Struggling Kieran was a 25-year-old suffering from depression until he went to Nepal and his whole life changed
A Northern Ireland man who was at his lowest ebb as he fought severe depression has told how volunteering in Nepal transformed his life and gave him back his self-esteem.
Kieran Mines, from Crossmaglen, had been struggling with low confidence and low self-worth and was undergoing one-on-one counselling.
But after his counsellor suggested volunteering as a way of getting out and connecting with people, the 25-year-old found a programme online and he said he has never looked back.
"Before I went over there I had no real self-worth, but the experience taught me that I'm a lot stronger than I thought I was and I can do a lot more than I thought I could," Kieran said.
"I did stuff that I never thought I'd be able to do and it was just because I had that support and I had that help.
"Before I got over there I didn't know myself, but the way they treat you and the way they push you and the way they do team leaderships, it's just set up to build you as well as build the community you're in."
Kieran chose the International Citizen Service (ICS) programme, partnered with Raleigh ICS, which brings young people from the UK to work with local communities and create long-lasting change in countries like Nicaragua, Tanzania and Nepal.
He said he was quickly drawn to the programme because of the emphasis on working with local communities, both abroad and at home.
"Instead of just going out and doing your charity work, once you get home, you concentrate heavily on action at home, where you continue what you were doing in your country," Kieran said.
He added that Raleigh ICS also focused on integrating UK volunteers with local people. For every UK volunteer there was a Nepali volunteer and for the 10 weeks that Kieran and the other volunteers stayed in Nibuwater, they lived with host families.
"Even though there was a language barrier, getting to know your family and the rest of the people in the community and how they live… That was the most beautiful experience ever," Kieran said.
For the first few weeks, the team focused on meeting with the Nibuwater community to teach them about sustainability and hygiene. They talked about treating water for drinking, climate change and staying safe in natural disasters like earthquakes and lightning strikes.
The volunteers also discussed their plans for building a water tank, toilets and hand-washing stations and listened to figure out "what they felt was the most important thing in their community".
Kieran said there were some difficulties at first in figuring out how to work with the people in Nibuwater.
Some of the issue was caused by the language barrier, even though many of the UK volunteers had learned some Nepali before they arrived. In the end, it came down to understanding the Nibuwater people instead of imposing on them.
"Just figuring out how they worked and not how we wanted them to work was the best way to do it," he said.
But by the end of the 10 weeks, the volunteers had helped build a 20,000 litre water tank, five toilets and four hand-washing stations. The UK volunteers also gave English lessons and set up a camp for the children.
Kieran said going to Nepal was a big step for him, but he hopes that others will make the same decision he did.
"It's not as hard as people think," he said.
"And no matter if it's a tiny step or a big leap, (volunteering) really does make a difference in the long run."