Witnessing poverty at its height has proven life changing for Anna.
Travelling to some of the most poverty-stricken pockets of the world as a teenager has not only opened her eyes to how fortunate she is to have grown up with the luxuries of everyday life but it has influenced her future career goals too.
Now planning for her next trip as part of Tees Valley Youth for Christ, this time as a leader, the Stockton Riverside College student hopes to help pass those important life lessons on to others.
She said: “It helps you to lead a better life when you become more thankful of what you have.”
Describing herself as a bit of a home bird, the now 21-year-old from Stockton has twice travelled to deprived areas of Mexico and perhaps more surprisingly, Texas, where she worked on a range of school, agricultural and conservation projects to support local communities.
“We travelled to an area called Bonton in Dallas where it is a food desert. The nearest grocery store is a three-hour trip so they end up living on tinned and processed foods,” she said.
With limited access to fresh foods she explained: “The risk of diabetes and stroke is higher.”
Through the Christian organisation which brings young volunteers together from a number of churches across the Tees Valley, Anna’s team were able to help out on a farm set up in Bonton to help create opportunities and promote healthier diet habits.
“It was hard work but so worth it,” she said. It is experiences like this that have led her to want to study dietetics or food nutrition at university.
Choosing an Access to Higher Education Science course at Stockton Riverside College is now giving her the step up she needs to pursue her ambitions.
She said: “Seeing the impact of poor nutrition and malnourishment in both Bonton and in deprived areas of Mexico made me think, wow you can really make a difference.”
But she added you don’t have to travel that far, with many people suffering with malnutrition right here in the UK.
A firm believer in doing what you can to support others, she said: “In my career I want to do something where I can help people.”
This summer Anna is again heading off with a group of young people from Tees Valley Youth for Christ, this time to Lilongwe, Milawi, in Africa where much of the population lives in poverty or extreme poverty.
At 21 she will now be helping to lead the group of teenage volunteers who will be expected to roll up the sleeves to help community-based projects.
Anna said: “I am so lucky to have had these experiences. You could think it would be more beneficial to just send the money, but there is more to it than that. It is about the lessons that you learn, the people that you meet and seeing life from a different perspective, a different culture and in these cases extreme poverty.”
It has certainly had an impact on her. At 21 Anna works part-time alongside her studies and sponsors two children, a five-year-old in the Dominican Republic and a seven-year-old in Ethiopia.
She said: “It is all about the impact you can have on other people.”
Anna is now raising funds to help the group on their way to Lilongwe. She will be holding a cake sale in the College, watch out on Stockton Riverside College Facebook for further details.