Archive for the ‘Volunteer interviews’ category

Jenna Richards: Out in Korea

April 30, 2007

‘The land of morning calm’ sounded like exactly what I needed after a very stressful year doing a masters degree, working for the student newspaper and holding down a part time job. It was for this reason, and the money I could make working as an English teacher, I decided to go to South Korea for some me time.

With images of tranquil parks full of people practicing Thai chi at sun rise, I arrived fully prepared to embrace the culture. Only to find my image was naively misguided and ‘The land of morning calm’ could be more aptly named ‘The land of daily stress’.

Motorists rush around with blatant disregard for red lights, dodging naive foreigners who haven’t waited dutifully for the green man before making the perilous journey across the road. Driving in Korea seems to be a constant race for the finish line with little or no regard for speed limits. Upon arriving it was explained to me that speed limits and red lights are more ‘friendly advice’ that absolute law!

People on the subway barge and push like their life depends on being the fist on, or off, the train. Having frequently travelled on the London underground standing in a sweaty armpit during rush hour I thought the daily commute couldn’t get more uncomfortable. Until squashed, sardine like, on the Seoul subway I had a group of teenagers, excited at seeing a fair haired foreigner, get out their mobile phones and shamelessly take my photograph whilst I was too squashed to even turn away!

But now I realize that rushing around is just the Korean way. As with any big city, in Seoul, people have things to do and places to be and they want to get there quickly. The Korean’s have one of the longest working weeks in the world, and I now find that I am also one of those rushing to get home and enjoy those precious few hours off from the world before I have to get up tomorrow and do it all again.

The teenagers on the subway weren’t taking my photo out of spite, but curiosity and wonder at seeing someone so different to themselves. Unlike the UK, Korea isn’t racially diverse and many people living here don’t get the same opportunities to travel that westerners do. It can be a novelty for teenagers to spot someone with fair hair standing next to them on the subway, for many the only other place they’ve seen a westerner is in their classroom at school.

In coming to Korea I didn’t find the de-stressed way of life I was expecting, but what I did find is a country where despite being one of the most technologically advanced in the world people still marvel at a foreigner on a train. Despite working long hours a stranger will find the time to stop and help as you struggle to the bus stop with your shopping

It is also a country that, once you look past the hustle bustle and skyscrapers, is steeped in culture and traditions. And whilst I haven’t found any parks full of people practicing Thai chi at sunrise I have found a culture and country that I can immerse myself in and, like a Korean spotting a westerner on a train, I am constantly in awe of how different it is from everything back in England.

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Staying with nuns in India

April 23, 2007

Dominique Gelder-Smith
1. How old are you and what’s your occupation?
I am 19 and I am currently on a gap year
2. What made you decide to go to India?
I’d never thought of it until my friend asked me if I’d like to go with her
so that her parents wouldn’t get too worried about her.
3. Which organisation did you go with?
I stayed with an order of nuns called the Holy Cross Sisters for five weeks
in Mekkarai and Achinkovil and then I went on a tour of MP and UP with
Intrepid.
4. How did you find out about them?
I went to a school that was founded by the sisters in New Malden and one of
the sisters who curently woks there invited us to isit those in India. I
found out about the Intrepid tour through my sister.
5. What were you doing out there? What sort of project was it?
The Holy Cross sisters that I stayed with ran several different projects in
their local areas. I helped at local visits to patients of the two small
dispensaries that acted as hospitals for the villagers, who live so remotely
from government funded aids. I worked in two nurseries run by the sisters
and one school where the sisters were placed as teachers. I also visited
homes of those with domestic problems in Achinkovil, where the sisters act
as independant social workers-diffusing domestic violence and educating
about alcohol and drug addiction. I also visited some women’s self-help
groups that had been set up in both communities to provide loans and support
for the poorest families.
6. How much of a cultural difference was it?
The cultural diffence was greater than I could have ever imagined. The only
thing that was not different, I noticed, was that they drive on the same
side of the road as we do in England. Eating idli and chatni for
breakfast…with my hands, seeing teachers caning 4year old children,
monkeys on the roof and washing in a bucket were the cultural differences
that made the trip real.
7. What was your best part of the trip?
The best part was probably helping at the nursery annual school day or
driving across the mountains in a storm
8. What was your worst part of the trip?
On the final night of my stay in Achinkovil I suffered from the worst asthma
attack I have ever had. It was inmpossible to convey my problem to the nuns
and I had to wait five hours until we could get a jeep with a driver to take
me to the hospital which was another 4 hours away. I never really got to say
good bye to my friends at the convent there.
9. Would you like to go back again?
Yes definitely…I’ve been told to bring my little sister back next year,
then my parents, then my husband and children…I’ll have to see how it
goes.
10. What was it like being back in England after being in India?
Cold and safe. It’s a bit lonely not waving at people all the time, and no
one invites you in their house just because you’e passing. I miss the food
but I don’t miss the diahorrea.
11. Where in India were you based? Did you do any travelling outside of
your project?
I spent time in Mekkarai, a small village on the Tamil Nadu border and also
in Achinkovil, a village in the Keralan rainforests. I spent a ittle time in
Kollam and Trivandrum and also travelled with a tour group near Agra, Delhi
and Varanasi.
12. What advice would you give people who are planning to go?
I’d advise anyone who’s travelling in India to bring plenty of toilet paper
and immodium.
13. Do you have any images/videos that I could use in the article?
I have lots just check out facebook.

Travelling across South America

April 19, 2007

Chris Beaumont, 33, Bradford, West Yorkshire, Carpenter and dive master

South America

1. How long are you travelling for?
6-8 months
2. Where in South America are you travelling?
brazil , uruguay , argentina , chile , bolivia , peru , ecuador
3. Is it an easy place to travel around?
The transport network is very good , and like asia , oz, nz s africa the
hostel network is huge , if you can speak a littly spanish much easier ,
4. What places have you been to?
brazil -rio ,- iguazu falls ,- pantanal -buenos aires – ushuai (southern
most city in the world , and now working my way up the west coast
5. What’s been the best bit so far?
All of it
6. What’s been the worst bit so far?
none
7. What advice would you give people wanting to travel to South America?
Be street wise and be on guard , heard of a lot of muggings and robberies , but mainly young people getting drunk and walking home alone , you wouldn’t do it in Leeds or London so why expect to get away with it here?

Disaster volunteering: Helping tsunami victims in Thailand

April 19, 2007

Chris Beaumont, 33, Bradford, West Yorkshire, Carpenter and dive master

Tsunami

1. Where did you go to volunteer after the tsunami?
Spent all my time in Thailand after that spent all my money and back to the uk

2. How long did you go for?
I was there three months after for four months , went back to uk to raise more cash ,
set up my own charity for it , then back for a further 5 months

3. Why did you decide to volunteer?
Worked in Thailand Khao Lak before the tsunami as a dive master, heard of a
few dive buddies who died and was asked by the dive comp if I could help ,
was told not to go straight away and raise some money and get there when the
real building work was needed ,have traveled for a few years and as a
carpenter and dive master with no real ties to home was perfect to help on
both counts

4. Did you volunteer with an organisation or just go off your own back?
I worked for two organisations set up by Thai’s and just backpackers , the main
one http://www.tsunamivolunteers.net , which is still going now and also
http://www.4kali.org ,. Tsunami volunteers was helped by a major org in setting up but became very successful just using backpackers mainly ,no money was taken all you had to do was turn up , and even unskilled people were soon helping move rubble or trained to build walls , I also trained a few in basic carpentry , which will also help them for life , mainly we used the backpackers though in the unskilled work and paid the Thai workforce in the skilled work, jobs were not taken by us doing it because of the huge scale , most of the Thai’s worked rebuilding the big hotels where they could earn more money!

5. What sort of things were you doing out there?
Also worked on a boat shed and then helping a Thai crew build the long tail boats , so the fishermen could get back to work and feed their families again, spent some time also diving and cleaning up the seas of debris and rubbish but to be honest it was too big a task ands eventually the ocean will do it, but in the main area got rid of the stuff so tourists coming back wouldn’t see stuff to remind them , spent a month on ph phi http://www.hiphiphi.com cleaning the Bay of Phi Phi which was a more obvious job because everything was very close to shore and in a relatively small area. Also volunteers did beach clean up getting rid of rubbish the seas kept bringing up again a lot around the one year anniversary so people who were coming back to grieve were not reminded too much with clothing or shoes etc on the beach also some volunteers did some teaching, read a little on your web and I agree two weeks holiday doing something like this is actually giving a negative affect , so most teachers had to sign up for 2 months or more, so the kids who got so close to you, were constantly, gaining trust then losing it if the teachers kept leaving

6. What was it like?
Emotionally and physically very tough. Everyday you’d here a horror story or see a smashed house or meet someone who d lost someone or a whole family but the rewards , just by a smile or a thanks for rebuilding there house made up for everything
7. How did you feel before you went compared to how you felt when you got back?
Definitely made me a better person, emotionally I struggled and had a little counseling on my return, but again, just by making a difference and knowing you’ve helped and rebuilt
people’s homes and lives will live for me forever

Disaster volunteering: Helping tsunami victims in Sri Lanka

April 18, 2007

Sarah Smith
25
West Yorkshire
Works for a national magazine

Volunteered in Sri Lanka in March helping victims of the tsunami

1) I wanted to volunteer to help out a worthy cause after seeing several
documentaries on tv, and working closely with I-to-I and understanding more
about what they do. I had always wanted to broaden my horizons and step out
of my city life comfort zone.

2)I-to-I were amazing and offered great help and support with good in
country co-ordinators to assist with any issues we had. They were very
committed to our safety also with good structures in place 24/7

3)I was working on a building site helping knock down destroyed houses to
build new ones, teaching children English and also helping at a sea turtle
conservation project.

4) It was a very humbling and moving experience that was very hard at times.
We were living in very basic and uncomfortable conditions but the people
were amazing and it made it very worth while.

5) I was terrified of going alone, but found it to be one of the best
experiences possible. I came back a very happy and confident person, who
realised how much I took for granted back in the UK

6)I have plenty of photos and some video footage of the area

7)We were based in Kosgoda near Galle on the South Coast which was one of
the worst affected areas of the whole Tsunami. There were over 30,000 people
killed and the devastation is still as if it happened only yesterday.
We were working with Orphans and homeless people, and also travelled further
north but were transported back down south when two bombs were dropped by
the Tamil Tigers on Columbo airport.

8) I would only used i-to-I for this type of volunteer travel

Teaching English in Ecuador

April 17, 2007

Amy Barnicoat-Hood, 18, from Kirkby near Lancaster

1) I was in Ecuador for exactly 4 weeks, in the capital city of Quito.
2) The culture was amazing. At first it’s a little hard to adjust to things like having a maid (I got told off for making my bed…) and the things they eat (lots of soup and sweetcorn), but you do find that you get used to it pretty quickly. The worst thing by far is the poverty. I heard of one volunteer feeling so bad she gave this little girl a dollar, and then next thing she knew everyone had heard and she was inundated with these children all wanting money. You feel terrible about not giving them anything, but you really can’t. The other thing whilst I was out there was the political climate. There were riots in the old town because the new president Correa had just been elected and he wants to re-write the constitution. I heard this morning that he’s got the vote to do it now, so hopefully things will have calmed down a bit. It was dead exciting though. I was also quite pleasantly surprised when I went to a house party and all of a sudden the music was changed to samba and there was dancing in the garden. I wasn’t quite sure if Latin Americans actually did that sort of thing, but they do and it’s absolutely fantastic.
3) I was teaching English in a Children International school in an area called Atucucho, which is towards the north end of Quito. It’s a sponsored school, so people donate money and the kids get taught, and as you can imagine it’s in a pretty poor area, although by no means the worst. I spent one morning doing community service in a market, with an organization called Cenit. I don’t think I was supposed to go, but I tagged along with some friends and it was a real eye-opener. The volunteers go into the market and round up the children and take them back to this classroom. They get their hands and teeth cleaned and the older ones read and write; with the little ones you play games and sing songs. Then at the end they all get a small cup of soup, and they’re all really sad that it’s over. You can tell it’s the highlight of their day.
4) It was a placement with i-to-i. The great thing about that is that you get to meet people doing all sorts of different placements, and if there’s a problem there’s always someone you can turn to for advice. However next time I’m doing it solo.
5) I’m going back in May, to spend 6 weeks doing the same thing. I’m a complete sucker for Latin America.
6) The best thing was actually extremely strange. I bumped into someone I knew when I was 3 years old and living in London, who I haven’t seen for about 14 years. Apart from that probably the people and the general atmosphere. The climate is pretty wicked too.
7) It wasn’t nice feeling extremely rich, because everything is so dirt cheap out there. In theory this is fantastic, but in practice it just felt horrible, especially when you’re in a dirty market surrounded by barefoot children who are just so happy that you will play with them.
8) When I’m going in May, I’m going to arrange my own accommodation and not stay in a homestay, even though that would be cheaper and probably easier. I want to do this purely because the experience will be completely different, and if it all goes wrong then I can always email the family I was with before. I am also going to travel to other countries after my volunteering, because everyone who I met there was making the most of their time and I hadn’t even thought about going anywhere else – I was just coming home. So this time I’m going to Venezuela for about a fortnight after Ecuador. I wish I could afford to go to more places though!
9) I have some photos up on http://www.flickr.com/photos/amybh . There’s a set entitled Ecuador 07 or something. Just skip the drunken ones from other places, haha.

My family were really supportive – my dad loves travelling and I think my mum wanted me out of the house. My grandparents were a little anxious about it though.

If you’re going on a volunteering placement for the first time, go with an organisation like Outreach International or i-to-i, because it gives you complete peace of mind when you’re there.

Andean Outreach Programme: profile

April 3, 2007

Shona Kay
UK Director
Andean Outreach Programme

Been involved with helping setup the UK branch of Andean Outreach, I volunteered in South America and got really involved with my placement.

Our main aim is to source funds for volunteers who plan to go to Peru, Ecuador, Chile etc and undertake projects to help the local people. Volunteers apply to us, and we approve the project if we think it would be beneficial.

We have two organisation partners, ‘Light of Hope’ in Peru and ‘Los Del Mondo’ in Bolivia who provide financial backing and experience.

We have one volunteer in Peru who is helping to build toilets and improve the sanitation system for a community. At the moment there are only two toilets in the whole school, one for boys and one for girls, but with the help of $500 then our volunteer will help to improve the community. The idea is that volunteers think up the projects themselves, apply for the funding, plan everything and implement it themselves. There’s no middle man.

They get the satisfaction of going to somewhere else and really making a long-term difference to people’s lives. Some volunteers just go and teach for two weeks in a foreign country and they don’t see it making a difference, we feel that our projects will allow the volunteers to see something that is there, it’s physical and makes a lasting impact.

We’re hoping to give three grants out over the next year.