A YOUNG woman is sharing her gap-year experiences 5,000 miles from home to help out in her own community.

Nineteen-year-old Zoe Watson, of Kendal, spent three months volunteering in Bangladesh and living with a host family to see first-hand the challenges faced by poor, vulnerable women.

The former Queen Katherine School pupil helped with a project to give women the skills they need to earn their own living, such as cultivating mushrooms to sell at market.

"I had an incredible time in Bangladesh, and I really felt our project was making a difference in the community," said Zoe, who travelled with Voluntary Service Overseas as part of the UK government-funded International Citizen Service programme.

"There were so many cultural barriers preventing women from working, but hopefully we broke them down and proved women are capable of being in employment," she said.

"Many had no confidence in their own ability. It’s great to think the training that VSO projects provide will help marginalised women take control of their lives and go on to reach their full potential. I also got to experience a whole new culture, and made some friends for life."

Since returning home, Zoe has been busy raising awareness of the impact of climate change on Bangladesh, by speaking to groups like the Rotary Club and Soroptimist International.

"With my friends, I focused on the impact of fast fashion and persuaded 35 friends to pledge to not buy any new clothes for the month of July," she said.

"I would strongly encourage anyone to stop buying new clothes unless absolutely necessary, or from sustainable brands, as the fashion industry is the second biggest polluter in the world."

Zoe is now studying geography at the University of Manchester, and said she would encourage other young people to volunteer.

"I think it's so important young people get involved in projects like this," she told the Gazette.

"More than half the world's population is under 25 so we’re the ones with the power to change things. I'd really encourage other young people to think about applying for ICS."

ICS is funded by UK aid, so young people do not need cash, qualifications or work experience to take part, just the desire to make a difference to the lives of some of the world’s poorest communities.

Before she left for Bangladesh, Zoe raised £900 for VSO to help ensure communities in developing countries continue to benefit from the work of volunteers.

Felicity Morgan, director of ICS, said: “It’s really inspiring to hear about the fantastic work Zoe is doing. We’re incredibly proud UK aid is supporting young Brits to bring about positive change in some of the world’s poorest communities.

"As an organisation working on the frontline against poverty, VSO sees how people across Britain play an important role in delivering UK aid. From the NHS and Army helping end the Ebola crisis, to the millions who generously donate, and the contribution we all make through taxes, together we are all making the world a fairer, safer place.”

To find out more about ICS or to apply, visit www.volunteerics.org