I’m Aliema, a 21-year-old from Liverpool who completed NCS in 2014. Today, I have returned to The Challenge for a day’s work placement while I’m in London as part of my studies with the University of Liverpool. I genuinely believe taking part in NCS has changed my life and positively influenced the person I am today.

Even though I view myself as a confident Bangladeshi Muslim woman, I have always hesitated placing myself in unknown situations. The opportunity for NCS arose during year 12 and I grabbed the chance of doing it.

One thing I’m extremely grateful for is that NCS has given me the confidence to experience things I never thought I would do. As part of my adventure, even though I hate heights and water, I did gorge-walking, abseiling and caving.

Another amazing aspect of NCS is the community project we had to work on, helping to raise money to give presents to patients in a local hospital. It was very rewarding giving back to my community and it later influenced me to do more voluntary work. My post-NCS experiences vary from organising a multicultural night to raise money for humanitarian crises to volunteering in the hospital, helping vulnerable elderly people to overcome loneliness.

During the programme I met individuals I never thought I would meet. It was an amazing chance to engage with young people my age from different ethnic backgrounds.  By having different conversations with the other participants we all learnt a lot about each other, such as our lifestyles, faiths and cultures. This experience made me realise the importance of social integration.

I believe dialogue with people from different communities can build bridges and overcome negative barriers. Divisions in society thrive on negative stereotypes – I believe there should be a greater emphasis that differences in society are not a bad thing and that they should be embraced. This vicious cycle of hostility and fear for one another can be stopped with a simple conversation and, for me, NCS was the perfect opportunity to have that important initial chat.

With the self-confidence I gained from NCS, I put myself forward for competitive opportunities. Luckily I was successful in getting a summer community internship with University of Liverpool, which allowed me to network with inspirational individuals who share the same passion for the work that’s happening in the third sector.

After completing NCS I’m more aware of inequalities in society. It has created a passion in me to help end inequalities such as the under representation of ethnic minority women in the political field. I believe it’s the main reason why I’m now studying for a degree in International Politics and Policy at University of Liverpool.  I’d love to be a role model for women who can relate to my identity as a Hijabi Asian Muslim woman. I’m aware it will be a long journey but it is achievable.

I’m also a successful candidate for ParliaMentors – an interfaith UN funded project, which begins this autumn, where I’ll be mentored by an MP and complete yet another social action project. I believe these small steps will help me become a social leader of change. As long as I work hard, be consistent, have patience and place myself in challenging situations, the world is my oyster.

To sum it up, my experience with NCS has been life changing, and I’d recommend it to anyone!