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 the Eleanor Peel funding you can apply by visiting the UCSU Website. https://www.ucsu.me/volunteering

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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.