe with a bigger print…Milly! Help Mrs. Blog reach the top shelf while I help Mrs. Twitter…”

On and on this went, never drawing breath. A chat here, a smile there and chortling all around. The atmosphere inside the bus was happy and I quickly realized the oldies were not really interested in their books at all, but more in their weekly catch-up with Mum.

I remember discussing our activities and was particularly concerned about the weekly fibs she liberally handed out: Clearly the pink rinse looked terrible, and Mrs. Blog had never really lost her glasses as they were always on her nose. Why was Mum allowed to tell blatant fibs when it was a no-no at home, and how could fibs be associated with ‘doing her bit’? In fact what did she mean by ‘doing our bit’?


‘’Milly,’’ she said, “it might look like a smelly old brown bus full of musty books and old people, but this bus, these books – and dare I say it – our company, makes their day a little brighter. Mrs. Blog and Mrs. Twitter plan their day around our visit. It gives their day a purpose; our chat about their hair-do’s makes them feel special and in return it makes me feel good about myself… We’re putting ourselves out for two hours a week to help others – to ‘do our bit’ for the community – and I say it’s is a win-win situation all around because, at the end of the day, we’ve brightened up each other’s day. When you grow up and you’re asked to help with community service, remember this feeling.

Hmmm, maybe…but still confused.

Age 18

taketheleap03Zimbabwe, Africa: Far from Stone and the big brown bus (which incidentally is now green). My own gap year. My own time zone of freedom, adventure and self-indulgence. I did it all: Walked through the bush on safari; white-water rafted; canoed down the Zambezi; drank 101 Tuskers. But in month three, self-indulgence was over and self-reflection had started.

I was over-staying my welcome in Kwe Kwe on a friend’s game reserve, loafing around and wondering what to do. Cathy, the matriarch of the camp – clearly irritated by my loafing – asked me to help with the reserve wages and to hop on Rudi’s horse, head west (literally) and deliver them to the workers’ village. Wow! Suddenly I had responsibility for the first time in, well, ages.

Saddled up and ready for all eventualities, I headed off west to deliver the brown envelopes. I picked my way through the boiling bush and eventually arrived at the village. I was greeted with a mixture of interest, fascination and trepidation; white girl on the master’s horse delivering the wages. Where has she come from?

Feeling out of my comfort zone, I remembered another maternal sound-bite: “If in doubt, smile like your life depends on it.” And so I did, and so the ice was broken.

Every day, I found an excuse to stay another day on the reserve and to head west on the master’s big white steed. I would take pens, pads for the little ones, footballs and anything else I could think of which would allow us all to communicate, interact, and enjoy each other’s company for hours and days on end.

I returned home every night full of stories: I helped teach English to the little ones; helped the grown-ups with their homework; learned how to cook local food; and taught the mums how to make cakes. It was truly enjoyable for all of us. Like the big brown bus, it was a win-win situation. Was I ‘doing my bit,’ community service, Mum’s style?

The penny had dropped.


To the present day…
age 43

Married, children, dogs and a husband-and-wife business, responsible for sending hundreds of gap-year students overseas to ‘do their bit,’ way off the beaten track.

Helping orphans in Cambodia become self-sufficient by selling their art to tourists; teaching English in Tanzania to those who cannot afford to go to school; and working in a care home for the disabled in Ecuador are just the tip of the iceberg.

Projects, which we’ve found, where we make a difference – however small – always with my Mum’s mantra in my ear: “We have the ability to make their day a little bit better, and in return it makes us feel good about ourselves. It’s a win-win situation all the way around.”

I highly recommend it. Do your bit.


Contributed by:

Milly Whitehead , The Leap Gap Year

For more information about these volunteer and intern programmes contact Milly at The Leap: www.the leap.co.uk or

Or take a look at this blog wheretovolunteer.org/ for independent Gap Year information.

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