Goodgym – not a gym..WE RUN

Goodgym is awesome.

We run. We do tasks. We run back. Community love and getting fit with a very qualified coach.

Cleaning Colchester Foodbank. Litter picking along the beautiful RIver Colne in Castle Park. Learning to save people from rivers! Sweeping leaves in Church Yards. Clearing paths. Sorting clothes for a homeless charity.Setting up movie nights at care homes.

https://www.goodgym.org/ Have a look

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Love Support Unite – a charity that truly follows their philosophy

Love Support Unite is a charity that operates in Malawi. They have an orphanage on the outskirts of Lilongwe, the capital city, and a school called Mkunku which is around 45 minutes from Lilongwe, off the beaten track into rural Malawi. The charity was founded by Alice and Nina Pulford (award winning volunteers) and they operate in a simple but effective way. They saw a need and they did something about it and they continue to do so. The charity is much more than an orphanage and a school, everything they do is sustainable: growing sustainable crops around the school to feed and educate local people, digging bore holes so there is access to water, regularly testing and treating malaria and forming links to local organisations.

I met Nina (and Alice I think) in Colombia and became friends on social media. I followed as their charity grew and saw the amazing projects they started. I was determined to save money and go to help and take some social work skills with me! So I did…with some very welcome but unexpected support from the Anglia Trust Scholarship.

My task in Malawi was to report on the issues that affect children at the orphanage and the school. I did my research and looked into Malawian culture before I travelled and a lot of what I read was confirmed. There are dangers which are not addressed by the police or Malawian government…in short it is common for young girls to be sold for marriage, prostitution exists and sexual abuse of children happens. Love Support Unite aim to highlight these issues, gather information and evidence and work hard to protect children.  One of the most interesting and eye opening experiences was a meeting with 21 local chiefs. This, in social work terms, was a big test when thinking of cultural differences balanced with international human rights. Essentially the men (and one woman) were polite and interested but also they were involved themselves in what in our ours is serious crime.

I also undertook direct work/counselling with the children and young people at Tilinanu Orphanage. The girls at Tilinanu really were bright, hard-working, intelligent people who were a pleasure to work with. Essentially the benefits of ongoing counselling would give them an amazing platform to succeed in whatever they want to do. I learnt a lot from them as so often is the case when working with young people. An amazing group of girls with heaps of potential! I miss them and will go back as soon as I can.

Across Malawi the big issues are prevalent: hunger and famine if the maize crop fails, diseases such as malaria and HIV as well as abuse of children (especially girls) and women. However, Malawi is a country without civil war, with good natured people, safer roads than many places I have been and after the rains, a lush green backdrop. Not to mention Lake Malawi! WOW!

There is so much that is relevant to social work. Understanding a culture that is different to our own whilst being clear on what is internationally recognised as abuse. Seeing first hand the differences between relative and absolute poverty and using communication skills and theory to a very willing and attentive group of young people…no stigma or preconceptions at all! Britain is diverse and I certainly feel more confident in my ability to adapt and understand people regardless of their background.

I took a relationship based approach and by the end of the two weeks was able to set tasks and let the girls come to me if they so wished. With one counsellor the impact was limited a little due to the numbers of girls but the benefits of having a team of social workers would be incredible! Love Support Unite is a charity that loves passion and skill…they listen to ideas and they make things happen for the children. They design volunteering around your skills and they also appreciate you and treat you to some amazing experiences along the way…riding a horse bareback into Lake Malawi #justsaying.

There is no hidden agenda here, I do want you, if you are reading, to look into this charity, to see for yourself and have an unbelievable experience with immeasurable benefits to people Love Support Unite help. It takes some hard work, fundraising, passion and determination but student social workers in my experience have that in abundance.

You can contact me for any questions and to be put in touch with the charity: james.taverner@student.anglia.ac.uk

Visit: http://www.lovesupportunite.org or https://www.facebook.com/LoveSupportAndUniteFoundationlsu/?fref=ts

 

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Means to an ends.

This week is the start of the last university year of my social work degree. Social work is a funny world and I am set to see a new aspect of it in the statutory sector. It is funny in the sense that not only qualified social workers but also ex-social workers and lecturers are fully aware that so many of the aspirations and theory of social work disappears once work begins. The reasons – that will be something I will perhaps find out first hand.

My expectations are defined from what I have been told. More time in the office, more time in front of a screen and more attention to assessments and processes. But hopefully still a sense that people are getting help! So far I have only got experience in the voluntary sector, with a relative amount of freedom to work directly with children. I have volunteered, in which the direct work and meeting people is by far the best bit. I have worked in schools and again the work with the staff and kids is rewarding.

But I also like that feeling of stepping into the unknown…a bit like the buzz of travel I suppose.

Patience is also key. It sounds odd but I have done a fair bit of writing for my dissertation but resisted the temptation to smash out more words until I have had a second opinion. The countdown until all uni work is done…forever….has began. Dissertation. Placement work. Two semesters with assignments. Patience is needed but hopefully I will read this blog in July and think how fast it went by.

Patience as well for the chance to earn money…yes social work placements are free labour and unpaid! NHS bursary helps but money = travel and work should = money!

This time next year who knows where I will be and what I will be doing but so many things to look forward to with my family and friends and combining my exercise with fundraising for Love Support Unite and BCCS. Bring it on. Doing life is not easy but I am trying to do it in a way that has a positive effect on society.

This little boat made me think: it may not do what it was originally intended for but with some work it could do once again. Metaphor for social work…it is not ideal but things change.

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Ibiza, Ecuador and Bogota – Part 2

Ibiza was relaxation, party and food. DC10..fun. Good paella. Great little apartment in Ibiza town thanks to sis!

Ecuador – This was an entirely new experiences of life in Ecuador. I used the bus to get to ‘work’ and was lucky to stay with in a normal house in El Inca. Great – and free. I had a few spanish lessons with a slightly crazy guy and also had a sonography! Typical trip! I had a great free tour and met some cool people. Pretended to be a doctor at a conference and got a free dinner! 😛

The highlights of the trip included Quilotoa – a lake set in a volcano. Stunning to look at and even better to kayak on…but do not drop your hat in! The walk down was nice the walk up was slightly more challenging! It is about a 3 hour drive from Quito and great scenery the whole way.

The Teleferico is another vista panorama. The cable car goes up to 4100 metres and the the views and breathtaking…like the thin air!

I was also lucky enough to have an adventure of a drive to Cuenca and back. Cuenca, unlike Quito seems far more relaxed. It is another great colonial city with architecture and mountains. The villages of Gualaceo and Chorduleg nearby also had relaxed vibes and great culture…bingo nights, shoe shoe shops and jewelery! Cajas national park is also gorgeous.

Let’s talk food. You are never going to beat Asia but the pork was very good. A whole pig and a blow torch! Pig skin was like thin crackling. Yum.

Coy or guinea pig…ok flavour but a bit skinny and odd!

The highlight of Bogota was being shown a crazy bar. No signs and down a residential alleyway…dusty, dingy…crazy toilet. But utterly unique!!!

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Calais – The Jungle – my experience

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A day in The Jungle in Calais is something everyone needs to do in order to form an opinion…especially right wing rag readers!

No one in Calais or any volunteers deny that some migrants are desperate and there is crime, disruption and tension on occasion. I mean, if you have made a huge journey via many countries and been rejected by many of them you too would be frustrated.

I had the pleasure of meeting some brilliant children, teenagers, men and a few women.

Walking around the camp to organise some sports was the first impression. Donated tents, caravans, portaloos – an area to wash plates, clothes and bodies but no long term drainage. Some tired people, some injured people (head injuries from french Police batons and pepper spray) some shy children and some very cheeky children (ranging under a year to 15 year olds) ! There are make shift community shops and restaurants and small donation shacks and information shacks that volunteers try to help as many people as possible in. People where interested in the events and in where we were from…a smile went a long way.

The camp is half what it used to be. A private company destroyed half the camp…they had ten days but completed the destruction in 7 days and had a party…the company employed french police and there were facist elements to it according to volunteer accounts.

They were able to negotiate that the makeshift church and school (Jungle books) remain along with a little meeting room. We played volleyball, football and cricket amongst dead rats in the sand. The young men had a great time, showing great unity and team spirit towards volunteers from all around and themselves (Sudanese, Iranian, Syrian and Afghan  mainly).

At the school on the weekend people learn french and english and during the week volunteers teach the children. There were two girls (5 and 7) in the school when I went as well as a french class and a staff room full of volunteer teachers and others. SUCH LOVE AND KINDNESS. The little girls were Syrian and very cheeky, fun and full of life and attitude. With them there was a Spanish social worker who had no chance to work in Spain so came to volunteer. What a legend along with all the volunteers. Pure awesome.

Finally the story of Husain, he is an atheist Iranian. His family escaped Iran and the brutal regime in which people with alternative views are at a very real risk of death. He paid to be smuggled in trucks through Russia to Norway where he was deported. He went to Sweden and couldn’t stay there either. Eventually he ended up in Calais at The Jungle. His desperation to look after his family and get french ‘papers’ or in fact any chance to start his life as a welder and look after his family, in ANY country, forced him to go on hunger strike. He sewed his own lips shut so that he could only drink…28 days! His story was in the media and a french official came to see him…his simple demands were met…or so he thought. That official and the promises never materialised. Hussain and his friend offered us all tea and I listened to him (through a volunteer interpreter) and at the end his small son came into the room for a cuddle!

That is my little story about Calais.

 

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Malawi – Love Support Unite

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Well, where do I start? Love, Support, Unite is a wonderful charity. They use your experience and skills and in return you get to hang out with the most inspirational children, staff and other volunteers…and throw in some new experiences such as riding a horse into a lake the size of a small country (the lake not Pavaroti the horse)

Love – there are hardships in Malawi. Hunger and famine if the maize crop fails not too mention children being sold for marriage, rape and oppression of girls in particular. But what I want to put across here is the love. There are many charities in Malawi and many, many people who care. Malawians running orphanages, schools and community projects. Charities from Europe and the USA from rugby and football based projects (even Colchester United) to grassroots charities like LSU. Of course there is a lot of work to be done but the children, particularly at Tilinanu Orphanage showed me that they want to improve their society in simple but amazing ways. The girls wanted to educate their villages to have sustainable agriculture, they are aware of female oppression and are living proof of the future strength that an inclusive society can bring.

Support – feeling supported on this trip was vital but also it is important that charities support communities to help themselves. In practical terms thirst and hunger first need support (build a borehole and plant sustainable crops) then the people are empowered. Emotionally the support for orphans is emotional and an individual journey but building on the girls strengths and giving them some simple coping strategies can have lasting effects.

Unite – What can you do in a day? Recover from a hangover? Watch TV? Of course a trip to Malawi is not cheap…but volunteering at home, abroad or anywhere is amazing. It takes about a day to complete a journey to Malawi..not long really! The point I am making is that the world is a small place. A Malawian is as important as my next door neighbour or any child I work with. We are all the same but some people have a tough time due to where they are born.

To summarise Malawi (after rains) is a lush green place, with stunning scenery and an amazing lake. Lilongwe seemed to be a friendly city with signs of a developing country but also signs of poverty and everyday struggles. Oh and LOVE SUPPORT UNITE ARE AMAZING. http://www.lovesupportunite.org

Potential for Malawi…the chance to grow into a caring and opportunity rich, peaceful nation with many friends. With tourism, natural resources (to a degree) and investment from the international community I hope Malawi flourishes!

 

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Pre Malawi thoughts

Waiting is the worst bit…but with work and uni keeping me busy these months have passed quickly. Time to focus. This experience is as much for me as it is about being useful to the community in Malawi. Whatever I can give will be taken back in experiences and learning.

What do I expect? Africa is unknown to me but I can compare the feelings to that of arriving in Bogota for the first time. Stereotypes and preconceptions mostly blown away and people proving they’re good natured. I hope to arrive with an open mind and a healthy respect.

I hope to build relationships and share experiences with the charity Love Support Unite and their partners.

Most of all I want to renew the feeling of focus and drive to follow the career path and travel responsibly for as long as i can.

I will write again and look forward to what I might discover.

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