Volunteering at Our Chalet. By Elizabeth Nutbrown

I volunteered for nearly four months at a Girl Guiding World Centre in the heart of the Swiss Alps. I was part of the summer season volunteer team. My role was to lead outdoor activities for the groups of girls that came from overseas to participate in the programme and helping with the general running of Our Chalet.

I have gained a lot out of this experience. I have gained many international friends that I hope to meet up with again one day. I talk to them regularly still over Skype which is great. I gained confidence on leading outdoor, adventure activities with children which will help support my teaching career. I got the opportunity to try lots of new activities in a new environment myself which was physically challenging but very rewarding.

Our Chalet’s team is made up of women from all over the world. This creates a really international experience. This experience allowed me to see people from all different cultures. It was really interesting to realise that we have many more similarities than differences. It was so pleasing throughout the season that we had no arguments or falling out. Everybody accepted each other for who they are and what they believe in.

My highlight of the trip was when I had two days off work and got the opportunity to do an overnight hike with two wonderful new friends. We left Our Chalet after dinner and hiked up Bunderspitz to a point that was flat enough to pitch a small tent. We got a few hours’ sleep and had a great laugh surrounded by Alpine Cows. Our aim was to see the sunrise from the peak so we got up at 6am for the 6:37am sunrise. We hiked up to the peak and saw the beautiful sunrise over the Kander valley and Adelboden valley at 2456metres. We then packed up our tent and continued our hike into the next valley where we planned to camp at the Boy Scout International Centre.

The girls that visit Our Chalet with their guiding units from their home country gain an awful lot from the Swiss Challenge experience. It is a challenging experience for them because they are often physically challenged throughout the week, challenged by mixing with people from different cultures and for some, simply being away from home is an experience in itself. I think that it is such an important element member’s experiences that I decided to complete my dissertation on this topic and carried out research whilst at the Chalet. I have found this super interesting to explore.

The funding from the Eleanor Peel Trust helped me to enjoy this experience to the limit. I used the funding to pay for my flights which I managed to get in the Easy Jet sale then I put the small amount that was left over towards some walking boots which allowed me to fully participate in the activities within the climate and to set a good example to the girls who needed to have appropriate equipment for hiking each day.

I hope to one day go back to Our Chalet with a guide group of my own and give them the opportunity for them to experience what I did. I am so pleased with the lifelong friends and memories this opportunity gave me.



Volunteering at an orphanage in Kenya :: Joe Taylor ::

For my experiential placement, I chose to contact Rianna’s Fund; a charity very close to me who have set up orphanages and schools across Kenya, Uganda and India. The charity was set up in memory of a girl being hit by a falling tree in my school when I was younger. I got the chance to visit Kenya and stayed in the remote village of Yala where the charity has an orphanage. This was the first orphanage set up by them and has expanded to accommodating up to 42 children at a time. It also has an on-site primary school which allows the children of the orphanage and the local area to get a good education which is so key to securing a good future. During my time there I got the chance to spend a lot of time in the on-site school in which I both saw and participated in the teaching that went on. The school had the bare essentials to work with, however what they had they used effectively. I also spent time out of school with the children of the orphanage visiting waterfalls, going to the local markets, playing basketball and talking a lot about football. I was able to get some funding for my trip from the Eleanor Peel Fund, without which it would have been much harder to organise

How I feel I benefitted from my experience:

Going to Kenya marked the first time I had ever ventured into Africa or the Southern Hemisphere. This has allowed me to return with a much richer experience of how others across the world live and the cultural differences we have. I have greatly benefitted from my time in Kenya through learning to appreciate what I have. The few belongings everyone had there were basic but enough to keep them entertained and they took so much joy and pride in what they had. Despite being the only white person I saw for three weeks, every single person I met greeted me with a warm smile and offered a handshake. They had an interest in who I was and always chatted to me for a while. Their attitude towards family and friendship was something I’ve never seen before. They always looked out for each other and I loved spending time with everyone that I met.

How they benefitted:

Whilst spending time in the school I was able to give different approaches to teaching that I had picked up from previous placements and time in school. I was also able to independently take on some classes to free up the teachers to complete other work that they needed to do. Outside of school time there were many opportunities to help around the site and I took with me some games, paper, pens and other things for the children to do. If the children were bored they would often come to my room and play games, draw or just come and chat about life in another country. Taking out my phone with its camera was also great, they loved taking photos and videos of each other and showing them to everyone they came across. Whilst I was out there, they also got a chance to do things that they don’t usually do. My hosts particularly were incredibly generous to me whilst I was out there and it was obvious that this was their attitude to everyone. Running an orphanage is not easy but they were always so calm and so on top of everything so simply taking them out for dinner gave them a break from the norm and a bit of a treat. The older children also took me to many different places and took me out more when they would usually have stayed in the grounds of the orphanage.

Differences I saw (culture and adaptations):

One of the differences I saw whilst living in Kenya was the food. I tried a lot of new things and ate a lot of rice and ugali (bready food made with maize flour) but I particularly loved the actual eating experiences. Despite having very little, the family always provided a lot of food for each meal so that if anyone dropped by they could provide them with a meal as well. They also always enjoyed food together, having long discussions together about the day, the children or whatever was happening in the news. Another, less positive, difference was the acceptance of corruption in society. From the top people in government to the policemen linings the streets, corruption and bribery was everywhere. Finally, the difference in time keeping and relaxation was prevalent. They had a very laid back attitude at all times and school lessons would often start later and go on for a bit longer afterwards. This was great to have such a relaxed atmosphere, both in school and out of school, but meant that planning and organising other activities was slightly trickier!

What I learnt:

I learnt many things whilst in Kenya. One of the biggest things was to appreciate what I have. Whatever they had out there, they were so proud of and they took so much care over. Everyone had to collaborate to clean, tidy and make everything look good and when it did they were so proud. I also learnt that, even now, there are still so many areas of the world that don’t have running water, electricity or easy access to medication. It didn’t really hit me until I was out there and, though this village had all of these, the water and electricity would often cut off, sometimes for days at a time. This was a lucky area because the news showed that there are still areas across Kenya which don’t have any of these at all.

What I enjoyed/challenges:

One of the best things about being there was the constant friendship and positivity that everybody greeted each other with. Whenever they greeted, it was with a warm smile, a handshake and usually an encouraging word or story about their day. It was brilliant! They were always willing to share whatever they had and they were so proud of everything they had, keeping everything clean and making sure everything was in working order. There were, however, many challenges as well. The language barrier was often tough and when I was out with people I would often have people come to me asking for money. Because of this it was hard to go out on my own, meaning I had to rely on others around me a lot and had very little independence. Whilst this was often tough, whoever I was with was always very helpful and I would learn so much from them.


Eco Warriors Schools Project:

I am a third year Primary Education student at the Lancaster campus. I joined the Eco Warriors Schools Project whilst I was in my second year. I was interested in the project due to the opportunity of gaining further experiences working with children and the hands-on aspect of doing creative and active eco-based activities. The project primarily works with Bowerham Primary School which makes it easily accessible for student volunteers to help out. This year, I and three other volunteers had the opportunity to take over as Project Leaders. This meant that we were more involved in the running of the project. For example, we had our own stall at Fresher’s Fair and recruited our own volunteers. We also met up with teachers at the school, ran the initial sessions with volunteers and followed up with meetings to plan the activities. We were also part of doing the boring stuff, such as risk assessments and gathering DBS checks. Working with the project has been an all-round great experience in which there are definitely a range of skills that I can bring forward to future job applications.

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To give an idea of some of the things we do, examples of our activities in schools include:

Sewing a blanket using old t-shirts

Making eco-friendly Christmas crafts  – painting acorn-baubles and making Christmas bookmarks using paper made out of elephant poo!

Making our own snake draught excluders

Making elephants using milk bottles

Outdoor treasure hunt and treasure trail

Making bug houses

We have also created our own Facebook page, which can be found at https://www.facebook.com/EcoWarriorUCSU and email account (ecowarriorleaders@gmail.com) for students to contact. Further information about the project can also be found on our online platform that we have set up. The link for this is http://www.ucsu.me/volunteering-opportunities/eco-warrior-schools-project.

The project is a fantastic opportunity for any students looking to find experiences with children or supporting sustainability – you never know, you might also get to be a Project Leader! I wish the project all the best in the future and hope future volunteers will have as much fun as I have.

Ann x

Community volunteering reaps rewards for all

Students from theUniversityofCumbriahave been working with community groups as part of National Student Volunteering Week.

The university students from theCarlisle, Penrith, Ambleside and Lancaster campuses joined students from all over the country who were making a difference to their local communities through events organised by the Students’ Union.

TheUniversityofCumbriastudents took part in various activities, including IT sessions for retired local residents inLancaster, art workshops for community members at theBrampton Roadcampus in Carlisle and conservation work at Heathlands inCarlisle, part of the Glenmore Trust.

The Lancaster IT sessions were led by Lauren Lloyd. Lauren said: “I was a basic volunteer last year and this year I am the project leader. I am running the IT sessions for the elderly residents and we are helping them with their basic computer skills. As well as helping the residents learn a new skill, we are portraying a positive student relationship with the community.”

The volunteering week also included the second Community Arts project session inCarlisle. The student led project invites local residents onto theBrampton Roadcampus to try their hand at different creative arts such as drawing. Twenty members of the community are already involved.

Student Volunteer Danielle Spratt said: “Some of the local residents who attended the session had never drawn at all so we taught them different skills. It’s rewarding and fun. I’m getting to interact with people who aren’t my own age and it’s just a bit different.”

To finish off the week, ten student volunteers carried out conservation tasks at Heathlands, near Harker,Carlisle. Chopping, digging and sawing tasks were carried out at the inclusive day centre for adults with learning disabilities to improve access to the garden area for the members.

Kati Brown, Students Union Volunteering Facilitator for the Students’ Union is pleased with how the week went. She said: ‘It’s been great to see so many different students getting involved and giving volunteering a go. Some of them have taken part before but some people got involved for the first time.

“It’s also great that we can bring together the community. As well as volunteering at Heathlands, we were able to support five of their members who are attending our community art sessions as part of their OCN qualification in art.

“There are many volunteering opportunities available to students and we want to continue to raise the profile so that more students get involved in volunteering in their community, giving them valuable and rewarding experience that will have a positive impact on other people.”

Annual Activities & Information Day for Families with children with Disabilities and/or additional needs

On 23rd March 2013, UCSU Volunteers hosted an Information and Activities Day for local families with children with disabilities and/or additional needs at Salt Ayre Leisure Centre.

On the day, children were able to access a whole variety of activities including; an inflatable bungee run, sensory tent, face painting, arts & crafts, Giant Jenga, Treasure Hunt, dressing-up photo booth, dance session and inflatable slide, and much more, while their parents and carers were able to talk to local support providers to gain advice and information and had the opportunity to meet and get to know other parents and carers.

In addition to helping to set up the venue for the day, UCSU Volunteers also assisted with the check-in where parents and carers registered for the event and were issued wristbands on arrival, directed families to where the activities they wanted to get involved in, helped the children access the sensory tent, giant games, arts & crafts, face painting and badge making, ensuring that everyone had a fantastic time.

The families thoroughly enjoyed the event and the volunteers were highly praised. The NLDG committee were most thankful for all the volunteers’ helpful assistance in making the day so successful.

Lancaster Business School Student Eats Project Day

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On Thursday 14th March, as part of the Lancaster Business School Week, tutors Amanda Chapman & Nicky Metcalfe-Meer and their students volunteered for the day on the UCSU Student Eats project at Lancaster.
UCSU volunteers; Sian Hill, Jess Owen, Felicity Sugden, Arran Dennis, Helen Williams & Vicky Eales travelled from our Penrith & Carlisle campuses to lead workshops and take photos on enhancing bio-diversity by building bird boxes, bird tables, bat boxes, bird feeders and an impressive Insect Hotel and on growing fruit & vegetables by planting fruit trees and weeding the allotment! Well done all!

Diggin the Trees

On a cold but relatively dry day in December 2012 we joined a local tree planting group, Diggin the Trees, for a day of planting trees near Mell Fell Croft Head Farm near Dacre. When the floods were really bad in Cumbria a few years ago a lot of trees were destroyed and the group plants trees all over the north of the county to repair the damage and to improve the environment.

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During the day, with help from UCSU volunteers and local groups such as Sustainable Carlisle, we planted around 600 trees. To keep our energy high throughout the day, a  local farmer brought along a trailer for us to sit and have lunch and a selection of homemade foods from his wife, including Hearty pasta and tomato /med veg sauce with home made bread, not to mention home made cakes made by Helen.

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We asked students what they felt they had learnt and what skills they had developed by taking part in the project day….

“Planting trees and teamwork”.

“Team building skills, communication, planting, digging and tubing.”

“How to plant trees and what conditions fit best”.

“Team work and learnt about trees to improve environment, I also met new friends”.

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