Volunteering in Athens: Rosie Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Volunteering in India with Muktangan: Hannah Breslin

Volunteering in India with Muktangan

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

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

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

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

Tanzania by Lauren Bruntnell, Lisa Smythe, Rukhsar Younas

Tanzania

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

Culture and people

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

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

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

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

Volunteering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volunteering in Bali: Beth, Amy & Megan

In June 2017, I (Beth Lightburn), Olivia Frame, Amy Kenworthy and Megan Oldale embarked on our trip to Bali to volunteer for 3 weeks. After months of planning and organising we were finally setting off to our destination – Denpasar, Indonesia. During the period of organising our trip, one of the main aspects of preparation was pricing up the costs of our expenses, once we had a rough estimate on flights, vaccinations, insurance and the general cost of the volunteering programme we knew that some financial aid would be very useful in supporting us with our trip to Bali. Therefore, we decided to apply for the Eleanor Peel funding – our application was successful and we each received a total amount of funding in which we used to contribute towards our required vaccinations.

Our volunteering scheme involved us helping in both a nursery setting and a primary school setting where the children were aged between 6 months and 7 years old. Each morning we would conduct our planned educational activities with the older children based on a simple topic such as; colours or animals. The main focus was to supply the children with English speaking skills in order to enrich their learning in order to widen their opportunities in the future. In an afternoon, we would take care of the younger children in the nursery setting where we had the opportunity to play, feed and bond with the children. As we are all studying courses related to education, each of us found the experience beneficial to both our professional and personal development.

Whilst undertaking our volunteering programme we each found that we learnt a lot about the culture and how our help was impacting their lifestyle. As well as volunteering with the children, we also helped paint a local primary school too – this opportunity enabled us to see how much our schools differ to theirs and it highlighted to us how lucky we are to have all the resources that are made available to us here in the UK. The setting where we were working had a lack of resources and a very simple style of teaching, this was quite a major cultural difference we noticed and during our time there we decided to provide the school with educational resources such as an alphabet mat to aid their learning. Each day we volunteered, it was clear to see how grateful they were for our help as the setting was run by nuns and the age range between the children was vast so all help was very much appreciated.

Overall, our trip was the best experience we have encountered and we believe volunteering overseas is an opportunity that all people should try as it is so fulfilling and enriching.

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.

Eco Christmas Picture (2)

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