Mather Travel Award Reports

If you are planning a trip to meet people of other nationalities and cultures, carry out a project somewhere in the world or volunteer to help international or UK communities then consider applying for this award. Read reports from some of the earliest recipients of this new DHSA travel award to inspire your sense of adventure.

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If you are inspired reading these Mather Travel Award success stories and meet the application criteria, you can apply right now!


Olivia Openshaw

Award recipient Olivia Openshaw (2012) used the Mather Travel Award as part of a career break to travel to Myanmar where she worked for a solar energy social enterprise start up in Yangon, helping set up the accounting system from scratch.

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Olivia Openshaw

Olivia writes:

In March 2020 I worked for a charity based in Myanmar through Accounting for International Development, an organisation which connects charities around the world with volunteer accountants. I had read about this organisation in a National Geographic and thought it would be a good thing to incorporate into part of a ‘career break’ I had been granted from work. The scheme costs a set fee and in return they match your particular skills and available time to charities in an area of the world of your choice. I was offered the following four options: an internal audit of a charity supporting victims of sexual abuse in Vietnam, budgeting and cash flow forecasting for a community based organisation in Nepal, an accounts review for a charity providing for street families in Cambodia or, the one I chose: helping set up the accounting system from scratch for a solar energy social enterprise start up in Yangon.

Mee Panyar was formed in early 2019 with the aim of developing small scale solar systems to bring clean electricity to remote local communities. Their focus is on replacing the current systems which are based on diesel consumption with solar ones, having an impact both on the environment and improving accessibility to reliable and equitable sources of energy in the remote communities.

So far they have progressed very successfully and I went to support them setting up an internal financial system as thus far the accounting had been outsourced. This was my first venture in accounting outside audit at Deloitte and I started to really value my training when I realised how well I understood their company from a review of their finances.

Coronavirus was already beginning to be an issue before I set off but everything was still uncertain at the time and, as there were no cases in Myanmar, they encouraged me to come. Everything went well to begin with and I was a big fan of the two girls running Mee Panyar – both are American, my age (in their mid-twenties) and it was very inspiring to see their ambition and drive and what they’re achieving within a country governed so differently to what they’re familiar with, whilst also not speaking the language (though they are learning!). I spent a lot of time with them outside of work in Yangon and was pleasantly surprised to find many quirky art galleries and events amongst all the crumbling old colonial buildings. I also developed quite a taste for Burmese food – Shan noodles became a bit of a staple.

I had barely been there over a week, however, when the co-working space where we were based was closed with immediate effect due to coronavirus. This was a great shame as it was hugely atmospheric with a stunning view across the Yangon River – especially at sunset! Later that day the government announced that all schools were closing which prompted very chaotic mass stock piling. It was interesting to experience the unfurling of this pandemic in a country run by such a non-transparent government. The closure of schools, for instance, had seemed to be generally interpreted as an indication that the situation was far worse than let on (at this point there were still no confirmed cases in Myanmar), hence all the stockpiling – and not just of food, but also filtered water containers and cash.

It was agreed that in the circumstances I should switch my plans around and bring my travel forward in the hope that by the time I returned, things might have calmed down and the office space would have reopened. I went to Bagan, one of the more untouched and magical big ticket tourist destinations I’ve been to, before heading on to Inle Lake, famed for the traditional fishermen (photo). Despite living in a bubble where all the news was in Burmese, the daily BBC updates made it rapidly clear that things were not about to calm down at all. Whether or not to leave or which countries still had their borders open became big topics in the hostels – and then it became a concern that hub airports might close. It was increasingly obvious that I needed to cut my time short and then I heard that the other three non-Burmese members of the Mee Panyar team were arranging their departures back to their home countries.

I brought my flight forward just as the foreign office changed their guidance to request all nationals abroad to return home. It was only as I left Myanmar that the scale of what was happening elsewhere hit me. I arrived at the airport to find absolute mayhem. My connection from Doha to London had just been cancelled which meant that I wasn’t allowed on the flight to Doha. The solitary airline rep was struggling with the many people in a similar situation and there was a total scramble as we all tried to find alternative ways of getting home. A travel agent friend advised me to get on the first flight I could and was able to secure a ticket for me on a flight via Hong Kong. This wasn’t straight forward either though as the flight left in less than half an hour and as it was so last minute, it wasn’t possible to process a ticket online. However, by this point it was policy to accept any tickets and so the check in staff advised to buy the first that I could (3 days later) and I could travel on that. I ran to the departure desk, checked-in my luggage and then had a 20-minute mad dash through the airport to get on the plane. The most unsettling part of the whole experience, however, was the sea of hazmat suits which greeted me at the Hong Kong transit lounge. It was here where the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic really hit home.

I finished my placement remotely whilst self-isolating at my parents in the UK just as lockdown was announced. I can safely say it was not the experience I had anticipated but arguably it was an even more memorable and treasured one, particularly as the possibility of doing anything similar currently seems far on the horizon. Never have just over two weeks seemed more like months and months! I am extremely grateful for the time I had to support this worthwhile charity and thank the DHSA very much for awarding me the first Mather Travel Award. I hope to keep in contact with the Mee Panyar team and to visit them in the future.

Amelia Hughes

Award recipient Ameila Hughes (2019) put her Mather Travel Award towards her travel costs to Argentina, where she represented England in the inaugural Women’s Polo World Cup held in Buenos Aires.

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Amelia Hughes

Ameila writes:

Having arrived in Argentina after an incredibly long flight and all my bags going missing, myself and my teammates made our way out to our Airbnb in Pilar. Pilar was the first stop of our journey prior to the start of the World Cup.

We spent our first two weeks in Pilar training and preparing for the games that awaited us. This included riding horses that we did not know and of all different heights, abilities and quirks. The reason for this was that we were getting randomly selected horses for the tournament, so we had to be prepared to be given anything. Training in Pilar was an incredible experience to be able to have had especially at one of the top Polo ranches out there called La Quinta. The coaches that we had who helped us with team tactics were second to none and were eye-opening for an up-and-coming player like myself, I learnt things that I could take away which will help to improve my own personal game.

After the two weeks were over it was time to head into the city centre of Buenos Aires. The city was magnificent everything about it was magical, the food, streets, music, dancing, artwork and people all created the most amazing atmosphere to be around. This was 100% something that made the trip so special and a memory that I will never forget. On our first day in Buenos Aires, we had been welcomed by the Argentine Association Polo (AAP) who greeted us with tickets to a live music concert being held in the evening on pitch 1 Palermo.

After an amazing evening the next day we were to drive back out to Pilar for the reading out of the rules and for all teams to sign signatures and have photos taken, followed by a practice game on the selected horses given to each team. In our practice game, we were put against Brazil. Of course, this was mainly a friendly game to have a feel of our horses but deep down we all also wanted to show everybody that England was a team to fear. After finishing the practice, it was time to head back to BA to sort out team tactics and preparations before our First game.

Game Day 1: England Vs. Ireland 6-1 Victory!

The first game of the tournament was against a team close to home. The Irish team were an extremely strong team and knowing a few of their players this came to our advantage when deciding tactics. The game was extremely fast and tough and both teams hungry for the win.

Only having played 2 chukkas of the game going into the 3rd I had ended up in the Ambulance due to a ball being smashed into my skull. Regardless of whether I should have gotten on I was not being taken off on the first game of the World Cup and so I got back on and continued playing. Only to then have the rotten luck of having a difficult horse in the last chukka of which threw me off. Having landed in the ambulance twice in one game and scoring a few goals I was pretty chuffed with the day!

Game 2: England Vs. Argentina 5-3 Victory!

Playing against the home team was an incredible experience the crowds were bigger than ever with every seat being filled. We had an incredible game against Argentina and came away with the win. Also, not to mention being the only team of the tournament to have beaten them!

Game 4: England Vs. Italy (win)

The next stage was knockouts in which we came face to face with Italy. The team we played in the finals in Europeans and lost to by 0.5 goal. Therefore, every bit of pressure for us to win! We all fought hard and came away with the win! it was well deserved and lead us to the semi-finals! A chance for either Gold, Silver or Bronze medal game!

Game 5: England Vs. USA (loose) 4-5

The semi-finals were a super tough game. We all played incredibly well and certainly did not deserve to lose. However, unfortunately, the horsepower did not match giving the USA an advantage over our team and so the control was out of our hands.

This brings us to the 3rd/4th playoffs of which we came face to face with Italy again and we knew we were not letting them win this match! The game was extremely close in which ended in a draw. Due to this the game ended in a penalty shoot-out of which two players were chosen from each team. With the skill of our talented penalty takers, England won bringing home the Bronze!!

In the overall tournament statistics were made where I came

1st position Throw-ins

5th 50/50 balls

4th Assists

Out of all the players of the tournament which was a great achievement to come away with being the second youngest in the tournament.

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