Animal-mad teenager Kate Barrett got the opportunity of a lifetime to spend a month studying the unique wildlife of Madagascar.
And the experience of seeing some of the world’s rarest creatures at first hand has renewed 18-year-old Kate’s determination to become a vet.
Kate, of Ashlea Avenue, Rastrick, and 19 of her friends and two teachers from Rastrick High School spent a month travelling in Madagascar and helping with the building of a school.
They were on an educational expedition organised by World Challenge and got the opportunity to trek through the rain forest, visit nature reserves and tour the island.
Kate has been mad about animals since she was child, an interest encouraged by her grand-father, the late Clive Precious of Norwood Green, who was a keen supporter of the RSPCA for many years. Since she was 14 Kate has been a volunteer at the RSPCA centre in Bradford and she has a weekend job at Sage Vets, also in Bradford.
To pay for her trip, Kate had to raise more than £2,100 and was helped in her efforts by villagers in Norwood Green, businesses, friends and members of her family.
Despite being ‘petrified’ of heights, she took part in a sponsored abseil from the roof of Manchester Velodrome and raised a staggering £1,600.
Kate said: “I am very grateful to everyone who donated money to help me fund my trip. I had a fantastic time and saw some amazing things.
“It was a real eye-opener seeing the standard of living of the people on the island but my main sense of achievement was of helping build the school.
“We were unable to completely finish the school in our time in the village but we left money for the roof to be finished and we have now been informed that it has been completed since our return.”
Kate, who is studying chemistry, biology, history and maths at A-level, said working on the school gave her and her friends an insight into the lives of villagers in Madagascar and brought them into close contact with the local community.
“It was hard work because none of us is really used to manual labour but you could see that we making progress every day.
“The village needed a school of its own because when the river flooded, which happened fairly regularly, the children were unable to get across to the nearest school.
“During our 10 days there, we had to attach the timber walls to the frame, collect rocks for the floor and mix cement.
“After school, the children would stop on their way home and help us - and then we would all go down to the beach and play games and football.
“Three women from the village cooked our meals - mostly it was rice and beans and one day we ate zebu - which is a type of cattle.”
The students stayed in tents and hostels and travelled from the north to the south of the island by taxi buses.
For Kate one of the highlights was the chance to see many types of lemurs, a species unique to Madagascar, at close hand, as well as chameleons and geckos.
“As we trekked through the forests, we could hear the lemurs in the trees all around us and see them moving about. There were also the biggest spiders and moths I’ve ever seen.
“We also saw lots of giant tortoises and went to a crocodile farm.”
Madagascar has been described as a ‘lost Eden’. Over 80 per cent of its flora and fauna is unique to the country, making it a biologist’s paradise.
Kate is now concentrating on her school work with the aim of taking veterinary studies at university in September.
“I really enjoyed my experiences in Madagascar and feel lucky to have had the chance to go there and see the huge variety of wildlife.
“It is my dream to work with animals and I hope I will be able to achieve it.”