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!…..


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.


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


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.