Welcome to UCSU Volunteering’s blog

This is the official University of Cumbria Students’ Union (UCSU) Volunteering blog where you’ll find reports, photos and maybe even video (eventually!) from student volunteers.

You’ll also be able to read stories from students who have volunteered on a range of projects abroad, and if you feel inspired and want to know more about funding for these type of projects, you can find more info and apply on the volunteering section of the  UCSU Website.

 

 

Advertisements

Sophie shares her Paediatric Occupational Therapy experience in Uganda….

I arranged a 3-week placement experience in June following completion of my studies before starting work full time. This was through a charitable organisation called ‘Knowledge for Change’ who aim to provide better health facilities and standards of care in Uganda. I was placed at Kyaninga Child Development Centre (KCDC) in Fort Portal, Uganda which was set up by a British Physiotherapist and a British expat who shared a vision to develop a specialised service to support children with disabilities and their families to lead more independent and fulfilling lives.


At KCDC I worked closely alongside a multi-disciplinary team of professionals which consisted of occupational therapists, physiotherapists, speech and language therapists and special educational needs teachers. I worked mainly with children with cerebral palsy (CP) from a wide age group from 1 month to 20 years old. Each day was different but 70% of the work consisted of visiting children and their families in the community, who could not attend the clinic due to travel costs or difficulty transporting their child. Community visits consisted of outreach sessions at village health centres or home visits in some of the most rural settings.

Sophie Heywood Uganda report 3

Sophie Heywood Uganda report 4

Occupational therapists consider all activities that an individual carries out in a day, as occupations that an individual wants to do, or needs to do, for example getting washed and dressed in the morning or buying and cooking food. They support individuals who are not able to do these occupations either through mental illness or physical disability by problem solving their barriers and producing adaptive strategies, to enable them to be as independent as possible. At KCDC, I would encourage children with CP to engage in play activities which helped to increase their fine motor skills and hand function to work towards their long-term goals of carrying out occupations as independently as possible, such as self-feeding and washing themselves.

For children with CP and severe learning difficulties I would carry out sensory stimulation and hand over hand facilitation to enable them to better orientate themselves to their body and their surrounding in order to work towards function. Occasionally, I would go out with another OT to assess and provide wheelchairs for a patient. This was a rewarding experience as you could see how beneficial it was for the family, particularly when the child was older, and they could no longer carry them. I would often complete joint assessments with the physiotherapist to help decrease tone and reduce risk of contractures worsening by supporting children to weight bear and increase strength. This would then help children to be placed in more optimal positions to carry out occupations.

Sophie Heywood Uganda report 5
There is still a stigma placed on children with disabilities as Ugandans traditionally believe this to be witchcraft or that a child is cursed. However, with increased exposure to services such as KCDC and training ‘expert parents’ to educate their communities this is improving. Although there was a language barrier at times I was fortunate that other members of staff could translate for me. The Ugandan people were very welcoming and appreciative of the help I could give.
During my evenings I would attend the local frisbee group to meet local people or I would go out for dinner with fellow volunteers from the Knowledge for Change house. At the weekends I was fortunate to explore the surrounding areas of Fort Portal and gain a better understanding of the culture and people of Uganda.
I have found this to be a thoroughly rewarding experience and I would like to thank Knowledge for Change and KCDC for providing the placement opportunity. Finally, I would like to send my warmest appreciation to The Eleanor Peel Trust for helping to make this trip possible.

Kahina is about to Graduate UoC….

we asked Kahina if she could share her volunteering journey before she graduates UoC and starts her next volunteering role in the labs at the National History Museum and London Zoo creating a cyroark database of biological specimens.

Kahina studied forensic and investigative science and whilst doing so volunteered with the UCSU (students’ union), Carlisle world shop (Fairtrade) and as a STEM ambassador.

What impact has volunteering had?

Volunteering in these various roles has made me a much more confident and outgoing person, it has also allowed me to share what I’m passionate about with like-minded people. Having autism I find new people and communication challenges so volunteering gave me the time and space to adapt and develop these coping mechanisms which I then went on to apply to my uni work and life. Even after I’ve finished uni and am moving back to London I have secured a volunteering role at the National History Museum which I wouldn’t have thought about putting myself forward for if I hadn’t got involved in volunteering previously.

4

What made you get involved?

I had finished my first year at uni and whilst I was enjoying my course and had a summer job, I felt something was missing. Previously throughout college, I had various regular volunteering roles, one being coaching a pan-disability hockey club and another at a city farm, both of which provided a sense of purposefulness and community. So I looked on the UCSU’s (student unions) volunteering page and found the Carlisle world shop which when I went along to talk to the manager the role appealed to me and was a way I could contribute towards the Fairtrade cause. Kati (volunteering facilitator) was great at making suggestions and getting you involved in completely different things, for example, I’ve planted trees on a river bank and helped new students move into halls. Having this variety allows you to try new things, often ones you hadn’t even considered before.

Why volunteer?

Is an opportunity to meet a wide range of people, of different ages, from different countries and backgrounds who you often build friendships with as well as being a sense of community that you can turn to for support as with the world shop, where we also often organise a big group lunch to spend time together. Volunteering in the world shop allowed me to feel like I was helping a charity and doing some good without having to do so financially which can be difficult as a student. Also allows sharing what you love, in my case science with school children, to hopefully interest and inspire them as it’s something I would have found helpful at their age.

2

What did you get out of it?

It greatly developed all my employability skills which left me less worried about the future now that I’ve finished uni. It also provided structure and time that I could spend outside of uni doing something completely different. In addition, it made me feel more integrated into Carlisle as I had a considerable number of local people I knew, making me feel more at home here for the last four years.

What do you think you gave back?

I think I have made more people aware of Fairtrade, especially within my student peers and hopefully giving my time has made a contribution to the lives of people working on the other side of the world. With the STEM ambassador my skills, expertise and experiences that I’ve gained throughout uni.

1

Has anything helped you?

My manager at the world shop has been amazing in supporting me, giving me greater responsibility in the role as well as flexibility and has got me involved in various festivals and stalls which expanded my experiences. Finally, I would say being at uni is the perfect opportunity to try new things, volunteering being one of these as you often have the time and access to the resources from the UCSU to find something that you can have a go at trying.

If you are interesting in volunteering at the Carlisle World Shop please visit:

https://www.ucsu.me/volunteering-opportunities/fair-trade-shop-volunteer

For the full list of volunteering opportunities in UoC sites and surrounding areas please visit:

https://www.ucsu.me/volunteering-opportunities 

 

 

 

Volunteering with The Leprosy Mission

In April and May 2019 Sonja completed her occupational therapy elective placement with The Leprosy Mission. The Leprosy Mission is a charity who work with people affected by Leprosy. We asked Sonja to share her experience…

I was placed in Naini Hospital, India and volunteered in the pre and post-surgery department. My eight weeks consisted of working full time in the hospital, alongside other occupational therapists and physiotherapists. I lived on the hospital campus, like most of the hospital staff. I spent my evenings and weekends with staff and attended socials, events and church meetings. I also had some opportunity to travel locally, which included a boat ride on the River Ganges or Ganga (see pictures below).

Occupational therapists empower people to do the occupations which are important to them by overcoming barriers and increasing independence. Occupations are all the activities an individual has to do or chooses to do every day. For example, occupations include getting washed and dressed in the mornings, working, household chores and socialising with friends. For people affected by Leprosy, a big barrier to occupations is losing the use of their hands. Leprosy effects some nerves which cause the muscles they supply to become paralysed. In Leprosy, this can cause the disability called claw hand, as well as other disabilities. These disabilities can significantly impact a person’s ability to complete occupations on their own.

Naini Hospital, I volunteered in, is a specialist centre for completing tendon-replacement surgery which can correct deformities. Alongside this surgery, occupationally therapy and physiotherapy is needed to achieve good results. Occupational therapy and physiotherapy in this department involved teaching exercises and stretches, making splints and practicing activities (see pictures below).

Another difficulty for those affected by Leprosy is the stigma people have towards them. This stigma can make it difficult for those who have had Leprosy to access work and education and often decreases marriage prospects. The additional benefit of the surgery, occupational therapy and physiotherapy, is that post-surgery hands make it more difficult to notice an individual has had Leprosy and therefore the stigma is decreased.

Working in another country was a big challenge. I had to adapt to a different culture and a different way of professional working. Although I learnt some Hindi, the language barrier was another challenge for me. While I worked in India, the temperature was around 45 degrees centigrade during the day and the hospital had limited air conditioning. For someone from England, this is an uncomfortable environment to work in. However, all these challenges were made easier by the brilliant hospital staff who were super friendly and helpful.

Thank you to The Dowager Countess Eleanor Peel Trust for supporting my elective financially.

Ambleside Conservation Society

The Ambleside Conservation society has 22 registered members and is managed by a Committee made up of 6 students. The society welcomes any member across the Ambleside site but also from Lancaster and Carlisle, should students wish to attend a session.

We asked Rachel Hinds a few questions about the society as we were curious to know what such an active group gets up to and how they fit everything in!…..

rachel

What are the Society goals and what challenges have you faced?

With conservation at the heart of the society, we aim to boost both academic and social values by organising regular activities and meetings throughout the year.

We aim to:

·        Organise practical conservation work days

·        ‘Walk and Talk’ style rambles

·        Bring in guest speakers at least twice a year

·        Discuss academic ideas

·        Help boost employability skills within the conservation sector through potentially arranging courses for new qualifications

·        Organise social gatherings, pub crawls, themed nights etc.

The society is open to anyone from any campus.

New groups of students establish themselves as a Committee every year. This means that the Society has to enrol new members every academic year, as well as prepare plans for what they intend to do. The students run the society entirely on a voluntary basis alongside their study, work and personal commitments.

The Committee is directly responsible for their funding, recruitment and planning and running their programme of activity. Whilst many groups seek funding, at the beginning of the year, the Conservation society did not. This means that the society operated entirely on the basis of income from the memberships raised, from fundraising events and from member donations.

Committees cannot rely on steady memberships, as students leave at the end of their studies and new groups of students start every September so they continuously have to proactively engage others, in order to operate.

What has the Sociey achieved?
Freshers’ week

·        Wild night – ‘wild’ themed night out in Sporties – this event was entirely set up by the society to get new students to meet one another

·        Hangover walk – went to Skelghyll woods and walked around the champion tree trail. We were joined by the forestry society who gave us information on the types of vegetation present.

Socials

Throughout the year, the society has met  on multiple occasions at the local inn where we gathered to discuss our plans and any upcoming events or ideas, or just as a general night to see everyone and catch up – these were often a good break from assignments!

Wildlife outings

·        Deer rutting at Martindale – along with a lecturer, we helped to plan a trip to Martindale to watch the deer rutting. It was an early start and a little chilly, but it was definitely worth it! Some of the deer even started rutting, which was really cool! It was a good opportunity for any people interested in photography as there were some amazing views

·        Starling murmurations – we set off to Sike Tarn Nature Reserve one evening to go and view the starling murmurartions. Due to the number of birds, they were fairly easy to find, and we were able to watch them in their formations for quite some time, which again for anyone with an interest in photography was great!

Working with other organisations

Foulshaw Moss (Cumbria Wildlife Trust) – we visited this site on three different occasions. Each time we were working to help restore the area by removing trees and other plants that would cause the ground to dry out. We used a variety of tools, including bowsaws and loppers, and were taught a lot by the Cumbria Wildlife Trust while we were there, and even got a guided walk around the site, which included being shown where the ospreys nest. Each time we went, we succeeded in clearing a fairly large area of vegetation.

Derwent Catchment (Environmental Agency) – at this event, we joined the Environmental Agency and other volunteers to complete some tree planting. This was a great event, which everyone seemed to enjoy, and it was a good way of getting to meet new people as well as helping the environment.

Skelghyll woods (National Trust) – we joined the forestry society for a guided walk around Skelghyll woods. This included both the champion tree trail and going up to Jenkins Crag. We were taught a lot about the different vegetation types the site had to offer, and also some of the management techniques used to maintain it.

Ambleside Natural History Society (Lizzie Daly talk) – together with the Ambleside National History Society (ANHS) and the university, we hosted a talk by Lizzie Daly (wildlife presenter) who talked about living with elephants. It was a really educational talk for everyone who attended, and it gave a real insight to the human-wildlife conflict that occurs.

Surfers Against Sewage – we joined in with a litter pick organised by another student (Taylor Butler-Eldridge) who is closely involved with surfers against sewage. This also involved students from other campuses and local people, so was a great opportunity to really make a difference to an area and also to meet new people. 

beach clean

Kendal College – we were approached with the idea of potentially getting some hedgehogs to be released on campus and also the University’s nature reserve. We were in contact regularly, and camera traps were set up at the potential release sites. However, the traps did show evidence of badger activity, and the nature reserve was unsuitable due to the steep drops into the river. Unfortunatly due to this, there were no areas suitable for release, but maybe in the future a suitable area will be found.

Orang-utan Awareness week – for this a table was set up in the Barn (University cafeteria which is open to the public) with information leaflets, a donation box and a pledge that people could sign to say they would try to reduce their palm oil consumption. We were also able to take over one of the Evenings with Attenborough sessions (which we helped to advertise throughout the year) and show a documentary on the impacts that the palm oil industry has on orang-utans – it was very moving, and I think it made all of us think about ways in which we could reduce our use of products containing palm oil. At the end of the week the donation box was collected, and the funds donated to charity.

Nature reserve

One of the second year conservation students (Joshua Gilroy) applied to the woodland trust and was successful in obtaining 105 trees for the university. This was brought to the conservation society, who alongside the forestry society began planning for a nature reserve in Ambleside:

·        We conducted soil and vegetation surveys to establish what was already present in the site.

·        A bat survey was also conducted.

·        We held an evening that was open for local people to come and discuss their ideas for the reserve with us

·        We had the planting day to which Dalefoot composts, friends of the Lake District and members from the Forestry Association were invited to join, along with members of the public.

·        Three of the committee members spoke at the reserve at an ANHS meeting, and again asked for any ideas that would help improve the nature reserve for the public

Eco-Warriors

The committee members of the conservation society were approached with the idea of this project, which involved doing short sessions about conservation and the environment in the local primary school. After a lot of planning and going to meet the teacher in charge, we began with an introduction session, which explained who we were and also a central concept in nature – the circle of life.

Since our introduction session, multiple others have been run successfully, including a session on camera traps, where one was set up in the school yard. The first week was unfortunately unsuccessful, with only cats being found, however the second attempt showed a badger, which will be shown in the upcoming sessions! The session after this was followed by a talk about our trip to the Gambia, as they seemed intrigued about it from the week before.

The project makes a great link between the University and local people and fulfils an important role for local children, giving them an early appreciation of local and global Conservation and Environmental concerns.

Whilst the impact made by the society may be localised, I think the commitment shown in engaging in volunteering, planning and delivering activities aside from their studies and their determination to bring their passion to good use within their community, is notable and makes this, a special group of young people.

MOTO Tanzania Partnership Building Visit 2018 by Judy Barrett

Introduction

After the completion of the MOTO pilot project and information gathering in Malawi in March 2018, there was distinct interest in our work from team contacts in Tanzania. Due to familiarity with the area and language, MOTO Director Judy Barrett travelled for the trip, supported by MOTO Tanzania members, Johnson Dickson, and Saad Mbingah. In addition, Saria Anderson (director of AMRCO) supported significantly in terms of itinerary and logistics. The aim of this trip was to gain understanding of the Tanzanian rehabilitation and therapy context, and to explore potential partnerships for future project work. Links were established in the Kilimanjaro, Arusha, and Zanzibar Urban regions via MOTO volunteers based in Tanzania. The trip spanned from the 30th of August 2018 to the 12th of September 2018, with costs met by private donors, The Eleanor Peel Foundation, and the University of Cumbria. This was complimented by some logistical support by First Aid Africa.

The Trip

I was last in Tanzania in 2015, where I was living and working for Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) as a project supervisor for their youth programme. However, a passion for accessible health care had been instilled in me since my first ever overseas aid placement in 2011 (in Malawi), and part of the reason I left Tanzania was to pursue a career that would enable me to support health programmes in places such as East Africa. It was a privilege to be supported to return to Tanzania in August 2018, as a trained occupational therapist and director of a small charity I had started myself to support the access and quality of rehabilitation services in East & Southern Africa (MOTO). I was happy to find that little had changed since I left, and whilst my Kiswahili was “rusty”, I was able to make short speeches independently by the end.

During the visit, I met with 7 partner organisations, identified by myself, and the MOTO Tanzania team. I also met with traditional leaders (or chiefs – 3 of them), and relevant government officials on the mainland (in Arusha and Kilimanjaro regions), and on Zanzibar island. This gave me great insight into what was currently available in Tanzania, and also the challenges faced by rehabilitation services both in the charitable and state sectors. I was able to learn about what I could do to make MOTO a success by learning from successful and innovative grassroots organisations, and I was able to seek permission for activities from authorities. Most importantly, it was a chance to speak face to face with the teams behind these services, and work out how we could collaborate in the future. The partner organisations also helped me to meet 8 different service users, and learn from them and their families about how a lack of services (due to cost, location etc), and how disability or care responsibilities impacted their livelihoods, education and status in community. I was able to give some advice to some service users about how they might continue their rehabilitation at home with support from family, or some adaptations, which I hope will help. I was also able to give further knowledge about the benefits of rehabilitation services to both service users, and government officials, which peaked some interest in supporting these services in the community, or – in one case – studying to be an occupational therapist!

I thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity, and have found that it has provided further motivation for myself and other members of the MOTO team to continue to our efforts to make the organisation active, and working with local organisations to really make a difference to rehabilitation services, and those requiring them.

My experience volunteering with Raleigh International in Malaysian Borneo by Sophie Babbs.

Firstly, before I begin I would like to say a huge thank you, for the grant I received from the Eleanor Peel Trust, terima kasih. It was a massive help towards my target, for me to have the ability to participate in the 10 week volunteering trip to Malaysian Borneo with Raleigh International. This trip had three different aspects to it an environmental phase, an adventure phase, and a community phase.

My first phase was the environmental phase, based at Danum Valley Conservation Area. Danum Valley is 438 square kilometres of primary and secondary rainforest and is a highly protected world-renowned conservation and research area, famous for its rich biodiversity and abundant wildlife. I was aiding Raleigh International and the Danum Valley staff in building a suspension bridge. This bridge will provide better access to the primary rainforest for researchers, subsequently, aiding in more efficient conservation work being carried out. Even though Raleigh did not finish the suspension bridge, we helped with a significant amount of the work. Another task we helped the researches with is camera trapping, to aid in cataloguing the species and number of animals in the area. Both, the bridge and camera trapping, will aid Danum Valley on its path to getting a UNESCO world heritage status in the future.

P1030159

My second phase was the adventure phase, which was a 17 day trek through the Crocker Range rainforest. This trek is designed for us to develop as individual people and as a team, to see what we can achieve physically in arduous and challenging terrain. We had to be self-sufficient, carrying all that we would need, supplies and equipment, between the group. We were wild camping along the trails and had to have a minimal to no effect on our surroundings, so the rainforest or environment would not be harmed.

My third and final phase was the community phase, based in the village Kampung Mempakad. Upon entering the village there were no sanitation facilities, or access to any safe and reliable running water. We helped the villages build, a dam at the natural spring, with water pipes around the whole village, and with a tap for each of the 38 houses. We also helped to build three toilets and handwashing facilities for the village to share.

This whole experience is something that I would could never have had the opportunity to do anywhere else. This trip was phenomenal, and an eye opener at times too. Danum Valley I found magical for the wildlife I got to see, seeing monkeys most days, having wild orangutans over our camp and work site, having bearded pigs and civets in camp, and even just the noises of the insects at all times of day. Being able to have trekked into the primary rainforest, which is a rare thing to be able to do, was just amazing, and an experience I will forever treasure.

112

Trekking the Crocker Range, I found one of the hardest things I have ever done, both physically and mentally, with 20kg rucksacks filled with all of the provisions we will need to be self-sufficient. We were required to be day leader at least once and lead the group on the trek, setting up camp,  delegating the tasks, and making group decisions for the day. This I found challenging, but I am pleased I did it as it, made me stronger as a person and a leader, having done it in a harsh environment. Overall, trek was very rewarding, with some amazing mountain range views every day, and I got an amazing feeling upon walking back into base camp at the end. Which I have never felt or will never feel that type of feeling again knowing I completed, the 17 day trek in the rainforest completely self-sufficient, was amazing.

Mempakad was a massive eye opener to the ways some people have to live, and this made me more aware of what I am doing. Seeing a village where everyone has smartphones, yet no access to running water was a mad thought and yet it was happening here. It showed me that not everyone in the world has access to running water or sanitation, that one of the ways to help them, is for charities like Raleigh going in and lending a hand. It was also important to work with the villages, teaching them how to maintain the pipes after we had left, therefore, if there was a problem they could fix it themselves, rather going back to where they were before we arrived. I will never forget the joy on the people faces when they got safe running water to their village for the first time in 50 years, it was an extraordinary feeling to know we have helped them. Additionally, volunteering here showed me that I can change the way I live at home, like trying to use less water, after having lived on water rations during my time in the village.

P1030506

Overall, this was an amazing experience for me to have had the opportunity to have, and was a massive eye opener in many ways, but something that I really want to do again and raise awareness about. I realised how privileged we are just because of where we were born and how anyone can achieve anything they set their mind to no matter how hard it may seem at the time. I have gained in confidence as a person, in who I am and travelling. I have come out of this whole experience knowing what I want to do to help the world, not only in conservation, but now in communities too. One of the other most rewarding parts of this entire expedition is how genuine friendship have been built between volunteers from all over the world and communities I was in, and I will treasure these friendships for the rest of my life.

Marine Conservation Cambodia by Jake Norton

MCC Funding Blog

Marine Conservation Cambodia (MCC) was formed originally to protect Cambodian waters from overfishing. Destructive trawler nets from fishermen destroyed anything on the sea bed such as coral reefs, and pulse fishing, a technique which produces a limited electric field above the seabed to catch fish killed everything around the ‘barb’. Protection was needed urgently which is when MCC stepped in. Slowly overtime they worked to improve fishing techniques and helped deter illegal foreign fishermen from stealing profit from Cambodians. They created Cambodia’s first large scale marine fisheries management area. Later they were invited by the Royal Government of Cambodia to commence similar work in Kep Province where they are based today. Based on Koh Seh they patrol fishing areas, taking illegal fishermen’s gear, as well as protecting the marine environment around the island. They do year-round research on numerous marine related subjects, from seahorse habitat to the rejuvenation of fishing grounds. They are a small NGO funded by volunteers, and a in the process of setting up a new funding page. However despite small funding, they are making a huge difference to the marine life around Cambodia.

Week 1

After arriving in Kep, a small fishing village on the Vietnam border I met the MCC boat at the Konsai pier. I boarded the high-speed patrol boat along with the weekly supplies, new volunteer Fiona and a few other volunteers who spent their weekend on the mainland. After 40 minutes we arrived at what looked like an ideal island, palm trees, blue seas and thick jungle. Aesthetically it was, beautiful beach bungalows provided accommodation and a huge central hut providing the communal eating, studying and social area. Dig under the surface though and you found limited freshwater, every biting insect on earth and bucket showers. Small prices to pay to live on this beautiful remote island. I shared my bungalow with 4 others. Manu the dive instructor, Reid an American gap year student and Doug, who has just retired from building satellites for NASA!!

Week 1 I spent learning the basics from seahorse ID and ecology to dolphin survey techniques. In-between involved beach clean ups (an endless job even on this 300m long island) underwater gardening and fun dives. The water may look great from the surface however below tells a different story. Trawling digs up the seabed lifting the anaerobic muddy benthic layer into the water column making visibility poor. To add to this jellyfish larvae, ‘sea lice’ had hatched from the increased water temperature making being in the water painful as they bit you. Trawling is only legal in certain areas around the islands due to MCC gaining protected areas. However due to overfishing, the strictly no fishing areas around our island is the only place you can catch a decent sized catch. As you can imagine this sees fishermen pushing the boundaries as to where they can fish. Evenings were spent with talks from Doug about his work with satellites, Pete on his work in conservation and some documentaries.

Week days we have food cooked for us, however at weekends volunteers cooked for each other so Saturday night saw Doug and Thomas (a French volunteer) and I fire up the pizza oven. Weekends are also spent in anyway you like, which for me involved a jungle trek through the island discovering Khmer Rouge bunkers from the late 70’s, volleyball and scuba diving…..one of the better weekends I’ve had.

Week 2

Week 2 began with more seahorse training and then the exam which I thankfully passed! This then allowed me to go onto more practical training where I would need to find 15, ID them and measure them accurately to allow me to start collecting data. Sounds easy but for the rest of the week we only found 2 seahorses, they’re ability to blend in with their environment in incredible.

I also got my initial dolphin survey training, this allowed me to estimate group size behaviour and other important characteristics influencing the dolphins such as boat traffic. This also showed me how to fill out the data form when we do spot dolphins on surveys. All surveys I was involved with this week however saw no dolphins. Highlight of the week was finishing a survey and being invited to drink with the local Khmer workers who were building new huts on the island. We had helped them out getting free beer by crushing beer cans which can be exchanged for more beers, so me and Reid sat with them and attempted to talk Khmer which was highly amusing for them.

Other activities involved teaching the 4 children who live on the island some English and maths skills, as well as helping the education programme out with a presentation we are taking to a school next week about plastics. We also did a few beach-cleans which as ever collected well over 50kg of rubbish from around the island!

This weekend a few of us volunteers had to do a visa run to the Vietnam border on mopeds which was fun. We then spent a couple of nights in Kampot, a local town where we could have proper showers and a taste of civilisation again!

Week 3

Week 3 brought much better diving conditions meaning I could start to find a lot more seahorses. We also deployed anti trawling structures, which involves assembling 150kg blocks into triangles underwater. The big boat also needed to be cleaned underwater, so we grabbed our scrapers and scraped all the barnacles off the hull. A ‘shark sucker’ joined me under the boat eating all the barnacles I scraped off. Barnacles can lower the efficiency of the boat by 25% so regular cleaning is important….even if it means barnacles going all down your clothes. We also dug up an Irrawaddy dolphin which had stranded on the island 9 months previous. We washed and cleaned bones and then arranged them.

I learnt what a small world it is when Amy Jones, a second year Marine and Freshwater student from UoC turned up to work on the dolphin project. Although having never met her it was great to have some form of familiarity on the island. Great to have someone to chat to about next years modules. After Manu the Dive Instructor left, I was the next highest qualified diver as a divemaster. This allowed me to perform a scuba review for Amy putting her skills to the test which she passed with flying colours!

This weekend I went onto the mainland again to explore Kampot National Park. It claims to have wild Elephants, Leopards Monkeys and plenty of species of birds. I only ever saw monkeys despite sitting on a ledge for hours hoping to see leopards. Unfortunately however whilst sitting up on the ledge there was an evident background noise of chainsaws; illegal logging is a huge problem in southern Cambodia.

Week 4

Week 4 began with a late trip back to the island from the mainland. The bad weather affected our journey. Storms were just off the coast, the sea was rough and it was getting dark…..just about the time all the illegal boats head out. Needless to say it was a long, rough and nervous journey back.

Being my last week I wanted to get the most I could out of the experience. Therefore I spent as much time as possible being taught techniques for research dives, mostly in seahorse surveying as well as seagrass. While not in the water I spent a lot of time with the kids on the island helping them collect worms for their compost heap and playing various games. We also decided to build steps up to the dolphin shelter which had become notoriously slippy! I played plenty of volleyball with the occasional game being interrupted by dolphin sightings just off the shore. In the evenings the dolphins love spending time around the artificial reefs built off shore, this place really is idyllic at times! My last day began with my first boat dolphin survey. Weather had prevented every other one while I was there, so I was excited to finally get to do one. The skies were stunning as the sun began to rise (5am start). We saw 3 separate groups of dolphins, one group with over 10 dolphins. My role was to log all the data about them, from behaviour to number of boats near to them. What a great way to spend a morning!

Before I knew it my time was up and I had boarded the boat back to the mainland. I had thoroughly enjoyed my time on the island, met so many interesting people from so many different places and backgrounds. The hands-on conservation experience I have gained is so valuable for my degree, and I have learnt so much from so many people. Living on a cut off island on our own teaches you so much about waste and the poor health of our oceans. You learn to live with so many different people, and how to live without being reliant on technology. One of the best parts was the conversations we would have all evening in the absence of technology.

Volunteering with MCC was an unbelievable experience, and without the help of the Eleanor Peel Trust funding I would not have been able to make it. I can’t thank them enough for their support and would highly recommend applying for funding through them if you’re wanting to volunteer abroad.