The life changing experience of trekking the Sahara

Earlier this year 37 intrepid trekkers completed a demanding 177km expedition across the Sahara!

The relentless heat and ranging sandstorms did not deter them in their mission, to raise funds for the EY Foundation. They were successful in their quest – raising over £53,000!


The funds will support our work to remove barriers to employment for young people from low-income backgrounds, moving them closer to the jobs they want and careers they deserve.


The adventurous group included EY Foundation alumni and EY Consulting Service Delivery Associate, Zara Hussain and fellow Delivery Associate Louisa Brabbin. For Zara and Louisa, the sense of accomplishment extended beyond the trek.


Read on to find out more about the stories behind their participation, the personal impact of the trek, and their advice to others considering supporting the EY Foundation.

Tell us a little bit about your role at EY

Zara: I am currently an associate based in Newcastle. I have just completed my Level 6 CMDA Degree Apprenticeship. My plans for the future include specialising within the Project Management Office (PMO) department as I was lucky enough to find what I was truly passionate about and engaged with.



Louisa: I joined EY on the Business Leadership and Management Degree Apprenticeship straight from sixth form and have worked within the Consultancy Service Delivery department for the last three years.


In this time, I have been involved in a range of projects, predominantly within the Conduct Risk solution area but also some experience within Anti-Money Laundering. I have also spent 20% of my time at Northumbria University completing my degree and I am currently working towards achieving my chartered manager status accredited by the Chartered Manager Institute.



Why did you participate in the Trek?

Zara: The reason I decided to participate in the trek was because I was previously on the Smart Futures programme in 2018. I had such an invaluable experience that provided me with the core foundation I needed to be competent in my job today.


I truly believe that the reason why I had the opportunity to become a degree apprentice at EY was due to my previous experience on the Smart Futures programme. Seeing how this changed my life and shaped my career, I just wanted the opportunity to give this to at least one person and help support them in the early years of their career.



Louisa: My love of travelling and adventure attracted me to this challenge as it would help me develop both physical and mental endurance. I always wanted to explore new regions of Africa and the culture/history of Morocco strongly appealed to me. However, the main reason as to why I wanted to participate in this challenge is to support the work of EY Foundation.


Whilst I recognised the privileges I have had growing up, I understood this isn’t the case for everybody. Having joined EY through the apprenticeship programme in Newcastle, I’ve been exposed to alternate methods of entering the professional world, and how these routes can benefit people from all backgrounds. For this reason, I wanted the opportunity to raise funds in order to further the work of the EY Foundation as I have seen the great work they have done to help young people overcome the barriers to employment.

How has participating in the trek impacted you?

Louisa: Participating in the trek taught me a lot about myself. Firstly, it showed how resilient I can be. There were times I really struggled but I knew I had to persevere. It also taught me to be grateful for the small things in life… showers, bed, toilet etc.


I’ve come back from the trek feeling inspired by the people I was surrounded with and learnt so much from them. It was daunting to be in a completely different environment with new people, however we had such a fantastic group it showed me that good friendships and support can sometimes be the best motivation. 



Zara: Participating in the trek gave me the ability and confidence to understand that I can do anything I put my mind to. Whilst challenging, I was able to connect and network with so many people from different background, allowing me to learn something from each one of them.



What is your abiding memory?

Zara: The memory that I will cherish forever was finding out that I received a first in my dissertation on the top of a sand dune watching the sunset, surrounded by amazing people. That is something that money can’t buy, and I will be eternally grateful for such experience.



Louisa: One abiding memory from the trek was watching the sunsets on the dunes each night. It was the most breath-taking view and I have never seen anything like it. The night skies were also so beautiful, and we were able to see the milky way every evening. 



Please walk us through how you received and celebrated your results?

Louisa: Both myself and Zara knew our dissertation grades had been released, but we weren’t able to check as there was no data or signal in the desert. However, one night we were on a big dune watching the sunset and someone had a bar of data on their phone. We checked our results one after another and were screaming with joy that we both achieved First Class Honours. We ran back to camp to celebrate, and evening was followed by a delicious dinner, a congratulation speech and a performance by our Berbers. We were all dancing around the fire singing and laughing which was such a great moment. 


Zara: After receiving my results, everyone standing around us, including on the sand dunes opposite, and were cheering and congratulating me. I was lucky enough to be given a personal shoutout by Crispin [a trek leader] who congratulated both me and Louisa for our achievement. That same night the Berbers had put on a lovely show of singing and dancing round a fire, it was genuinely magical. The next day, Crispin and the Berbers had surprised us both with a cake freshly made in the desert.

What did it mean to you?

Zara: To see how people genuinely cared and giving me the boost of morale I needed having struggled adapting to my new surroundings, I felt fulfilled. I found my purpose and celebrating with such kind and genuine people made the trek even more worth it.



Louisa: It meant so much to me to find out that all my hard work over the last three years had paid off, especially in such a memorable place. Our group made the evening amazing and made us feel so proud of our achievements. I also wouldn’t have ever experienced anything like the trek if it wasn’t for the opportunities from EY, so it made the moment feel so much more special. 


What would your advice be to others considering supporting the Foundation?

Louisa: I would recommend everybody to participate in the trek or other fundraising activities if they are able to. I had the time of my life, and it was great to see how much we raised as a group. There were also people on the trek who either worked for the Foundation or had been on the Smart Futures Programme so hearing about the life-changing work they do made the whole experience mean so much more. However, my advice would be to plan your fundraisers and never be afraid to ask someone for a donation… the worst they can do is say no.



Zara: My advice would be do it. As simple as. The feeling of fulfilment and gratefulness that you feel is unmatched. Whilst raising money for young adults and providing a step for a better future, you learn things about yourself at the same time. 

The EY Foundation would like to extend a huge thanks to all of the incredible trekkers for their support!