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.

http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/profile.php?id=100002947607534 

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

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Elective placement with “Docmobile” in Athens July 2018 by Melanie Laws

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For my elective placement I went to Athens, Greece to volunteer with an organisation called Docmobile. I found out about them through contacts I had made at fundraising events and had contacted them to arrange a placement. Before going I did fundraising as as I knew Docmobile relied on contributions.  I took a stethoscope and an electronic heart rate and oxygen monitor with me as it was advised they were short of medical equipment.

‘Docmobile’ is a voluntary organisation which provides free medical care in Athens, Greece, for people of all nationalities. The patients we saw included refugees, asylum seekers and also Greek citizens who could not access health care due to austerity measures and other various factors. I met with some of the team in a Café in Pireas, which is when the tasks for the day were delegated. I was scheduled to work with 2 female doctors where we would visit a huge old derelict building which refugees had made their home.  For confidentiality purposes I was requested by the team not to take pictures of any patients we treated at this stage.  Many of the patients had been forced to flee war-torn countries where they faced extreme poverty and could have been killed. Therefore, it was crucial to them and their families’ safety that their identities remained anonymous.

These photos show one of the treatment rooms we carried out assessments in.  Treatments could range from adults with conditions such as diabetes who would attend for regular blood sugar level tests or with, high blood pressure, to acute wounds caused by incidents such as knife and bomb attacks and children with viral illness, scabies and side effects of vaccines.

These photos are of the one stop project. Twice a week the homeless people in Athens  could have their clothes washed, have a substantial meal, have any medical needs attended to (Docmobile) and socialise. The people I met on this visit llive in such terrible conditions, however, they smiled, laughed, danced, ate and shared what little they had as if they were the richest of the land. It made me reflect on whether financial wealth truly did give a person true riches. I witnessed true riches which came from the heart and soul.

As part of my experience and to benefit the local community, I carried out a hand washing project in the hope of reducing the spread of infection. With the funds I had raised from cake baking, I was able to provide families with soap and anti-bacterial gel. I demonstrated with families how to carry out the stages of hand washing. I also distributed copies of a pictorial demonstration of the six stages of handwashing, with “wash your hands” written in various languages. I used pictorial information, as this strategy is an effective communication method for some individuals within the field of learning disability nursing and I identified that it could be an effective approach to overcome communication barriers, in the absence of the interpreters.

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I feel very fortunate to have been granted funding from the Eleanor Peel Trust, and for the support people gave towards my fundraising, helping in the purchases of assessment equipment such as a stethoscope and an electronic heart rate and oxygen monitor.  The assessment equipment was later donated, prior to leaving Greece, to a refugee who had once been a medical student in Syria. Unfortunately, he had to flee his home and leave all of his family and friends, who he had since lost complete contact with. He then went on to seek asylum in Greece and he would help out most days with the assessment and treatment of patients. His aim was to eventually relocate to the UK to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor.  He was overwhelmed by the offer and very thankful for the equipment I donated to him, which he said he would continue to use, allowing him to offer Docmobile vital assistance.

Alongside this friendship, I formed other relationships with people from all over the world, with whom I will continue to stay in contact as we plan to return to Athens at a later date to continue with our support for Docmobile.

Volunteering in India: Rachel Davis

On the 24th July, myself and a team of 7 travelled to Vijayawada India with Salt Factory Sports. A mission organisation from Northern Ireland that uses sports as a means to create opportunities for evangelism and discipleship. As a team we were going over to support Good News Ministries (GNM), an established Christian organisation in India ran by Chanti and his family. Through the support of sponsors, GNM are in the process of building two orphanages (one for girls and one for boys). Each orphanage will have the capacity to home 100 children. GNM also supports widows, with some working at the orphanage making food for the children. These orphanages and other centres are being developed on a plot of land outside Vijayawada, which has been named Zion City. Zion meaning city of God. Through kind support from churches, friends, families and University of Cumbria each orphan, widow and staff member were given 2 towels, 2 facecloths, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap and talcum powder. As well as over 100 bed sheets and over 200 pillow cases for the orphans and widow’s homes. Although these are everyday items for us, the smiles and heartfelt words, demonstrated just how thankful they were to receive these items.

For 4 days we provided a camp all day for the children with songs, team competitions, bible teachings, craft, sport in the evening and my favourite part DANCING! Following the camp each day we had team devotions and team bonding. One of the major struggles was the language barrier, whilst leading the camp there was a translator who assisted us during bible teachings and other activities. A few occasions when I had wanted to find out more about the children and widows a translator wasn’t available which was difficult. In spite of this, God was continually working through us, within bible lessons and in conversations. At the end of the week a young girl called Monica give her life to the Lord, which was a special moment for the whole team. Throughout the 10 days witnessing and listening to stories of the Indian culture was a big challenge, from arranged marriages to abandoned children.

Despite setting out with a team I didn’t know and to a country I had never imagined travelling too, I spent 10 days with a constant smile on my face and constantly laughing. I could write page after page of the memories from this trip. From the onset everything fell into place, even though it didn’t feel like it was. This was the first time a group has went out to support GNM and provide a camp for the children, this has opened the door for a return visit … which I would not say no to in the future. I want to say a massive thank you to the University of Cumbria for the funding you provided. The money assisted in travelling over to India and buying supplies for the children and widows. This was a memorable trip which would not have been possible without Elinor Peel support.

 

 

Sri Lanka … By Nikki

Recently, I returned from a three week volunteering trip to Sri Lanka, during my time there I worked with young boys aged 7 to 12 years who were training to be monks in a Buddhist temple. My main role was to teach them English and Maths, this was a fantastic opportunity for me as I am currently doing my BaHons degree in Primary Education and the experience was without a doubt invaluable. Although I was there to teach the young monks, I truly believe I was the one the who learnt the most during my time there.

Prior to the trip, I did a lot of research on different volunteer companies, destinations, flights, visas and the overall cost. I’m not going to lie volunteering is expensive but most definitely worth it! There are a lot of costs that you don’t even think about and then there will undoubtedly be additional trips that you’ll want to do when you are in country, so my advice would be to research well, book far in advance and then save and then save some more! I was lucky enough to get a small grant from the Eleanor Peel Trust which I put towards teaching supplies and resources for my trip.

The company I chose was called IVHQ and I must admit they were fantastic. I always had a placement officer with me, to escort me to and from the temple, so that I didn’t get lost, as well as to translate during the lessons when needed. Teaching in Sri Lanka was an absolute joy but not without its difficulties!

The boys were very eager to learn and appreciative of the time I spent with them. They looked forward to their lessons every day and would come running up to me in a morning with shouts of “Teacher you’re here!” eager to learn and get on with the day’s lessons. The boys were incredibly intelligent and having a 5-year age gap in the class really pushed me to differentiate my lessons effectively. The lack of resources also made me more resourceful and to think more creatively when planning my lessons.

The other volunteers that I lived with were incredible, we were all from a diverse range of countries and cultures however everyone was there with the same purpose in mind and shared similar perspectives on life and so we became fast friends and shared this amazing experience together. When we were not volunteering we arranged fun and interesting trips in the evenings and at weekends. We visited a tea plantation, experienced a Buddhist festival, went hiking in beautiful Ella, visited the south coast and assisted at a turtle conservation site.   This allowed us to really engage with the country and its culture and to see more of what the spectacular country of Sri Lanka had to offer.

I would highly recommend volunteering and travelling to anyone and everyone, it’s such a rewarding and enriching experienced and one not to be missed!

Volunteering adventure at Belize Zoo: Sophie Babbs

Before I departed on my Belizean adventure, to carry out the Belize Caribbean wildlife project, with pod volunteer, pod was extremely helpful and answered all of my questions I had, no matter how silly the question seemed to me. The aim of the zoo is to carry out animal rescue and rehabilitation of the orphaned and injured animals. Additionally, the zoo does a lot of conservation work to try and save the native animals from extinction. The zoo staff are trying to do this by, bringing the people of Belize closer to the animals which are their natural heritage. They are hoping to achieve this by educating the public on the importance of these animals. Consequently, the people of Belize will feel proud of these special animals and will want to do their part to protect them for future generations.

Upon my arrival into Belize, I was overwhelmed by everything, the heat and humidity, the different time zone and being far from home. But the guides and staff at both the tropical education centre, where I was staying, and at the zoo where all extremely friendly and welcoming. They quickly put my worries to ease and made me feel at home. As for the heat and humidity, it took me a few weeks to adjust to the climate. But once I did I was fine enjoyed the whole experience that little bit more, not that I was not having an amazing time before then.

Some of the tasks I was required to take part in was: the caring for the animals and the education and conservation side of the zoo too. When I was helping to look after the animals I helped to clean and feed them. This was achieved by shadowing a keeper of a section for a few days and helping them out with the animals in their section. I helped out with the education side of things too, I helped to teach the public about the animals by assisting on zoo tours and animal encounters. Therefore, the public learnt about the different animals and how special they are to Belize. Thus, why they needed protecting. I also helped the zookeepers by having an outsider’s perspective on the things they wanted to do, hence, giving an opinion from someone who hasn’t been at the zoo before.

Although the work at the zoo was hard at times especially in the heat, I learnt loads about the different animals, some of whom I had never heard of prior to attending the placement. Just being able to work with the range of animals they offered, especially the Jaguars and the amazing birds, was a breath-taking experience and I grew to love all of the animals in the zoo. This was the most amazing month ever and went way too quickly. What I found most rewarding from the whole experience was, working and learning about a completely different range of animals. This experience I will carry with me, throughout my life and all of the knowledge I have gained I can use in my university studies as first-hand experience and in my future career.

There was, a few challenges I had to overcome besides the heat. For example, I was really worried about travelling around the country at weekends when I had days off, as I was travelling around on my own. But I managed to overcome my fear and use the busses and if I ever got stuck the local people were all really nice and helped me out. But even little things like how to use airports and what happens if something goes wrong, which happened by me missing a flight due to the approaching hurricane. But I have gained more confidence with all of these challenge’s and I am a lot happier to use airports and not be afraid to use the locals more of transport in the future.

I also learn more about who I am as a person and I have also grown as a person, throughout my time in Belize. I have also gained in confidence and that I can travel and do anything that I want to achieve if you try hard enough. I am also more comfortable at travelling around on my own, and there are always people around to help you if you need help.

Volunteering in Athens: Rosie Lee

The area around the tube station in Athens was alive with people. Families were shouting loudly to each other from opposite sides of the streets, there was a palpable sense of excitement in the air. Children were running round in circles, laughing, Mothers were engaged in intense head to head discussions with each other, Fathers were slapping backs and shaking hands. Passing through, I had no reason to believe that this was anything out of the ordinary, until I arrived at The Salvation Army, the place that would be my base for the next two weeks, to be met by my mentor who was equally as excitable. We stood, side by side in  Omonia Square watching as huge numbers of people were ushered onto coaches and driven away. What we witnessed that day at the tube station was the culmination of months of suffering, of hope, of disappointment and of hard work, as this group of refugees were being finally being repatriated to Germany. I was fortunate to bear witness to this, as the next two weeks would throw into sharp focus just how unusual this scene had been.

Several strands to our work in Athens emerged over the coming days; firstly, we were to accompany the ‘ sandwich run’ on its thrice-weekly rounds of the city. A group of casual volunteers headed up by the long term volunteer and totally dedicated Artur, would gather to make sandwiches and deliver them to homeless immigrants living in parks, doorways, makeshift shelters. As student nurses, we carried a rucksack of medical supplies and nursed patients on our knees on the pavements and side by side on park benches. Our hearts went out to the tiny young woman, crouched into a ball as if to make herself invisible, who had a three inch knife wound on her face, the consequence of refusing to hand over her last three euros. We dressed her wounds, gave her comfort and returned to monitor her healing on subsequent nights. The young man we met, a refugee from Iran, with persistent migraines, separated from his family and desperate to reconnect with them. Our feet would ache as much as our hearts as we walked the streets for hours each night seeing new and old patients and facing new challenges.

A second strand to our work was the clinics we ran at The Salvation Army. Staffed by a Dr, nurse practitioner, an interpreter and us, refugees of all ages and nationalities would come in with a wide range of issues, from the baby with a rash, to the old man with a prosthetic leg in danger of becoming seriously infected, to the woman with unexplained and severe abdominal pains who the ambulance service refused to take to hospital. The challenge of working in several languages were immense, but not, as we discovered, insurmountable. With interpreters, diagrams and a good measure of determination, we were able to offer help to all of the patients that walked through the clinic doors.

Getting the clinic organised was a legacy we left behind. On arrival there were bags of medications, dressings, and equipment randomly shoved into cupboards with no systems (unsurprising given the footfall compared to the actual volunteer time available). By point at which we left the project, the clinic was organised to ensure that Drs and nurses could maximise their time with patients by efficient location of the equipment and treatments they needed to carry out their role.

Outreach work in squats was another feature of the work that we did. Similar to the clinic work, except that this time we took the clinics to where the patients lived. This drew in a great many who would otherwise have not received medical care at all. We treated burns, and bites, allergies and infections, injuries and long -term conditions. Everywhere we went, people asked for our help and we were able to give it.

I came back from Athens a changed person, changed not only in the sense that I had learned things about myself that I did not know previously, (I am much more confident in trusting my own judgement now for example) but also, I came back knowing that humanitarian aid was going to be a part of my life in one way or another. Whether I actually make a career out of it or if I volunteer in my spare time, I will continue to offer support to those in need. More importantly, than my own development, I was able to use two weeks of my time to improve the quality of lives of people under the most severe forms of stress, and in the most desperate of circumstances.

Since returning to England, I have maintained links with Athens, and have been able to continue to support some of the people that we met there, I am grateful to the Eleanor Peel Trust for making this opportunity possible for me. One day I hope to return to Omonia Square and the scenes of happiness that I witnessed on my first day in the city.

Volunteering in India with Muktangan: Hannah Breslin

Volunteering in India with Muktangan

This summer my friend and I spent five weeks in India. For the first four weeks, we volunteered with an NGO called Muktangan. Muktangan run seven mainstream schools in Mumbai. All the schools teach in English, and aim to provide child-centred, inclusive education. The schools are free and take pupils from local, underprivileged areas of Mumbai. Muktangan also aim to be sustainable, and to do this they also have a teacher education centre, where they train women from the same underprivileged areas to become teachers in one of their schools.

Within Muktangan we worked with their special needs department, known as the learning resources group (LRG). The head of the department asked us to look at whether it was possible to track the achievement of the pupils receiving intervention lessons. She then let us develop our own project to do this. After creating our own criteria and observation sheet, we visited all the schools to meet with the teachers and watch the lessons. Mostly, the students were receiving help with their English. All the pupils in all the school were very excited to see us, and were full of smiles and questions. The LRG teachers were also very welcoming, showing us around the schools and arranging to meet us for lunch. Our project found a few potential barriers in tracking the achievement of the pupils, and made some suggestions to overcome this. We both feel that our time at Muktangan has been beneficial to the pupils and the teachers, and that we were able to leave a lasting positive impact.

The money I received from the Eleanore Peel Trust was used to pay form my accommodation in Mumbai. Mumbai is a crazy city. It is busy, loud and full of colour and different smells. Our visit coincided with monsoon season, so it was also very, very, very wet! As we had a month in Mumbai, we were able to really explore and get to know the city. One of the LGR faculty members lived near to our hostel, and took us under her wing. Often, we would go around to her flat for dinner and she made us feel like part of her family. Half way through out stay in Mumbai was the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. For Ganesh Chaturthi, hundreds of Ganesh statues appear in the streets and in people houses. On specific days, these statues are taken to the sea and submerged in the water. A family we had been introduced to took us to their submersion, where we sang and blessed the statue on the beach before it was taken to the sea. This was my favourite experience while in Mumbai, as we got to see a side to the city that most other travellers would not.

Once we finished our work with Muktangan, we had a week left to travel India. We spent one night in Delhi, one night in Agra and three in Goa. Being able to see some more of the country was a brilliant way to end our trip! I really enjoyed my time in India. While it was hard to be away from home, it was wonderful to experience a culture so different from my own.

Tanzania by Lauren Bruntnell, Lisa Smythe, Rukhsar Younas

Tanzania

In February we travelled to the country of Tanzania to volunteer in a hospital in the city of Arusha. We wanted to experience how healthcare differs from the NHS we have in the UK whilst using our skills from our Adult Nursing degree to help the staff there and care for the locals in the hospital.

Culture and people

Here was our first view of Tanzania. Mount Kilimanjaro rising up above the clouds as seen from our plane window. This was the point where the 30 hours of travelling started to seem worth it.

Tanzanian people were very welcoming and always friendly. They were keen to talk about England and loved to discuss the English footballs leagues. Children were excited to see us, often shouting “mzungu!” which meant white person. They would give us high five’s as we passed and were ecstatic to practice their English phrases and here us reply.

The Tanzanian culture was very different to ours here in England. The locals would have a saying “no hurry in Africa” because everything moved at a relaxed pace “pole pole” (slowly slowly). No one ever rushed anywhere or worried about being late. A vastly different experience than the one we had in Heathrow airport on the way there. Aswell as this the locals were friendly and always approaching us to learn about us and welcome us to the country. No one passed with out giving us a warm “Jambo” (Hello) or using the opportunity to use their English to wish us a good morning.

Personal space also did not exist in Tanzania. Often complete strangers were squeezed together on the Dala dala (bus) and would not see a problem with half sitting on you to fit in and then start a conversation with you about Manchester united.

Volunteering

First day of volunteering in the hospital we were given a short tour of the hospital and the departments we would be working in. The hospital was simplistic with separate buildings for each department and outdoor corridors. We were taught to introduce ourselves to the staff in the native language, Swahili. The staff warmly welcomed us.

The casualty department was very different to what we had been used to back in the UK. Firstly there were only 3 beds for the patients who needed them most situated in a main room where other patients would have their vital signs checked, receive treatments and see a doctor. Confidentiality was not seen as an issue. Three treatment rooms also lined the corridor and despite being just large enough to fit one stretcher in, they often contained more than one patient waiting to receive treatment. On busier days patients would be lining the corridors waiting for treatment. There was certainly no 4 hour waiting time limit and treatment would not be started until payment had been made.

Supplies were scarce often leading to cases where Doctors stitching wounds would not give patients any local anesthetics and a wound dressing just consisted of cotton wool dipped in iodine placed onto the wound. Scalpel blades were used but with no actual handles and a tied rubber glove was the best tourniquet available.

Once we found our feet and had a few Swahili phrases up our sleeves we started working with the staff. The way everything worked was very different however and took some getting used too. Our work in casualty mainly consisted of checking vital signs, testing for HIV and Malaria and giving injections. This was supplemented by trauma cases where we were needed as an extra pair of hands.

Trauma was the most common cause of the attendance to the department from what we had seen in the two weeks we were volunteering there. Road traffic accidents were frequent with a high number of motorcycles on the road and a high rate of drinking and driving.

The staff, just like everyone else we met in Tanzania, were friendly and were happy to help us fit in. They helped try to bridge the language barrier, which was a task for us when we were trying to care for patients. The more Swahili we learned the easier it became.

The patients welcomed us just as warmly as everyone else in the country. They appreciated the help we gave them and in turn we appreciated their trust in us and their patience with our Swahili. We were more than happy to be able to help such wonderful people and hopefully make a difference to them no matter how small.

Volunteering is the hospital was an amazing experience that we will never forget. We are proud that we travelled thousands of miles and helped the amazing doctors and nurses who work with so little resources and we hope our time volunteering helped the locals of Arusha.