Welcome to UCSU Volunteering’s blog

This is the official University of Cumbria Students Union – UCSU -Volunteering blog where you’ll find regular reports, photos and maybe even video (eventually!) from all the projects you’re involved in.

If you want to know more about how to give some of your valuable time to a range of great projects join the UCSU volunteering facebook group for regular mailings and updates on what we’re doing, where and when we’re doing it and who we’re doing it with.


or email Kati Brown at kati.brown@cumbria.ac.uk or Emma Egglestone at emma.egglestone@cumbria.ac.uk

Your community needs you!

Elective Midwifery Placement West Pokot, Kenya July 2016 By Chantel Cumpsty

Chantel Cumpsty


From left to right: Emma Haldon (2nd year midwifery student –University of Cumbria – UoC), Everlyne Cheyech 3rd year Ortum nurse/midwifery student, me, Izzy Needham 2nd year UoC midwifery student).

In July this year myself and two fellow second year midwifery students embarked on an elective second year midwifery placement to West Pokot, North West Kenya. We were fortunate to accompany registered midwife and founder of the charity Beyond FGM, Cath Holland.

Beyond FGM is a grass roots charity working with the inspirational group Kepsteno Rotwa (meaning ‘Abandon the knife’) which works tirelessly to eradicate FGM (female genital mutilation) in the localised area of West Pokot. Many of the communities in which the charity operates, are highly impoverished, isolated, marginalised and often unaware of the tragic consequences of performing FGM or that the practice is now illegal. Girls who suffer FGM are sold into childhood marriage for dowries, they become property with no human rights and a lifetime of struggle, abuse and are deprived of education. Sensitisation to FGM for these communities is therefore a vital activity. Abandonment of FGM and facilitating girls to attend school, are key elements to ensuring girls are able to make their own choices and live in freedom.

During our elective we were able to observe and participate in the activities of the FGM group. We travelled to a remote tribal community (Takywa) two hours from where we were staying in Ortum. We were driven through rivers and bush to get there. We went on market day to ensure we had maximum numbers to undertake FGM sensitisation talks with the local community. Whilst there we witnessed girls present who should have been at school. Instead they donned beads in their hair, a symbol that they had undergone or were about to undergo FGM. There was such poverty in this community. They welcomed us, and were attentive to what we/the group had to say. The community were keen to reform their FGM practice and with the group’s help could promote the benefits of getting their girls into education.


Meeting the community for FGM sensitisation talks in Takywa)

We also met and spent time with the girls who have been rescued by the FGM group and who are now in education in Ortum Girls Boarding School, West Pokot. Some of the girls had escaped from FGM had run from their homes and their families, others had been cut but had run to escape becoming child brides, others had been defiled. It was heartbreaking to hear their stories.

The charity is raising funds for a refuge dormitory to accommodate the girls over school holidays to avoid the need to for them to return home and face the risk of FGM. It is possible to donate a brick towards the build here.

We also had the opportunity to observe practices and facilities in the local Ortum Mission Hospital.  The hospital is primarily run by students, resources and facilities are very poor and therefore, perinatal and maternal mortality is not uncommon and is often expected. During one of the deliveries a baby required resuscitation. There was little equipment available, the baby was being solely cared for by students and many midwifery and resuscitation skills were lacking, no one seemed to fully know what to do. Myself and another student assisted in the resuscitation due to asphyxia. Fortunately the baby survived and was discharged a few days later with his mother who had lost her first child to asphyxia which the mother told me but sadly none of the staff caring for her was aware of her history. The way we cared for the baby was observed by the students, it was an opportunity whereby they learnt from us and visa versa. I was able to ask numerous questions which prompted personal reflection on practice and facilitated discussion and reflection about the care of the baby.

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Labour Ward Ortum Mission Hospital

In the larger government hospital in Kapenguria, the conditions were also poor, crowded and unsanitary despite which women were travelling great distances to this hospital as treatment was supposedly free (this was not the case in reality). In both Kapenguria and Ortum hospitals the labour wards were very small consisting of two delivery beds which women were located to when in the second stage of labour, prior to which they would share a communal and relatively public bay. Women are deprived of privacy and dignity and are expected to deliver alongside one another.  There was no room for birthing partners due to size of the rooms and the sheer volume of staff and students who crammed into them. Consent is a virtually a non-existent concept, however myself and my fellow students ensured we consistently gained consent and were respectful to the women and families we had contact with. Although this may have seemed a foreign concept in the environment we were in, I would hope this added value to the care we provided and facilitated an opportunity for the staff and students we worked with to witness a different way of practicing.

Homebirth is common whereby women are attended to by traditional birth attendants (TBAs) who perform routine episiotomy or ‘home episiotomy’ (bilateral episiotomy) in the presence of FGM. This is carried out with unsterilized items and no pain relief. The risk of bleeding following the practice is high and can be fatal for women who are unable to access medical care in a timely way due to living considerable distances away or cannot afford treatment which they are charged for. We witnessed a case such as this and were able to talk to the woman about her experience after the event once she was well enough, thankfully she and her baby were well when they were discharged.

In Kenya, students are trained in nursing, community health and midwifery inclusively. I was able to spend some time with staff and students assisting in the vaccination of babies. They received many of our routine vaccinations with the addition of Hep B, yellow fever and anti-diarrhoea immunisations on clinic day. Clinic day also included antenatal clinic. Women are offered a maximum of four antenatal appointments, many women do not attend any and are cared for solely by tradition birth attendants in their communities who have no formal maternity training. Scans in pregnancy are not routine, gestation based on last menstrual cycle is not usually known, the girls and women themselves may not even know their own exact age. Using the number of moons since missed menstrual cycle is commonly used to estimate due date in communities by TBAs. In clinic gestation is therefore frequently determined from palpation and height of the fundus which can be problematic if a baby is simply small or large for gestation. This was a good opportunity to use basic midwifery skills in palpation, there was no scan to confirm breech of which there were several diagnosed, no sonicade to auscultate fetal heart only pinards. All women were offered HIV tests, this is the one time I witnessed informed consent practiced. Alcoholism appeared to be a real problem amongst the women however there is nowhere to refer them to unlike the support and services we offer in the UK. A large proportion of women in the Pokot community have undergone FGM, it is rare for them not to have been cut. Despite traditional birth attendants often the circumcisers being away of the complications, fatality, morbidity and risks during childbirth, the practice continues regardless and women therefore who have undergone FGM and are approaching childbirth are described has ‘having one foot in the grave’. Therefore although there has been lots of success in eradicating FGM, there is still much work to be done, by addressing the issue worldwide, we can truly prevent the practice in the UK also.

My time in Kenya was eye opening and this report only briefly touches on some of our experiences. It was challenging living and working with such basic resources, however, the fact that we had electricity and access to water most of the time, four walls and a roof to live in was far more than most had, the poverty was crippling. It was a struggle to witness the impersonal nature of maternity care, the lack of dignity, respect and informed consent as well as the brutal abusive practice of FGM. However, glimmers of hope were seen in the success of the group on FGM, the strength of the women and girls, the generosity of the communities despite having so little and seeing girls in school growing into confident women. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to share knowledge and gain knowledge.  We were welcomed into the community which enabled our immersion into the culture, language and behaviours and this facilitated acquisition of invaluable insight into maternity practices. This experience has had a positive impact on underpinning my midwifery practice as well as my knowledge around FGM which is especially pertinent at a time when FGM in the UK is a growing concern. I include a recent ITV news report here  regarding FGM. The news report in fact shows an alternative right of passage ceremony which the FGM group introduced and which has been very successful in the Pokot community as a celebration and safe alternative to FGM.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank the Eleanor Peel Trust for the funding towards this life changing experience, I am forever grateful.


Chantel Cumpsty

2nd Year Midwifery Student

University of Cumbria


Volunteering at Wetheriggs Animal Centre By Katie Bagshawe (Final Year Computing Student)

Saturday 03rd October 2015

On a misty cold morning a group of twenty students plus two leaders gathered in the wilderness of Durham at the Wetheriggs Animal Rescue Centre based neatly inside Thorpe Farm Centre. After a quick cup of tea to warm us up we were ready and willing to get involved, Terry the owner, split us into groups, some were to mingle with chicks and hens cleaning out their coops and others had the hands on task of clearing a large area of nettles to make way for future renovation. I was in the latter group and quickly made use of a falconry glove to pull nettles and weeds out, as the pigs in the outhouse next door were very vocal in entertaining us.

We soon got into a routine with wheelbarrows making multiple trips filled with nettles that would be dried out and fed to the goats, some braver than others got right into the thick nettles as the rest of us raked the ground of leftover weeds. Time soon flew by and lunch came round, some of us gathered with our packed lunches whilst others made use of the on site café to a toasty jacket potato all excited in anticipation of meeting the animals currently in care with the center.

As promised after lunch, Terry gave us all a tour, some were daring enough to get friendly with a snake and a tarantula before we made our way outside to meet goats, donkeys, a new Shire horse all whilst petting alpacas and llamas, but trying not to get spat on! It was like a wonderful scene out of Beatrix Potter as ducks and geese followed us round the site keeping us company, with the final section of the tour getting to see some gorgeous baby donkeys hidden in the nearby woodland.

After the short entertainment we were to get back to work clearing the land out. A lot of wood debris meant we soon ran out of time to completely finish our task, however a good two thirds of the area has now been cleared to ease the task of renovation and improving the homes of where these animals live. A quick photo opportunity later and all tired and proud of our achievements we jumped onto the buses and made our way home still among the low cloud of Cumbria.

It’s easy to see how passionate Terry is about the centre, having a nest egg of knowledge and background regarding all the animals on site and filling us in on the many volunteers that have stayed loyal to him in ensuring they all lead a good, healthy life. Whilst tendering to nettle stings it was easy to see it was a brilliant day out meeting new people, getting involved in a very worthy cause and making the most of our spare time whilst at University; if any of you have a spare day free, why not put your time to good use and get involved in your local community.

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Volunteering at Arnside Knott, 7th Feb 2015 – By Amy Murray

On a cold Saturday morning a group of volunteers with the Students’ Union set off to work at the beautiful site of Arnside Knott Nature Reserve.

Once reaching the site we had a monstrous hill to climb which seemed to be at a 90 degree angle! The beautiful scenic views at the top looking down onto the valley and the sea made the walk up well worth it. Now with the sun shining bright warming us up, we were ready to get working.

The area was limestone grasslands which hold key importance to biodiversity as the habitat holds a wide variety of species of plants, invertebrates and birds- many of which are rare.  For example the Scotch Argus is found on this site- a very rare butterfly which is only found in two sites in England. The problem this important habitat faces is natural succession- brambles, shrubs and young woodland encourage the habitat so the low-nutrient, rich in diversity species of plants cannot grow.

The national trust is responsible for managing the site with the aim to balance conservation, farming and public access- although this is more difficult than it seems. They regularly graze livestock (selection of different breeds of cows) on the land although the cattle cannot graze areas that are over-grown.  This is where volunteers come in to help. The work we were doing on Saturday was clearing a patch of woodland at the edge of the forest to create connectivity to woodlands with clearings on near-by sites. This work aims to connect the Scotch Argus butterfly to new sites increasing its habitat range and population size- very important work to be involved in.

The national trust employees used chainsaws to chop trees down and our job was to organise the wood; small sticks were burnt on the fire, medium size logs were stacked and used as habitats (great for invertebrates and small mammals) and the larger logs were stacked ready to be cut and sold to the locals (essential funding for the site). Lunch was enjoyed with cups of tea, sandwiches, packets of crisps (and a piece of toast) chit chat and jokes before returning back to work. After a long day of hard work we all gathered around the fire to enjoy s’mors- roasted marshmallows with chocolate digested biscuits and even roasted jelly cubes. The day out was a great experience, lots of fun with great people and working on such an important conservation project was very special. The volunteering day will be running around the same time next year a volunteering experience you do not want to miss out on.

Wetheriggs Zoo February 2015 – by Amy Murray

Weatherigg Zoo is an animal rescue centre- which holds a full array of animals. From lama’s to meercats, from goats and to snakes. Weatherigg Zoo has them all.


The Zoo used to be situated in Penrith and has since moved to a new site. With only 4 weeks or so until they open to the public, there was a lot of work that needed to be done. That’s when our group of volunteers came to help.

We had three tasks in groups to do, first was empting out the building with the shop and petting zoo making it presentable and tidy, second was clearing litter on the path way and third was creating fences for outdoor enclosures.

Clearing the building out with the shop and petting zoo, involved a lot of heavy lifting. Working right next to friendly goats, a beautiful lama, many guinea pigs, rodents and rabbits was a rare treat we gladly got to experience. This made our muscles strong with determination to get the place spick and span for the opening day.

During, the clearing out we noticed one rabbit had new born babies, we saw bald little rabbits crawling out of the nest, made of the mothers fur, with their eyes not even opened yet- was the most cutest baby creature I have seen.


Unfortunately one of the offspring had died, but at the zoo no life is wasted and we were allowed to feed it to the kestrel they have- in which the kestrel was very grateful.  Whilst feeding the kestrel a dead pheasant was found- but no worries as the vulture enjoyed the meal.

After feeding the animals it was time for our own lunch. Tea, coffee, and biscuits were provided by the zoo, some brought their own packed lunch and others went to the café to enjoy a nice warm meal.


After lunch the most exciting part of the day came. Terry (a man who works at the zoo) took us to see the snakes and the tarantulas. Gemma, who is the bravest person I have met, volunteered to have the tarantulas on her head! She described the experience as ‘really good’ as she really likes spiders. Well she definitely became one with the tarantulas after this experience. Terry was very knowledgeable on the animals that live in the Zoo- he taught us that tarantulas have not eight legs but ten!! This evolved as the tarantulas could run a lot faster, which was beneficial to catching prey. After each getting the amazing chance of holding the beautiful creature that is a snake, it was time to get back on with work.

The groups swapped tasks and I was now on picking up litter duty. The zoo is right next to a busy road. Many people chuck litter out of their cars, without thinking where it would end up. A lot of which ended up on the zoo and it was our task to pick it up, along with the plastic casing and wooden sticks, from the trees that no longer needed structural support. Whilst doing this task we found a burial ground of bones- from which we could see many wild species visit the zoo. From badgers to rabbits- nature on the zoo was ever present. We were also shocked to find a free-range wallaby, who was a delight to work alongside with. After a long hard day’s work full of excitement and cuddles from animals, we were ready to go home with big smiles on our faces and a grand feeling of accomplishment. It was great to help out all the nice people and lovely animals we had met. There is always a need for volunteering at the zoo, so if you would like a great experience like we had; give them a call!  I wish the Zoo full success for opening up to the public and with the future🙂

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To see all the photos please visit https://www.facebook.com/ucsu.volunteering/media_set?set=a.788946817853170.100002947607534&type=3

An African Adventure! By Sophie Allinson

In June 2014 I travelled to Livingstone, Zambia to spend two weeks working on a lion conservation project. The project is run by Lion Encounter, part of the African Lion and Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) founded in 2005. Songwe & Sekani

In 2012, Africa’s lion population was estimated at 32,000 compared to the 200,000 estimate 40 years previous. This dramatic decrease is largely due to habitat destruction, hunting, human conflict and disease. Lion Encounter aims to create prides of lions able to be reintroduced to the wild, together with supporting and educating local communities to prevent future conflict. Growing up hooked on the Lion King and loving animals, this was a project I couldn’t wait to get involved with.

The Eleanor Peel Trust kindly awarded me £240 towards my volunteering project costs. This money was primarily used to fund my yellow fever and rabies vaccinations. After paying these, I had a little money left which went towards my flights.

The first thing which struck me when I arrived in Zambia was how incredibly hospitable and friendly the locals were. I was greeted with the most infectious smiles and big hugs everywhere I went, especially from the children who were amazed by my blonde hair!Shortly after my arrival in Livingstone I was given a tour of the town. I had no idea what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised. There was everything you needed to live comfortably including a shopping complex. However, you didn’t have to travel far to come across the villages with dirt roads, mud huts and no electricity. Regardless, the locals were still beaming from ear to ear!

Muanga School
The volunteers base was outside Livingstone in the Mosi-O-Tunya national park. Between 6pm and 6am we needed guards to walk us from one building another for protection. One evening I walked out of my room and saw a giraffe standing 20 meters away, another night I was woke up by buffalo right outside my door! The base was simple but comfortable, although the freezing showers took a while to get used to.
Wednesdays at the base was known as ‘Nshima day’. Nshima is a staple food in Zambia made from maize flour and water and is eaten with stew (and dried bugs if you fancied them). In the evening all volunteers and staff ate together and shared stories which was amazing. I learnt a lot about the local culture as well as cultures from other volunteers. Particularly well debated points were eating pancakes with maple syrup and bacon and the Cumbrian delicacy of chips, cheese and gravy!
The biggest lesson I learnt during my stay in Zambia came from spending a day painting a local school. The kids were given the day off but rather than spend it playing, all they wanted to do was watch us and help paint. While we took a break during lunch, the kids came alive and were roaring with laughter. They took masking tape from door frames and made skipping ropes with it and played balloon football with our rubber gloves! It made me realise that children don’t need a brand new, expensive Xbox or PlayStation to have fun, just a bit of creativity.
On the other hand, I was exposed to the harsh reality of a lack of resources too. One boy at the school, Tebae, had nasty looking sores on his skin caused by a mite infestation which was poisoning his blood. His parents had no money to afford medication and the mites had infested their home too. Their only option was to destroy their home and build a new one, which again they could not afford to do. As a result Tebae’s health was left to deteriorate. I found it incredibly hard to comprehend an easily treatable infection could cost a 10 year old his life. It highlighted the importance of increasing community and health projects that African Impact are creating.
The project I was on benefitted the local community in many ways. Lion Encounter itself provides at least 50 jobs for locals. It supplies healthcare and teaching interns which is improving access to medicine and education. This in turn is making the locals more employable. Each week as volunteers we were involved with litter picks throughout the national park and made cooking stoves which were donated to the community.
Working with the lions was unbelievable. They constantly test your dominance so it was important to be fully aware during the walks, they’re certainly not tame! It wasn’t all fun and games though. Duties included 5am feeds, pick axing enclosures, chopping down trees and cutting grass with a machete type tool. Usually by 8pm we would all be heading off to bed!
Taking myself out of my comfort zone and embracing cold showers, minimal internet connection and meeting new people from different backgrounds was an immensely empowering thing to do. My confidence has grown massively and I am far more outgoing than I was before my trip. It’s hard to believe before travelling to Zambia I’d never ever been on an aeroplane before! I loved every second I spent in Livingstone. From walking with lions and visiting Victoria Falls to white water rafting in the Zambezi. My only regret? That I didn’t stop longer.

Cub  Victoria Falls