Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Holidays from Home Volunteering: Introduction

May 11th, 2010 · No Comments

A scene from one of the many amazing vacations I've taken just this year, something I do indeed take for granted

Though I would have liked to do something related to my paper on English identity, I wasn’t confident enough that I could get deeper into the issue through interviews of participant observation, especially with a topic so latent and personal. Instead, I chose to look for volunteering opportunities around Norwich, hoping I could learn more about the community and ideally have it relate to my topic. Though I’m happy to have helped out (and want to continue to do so) at  Holidays from Home my (fairly long) search for a more relevant volunteering opportunity has actually shown me valuable things about the nature of charity and volunteering in the Norwich area and in Britain as a whole, which I’ll be addressing in subsequent posts.

Holidays from Home, as Sarah, who’s also volunteering for this group explained in her blog is a Norwich-based organization which provides “virtual holidays” to people who are ill, disabled, elderly and homebound. These holidays are multifaceted; they use books, sounds, the internet, films, and other media to give the traveler a comprehensive, intimate, life-like experience. Though just a few full holidays have been created in its four year existence, HFH just received a lottery-funded grant to offer 400 holidays to people in Norfolk.  Volunteers were needed to develop new holidays and tweak the old ones to be a bit more user-friendly.

Though I volunteered to do research and give notes of my travel experiences (that’s what Sarah’s doing) founder Claire Wade wanted me to spend time looking into how to incorporate Google Earth technologies (cheers, KQ) into the existing holidays (with which I’ve had mixed results). The idea is to provide a quick one link that could either lead directly to a tour or to a Youtube video so as to simulate views or travel in a more lifelike way than before. Any input from any Google Earth specialists or anyone who managed this for 310 would be much appreciated. More on HFH upcoming along with my thoughts on some similar organizations I came across in my search for volunteering. Also, I hope to throw in a few posts on some interesting parts of my English Identity research I didn’t get to address in more than a few sentences in my paper.

Tags: Aidan

Friendship Bracelets at the Friendship Group

May 11th, 2010 · No Comments

Ok, so not getting a CRB check was slightly problematic, until Dee, the head of Interface Learning pointed out something rather obvious. It went a little like this.

Dee: Wait, your an international student!

Me: Yes.

Dee: Well than you are an international woman and can come to the International Friendship Group anyways.

Me: Ohhhh…

So, we managed to sidestep that little inconvenience, which just meant that I won’t be able to go into the crèche, which is the children’s playroom. Like that’s a problem for me. It’s really more of a gift, actually. The group gets together once a week, and while the mothers have an English class with a certified English teacher, the children are dropped off in the free childcare. The ladies cook a communal lunch, with everyone taking turns to “host” the meal. Since I couldn’t help with the children I was sort of a gopher by bringing the dishes from storage to the kitchen, etc. It was a lot of fun, and while the younger volunteers I had met at the meeting were very friendly, these women were a lot more reserved and shy with me. It was rather obvious though that many of the women knew each other and spent time together outside of their weekly meeting.

There were a couple teenagers who weren’t in class and they most definitely did not need day care, so they spent the morning in the café with myself, the other volunteers, and Dee. I was amazed by one young woman’s embroidery. She was working on a pillow while waiting for her companion, and the thread that Dee had provided was the same as the kind that I used to make friendship bracelets in summer camp ages ago. When I mentioned that, I was greeted with blank looks from both other volunteers, Louise and Faith. So when I took some of the scraps and showed them what I meant I didn’t realize that I would end up being the referee in their race to start and finish their own bracelets. Unfortunately class ended before a winner could be determined. A small sidenote, I once again had to cross the huge scary roundabout to get to the Children’s Centre, but on the way back Faith taught me a shortcut! No more rotary! Now, I just have to figure out the shortcut in reverse.

Tags: Uncategorized

All Headlines Lie!

May 11th, 2010 · No Comments

As a Law and Policy major I have devoted a serious chunk of my college education on the study of government, law, and policy management. Because of this I have seen how a piece of legislation can be traced from the Committees in Congress to the President signing a bill into law, a bill that could later drive a case through the ranks of the judicial system where it can be called into question in front of the Supreme Court, but all of that basically can be boiled down to checks and balances. I also see how issues become a sensation to the media and problems blown way out of proportion, or the focus of the issue is shifted. That was really driven home today when I was in volunteer training at the New Routes Organization. They are part of the greater program called Interface Learning. The program is devoted to long-term integration of refugees in the Norwich area.

During the training the leader of the organization shared some newspaper headlines that read, “Refugees swarm the UK like ants,” and “City Flooded with Immigrants,” as well as several others. The second quote was taken from a Norwich paper immediately after Norwich was opened as an immigration dispersal point in 2003. The first headline was written in 1900. I’m not saying that newspapers are wrong because in the end they are just a company out to make a profit, but often when it comes to immigration we see that they use dehumanizing language to make a terrified refugee out to protect herself and her family into a faceless horde. The majority of immigrants come from wealthy families looking for better opportunities and they do not need to “steal” benefits from hardworking citizens. Two immigrants that I met today were highly trained computer specialists from Iraq looking to contribute to society, and another was trained at an American institute in Kenya. She also probably speaks better English than some of my flatmates.  No mumbling!

The UK is home to roughly 0.3% of the world’s refugees since many will flee to no farther than the safest place, an example is that refugees in Africa will often run to other places within the continent because they do not have the money to make it farther than the closest “safe” place. It saddens me that many British, like Americans, cannot see any farther than a newspaper headline to look at some actual statistics. As of last year the biggest refugee population in the UK was from Afghanistan, and the largest population of illegal immigrants? They were from Australia. Overall, I found the five hours of training incredibly interesting and I can’t wait to meet the other volunteers at the monthly meeting!

Tags: Uncategorized

Death By Roundabout

May 11th, 2010 · No Comments

The meeting at New Routes that I went to was pretty surprising. The volunteers I met at the training were largely older people who had been involved with New Routes and Interface before. They were a mix of teachers, career volunteers, and several international students. The volunteers that I met at the monthly meeting were largely part of the Mentor program, and most were my age. Among them were many UEA students who served as mentors, and several mentees also came.  What came as a surprise is that Dee was drafting many of the pairs to volunteer together at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, so they could both have a mentor/mentee meeting and do some extracurricular volunteer work. She also introduced the Voices Program to us, which would be conducted by the BBC. The Program wanted members of New Routes to come and tell their stories on camera. It sounded like the program was focusing on the younger set, but that could just have been because everyone at the meeting was in the teenage age group. After business was wrapped up, the group broke up to have a cup of tea (it was pretty rainy and cold) and have a kibbitz, and they weren’t shy about including me or asking me questions. After some tea and biscuits I braved the rain and cold and safely crossed the Rotary of Doom. Which I actually considered a great accomplishment considering the rotary didn’t have any crosswalks…Hopefully I won’t have to cross it in the dark again!

I’m going to combine my frustration with the CRB check with this entry, since I just found out that the UK couldn’t get enough information on me for the check to come through. I’m not sure how I’m going to get the actual volunteering part done now. Uh oh.

Tags: Uncategorized

Future is looking Greener

May 11th, 2010 · 1 Comment

As I finish up the last bits of Qualls’ paper, I realize that one more blog post is necessary. Surely it won’t affect whatever grade these things actually get, but it seems my civic duty to address this.  The election is over–in case you were living under a rock– and not surprisingly Green didn’t win, they didn’t even get third (as I had predicted). However, what they did do was once again double their percentage. This election they scored over 14% of the vote, which is quite impressive. This increase may be connected to the disappearance of the ‘legalize cannabis party’ (I’m not joking) normally found in Norwich. As noted on their website, the Green Party now supports a gradual integration program of decriminalization.  Adrian Ramsay, despite his best efforts and the immense student campaigning, did not win. Alas. But campaigning really needs to be done on a two year scale, so if anything I consider this election nothing more than campaigning for the next election. And besides, Brighton got a Green seat, which is what really needed to happen. Once one seat is attained, the rest will follow….unless you’re from the RESPECT party.

So why didn’t Green win in Norwich south? I see there being three reasons: the targeted demographic, students and civic workers, were possibly too lazily idealistic, people were too afraid to vote for an “other” party, or the Lib-Dems just did so incredibly well that other third parties didn’t really stand a chance.  Honestly, the TV debates really helped out Lib-Dems; I would argue they gained the most from them out of any party, and with their national status, it would have been difficult to compete. Nevertheless, I think this was a further learning experience for the Green Party, and they will definitely continue to gain support within Norwich South. Maybe next time boys.

On an unrelated note, I realize we’re all gearing up to leave England. And by we’re all, I mean you guys are. I’ll be staying Europe side until August, and I’ll be keeping a general blog. If anyone is interested in getting the url for it and checking up on the whacking misadventures of Russ, send me a message or something. Hope you all had as good a time as I did.


Tags: Andrew R

More Radio Talk.

May 8th, 2010 · 1 Comment

Yesterday, I was given the opportunity to go back to Future Radio and spend a little more time at the station.  After communicating with Tom Buckham again to try and reschedule after missing our original day (due to volcano ash) I was invited to come into Jasmine’s Friday morning “Community Chest” program from 10am-12pm.  Jasmine described the program as a venue for lots of listener feedback and conversation through online messaging as well as a show, typically packed of in-studio guests.  Being the morning after the general election I was excited to sit in on a show with what I anticipated would be very full and debate/discussion based.  But, when I arrived at the station everyone on staff was disappointed to discover that the internet was down, meaning that Jasmine’s show would be missing a huge part.  Additionally on this particular Friday, there was only one scheduled guest (two members (father and son) of a Brazilian band who are playing at Norwich’s “Shake Up”, the Norwich Pride warm up event, scheduled for next weekend.  It was great to hear the two drummers play (very loudly) in studio, it really woke me up, and now I’m thinking of going down to check out the event to see the full band as well as the other acts.  I was also fascinated to learn more about the 2nd Annual Norwich Pride event happening July 31, 2010.  Along with discussing “Shake Up” there were two pre-recorded pieces about the Norfolk & Norwich Festival.

Later in the show a local police officer came in (rather unexpectedly) to discuss the efforts the police department are making to prevent racial crimes in the Larkman area, near the radio station.  A brief segment, but it, along with the other guests really opened my eyes up to all of the events and activities that happen in Norwich that I don’t even know about.  It made me regret not taking more advantage of the activities this past year, but also made me excited about attending upcoming activites, especially some of NNF, during my final weeks in Norwich.

At the end of Jasmine’s show, Eamonn Burgess, the host of the next program “The Sight of Music” (a station aimed at playing music in film and television) came in and allowed me to sit in on his show as well.  During Eamonn’s show another presenter at Future Radio was waiting for the results of the North Norfolk election to be announced, so he called in and there was a “breaking news” feature with the live results of the elections.

It was fun to sit in and talk on-air with both Jasmine and Eamonn. I don’t know how many of you have sat in on 4 hours straight of radio (without actually being the one on-air, controlling the music, buttons, fade, etc) but it’s not as exciting as it sounds (and it’s not the first time I’ve done it).  Sitting and talking to people who volunteer at the station and live in the Norwich area was great, and helpful for my paper, however I look forward to my next extended time at a radio station being back in the states working on promotional events (a little more up my alley).

Tags: Amanda

Radio Investigation Continues A Walk Down the Street

May 8th, 2010 · 1 Comment

It’s been a while between paper writing, traveling the world, and getting caught by a volcano….but I finally found time over spring break to sit down and reflect on my conversation on March 16 with Tom Buckham, manager at Future Radio. (and now almost a month later am finding time to actually post it in the blog)
After having spent some time interviewing and shadowing people at BBC Radio Norfolk I was ready to do a little comparison and to learn more about Future Radio, other than what I had read about on their website. So on Tuesday March 16th I used Google Maps to location the station and figure out which bus I would need to take.  After double-checking with my Norwich A-Z (and confirming with my housekeeper, Tina) I discovered that the station was only a 20-minute walk down Earlham Green.  I was off, and finally ready to learn more about the station, beyond the website.  Winding down neighborhood streets I finally stumbled upon Norfolk Community Center in the middle of Motum Road. Taken aback a little by the size of the complex (not big by any means, but certainly a decent size for the location) I wandered around and found the entrance to Future Radio.  Future Radio is a community radio station as a part of Future Projects, an organization aimed to bring art, education, and media to students aged 13-16.
Community radio stations are required to get a license through Ofcom before being established.  Currently Future Radio is preparing to have their broadcast expanded from just West Norwich to the East and Southeastern parts of the city as well.  This expansion is a result of being the first community radio station to reapply for, and be accepted for this expansion and license extension.  Because of this re-launch, as well as the other day-to-day responsibility of being manager, Tom Buckham and I only had about 30 minutes to talk, but his information about the station was invaluable.
We initially discussed the basics of the station not covered on the website, such as: where their funding comes from, how program topics were determined, and what influences the station and their programs.  I learned that roughly 165 station volunteers choose what they are going to broadcast on, based on personal interest, and the varied cultural make-up of Norwich.  One of the aims of Future Radio is to be able to offer all members of the community at least one hour or so of radio that they want to tune into.
This goal allows an interest in Future Radio to build, however being a station aimed at targeting the greater Norwich community, it is challenging because they are in a category where they are ‘competing’ with stations similar in goal that have a lot more funding and are more recognizable by name, like BBC Radio Norfolk.  Tom and I discussed BBC Radio Norfolk further and he said that for them it’s not comparing themselves as stations (I guess that was just my competitive American mentality, forcing a comparison), but it really is more about providing the best stations with the best programs they can for the Norwich community.  He mentioned that over the past 2-3 years as Future Radio has been building as a station; BBC Radio Norfolk has been extremely supportive and helpful.  Buckham also told me more about the relationship Future Radio has with the Norwich Community Council as well as the current relationship they have with the Norfolk Broads.
It was great to talk with Tom and to learn first-hand more about Future Radio (because reading about it for the past few months has not been the same). Next week [when this blog was written it was supposed to be next week…. volcano disrupted these plans.] I’m going back to the station to spend a shadow day like I did at BBC Radio Norfolk and I hope talking with more people and spending a longer period of time at the station will give me an even better idea of what Future Radio is really like.

Tags: Amanda

The Great British …mishmosh as seen in The Greenhouse Trust

May 4th, 2010 · 1 Comment

Call it a melting pot, call it a salad bowl, call it macaroni and cheese with some veggies thrown in, England has consistently shown to be a diverse place filled with people from many different ethnic backgrounds. At first, I thought this would just be the case in London. A modern metropolis, the nation’s capital was guaranteed to have quite a bit of diversity, at least in my mind. London certainly did not disappoint. Still, I was unsure as to whether this diversity would continue in the rural countryside. My volunteer experience in Norwich has shown me that it does.

Staffed by volunteers from Australia, America, England, India, and South Africa, led by a woman from Sweden, filled with people ranging in age from their teen years to their more wrinkle-filled years, and represented by an equal amount of females and males, the Greehouse Trust operates due to the efforts of volunteers from every different type of background. As it is volunteer work, the company does not offer pay to any of its employees; it does, however, provide an excellent lunch as well as endless cups of tea and coffee to anyone who donates their time and energy there. They ask their volunteers to be timely but understand that speedbumps occur; they ask for efficiency but understand that daydreams can happen; they ask for everyone’s best but expect to use a gracious learning curve with most people. I say this not to build up the company but, rather, because I feel it offers a good parallel to England as a whole.

One of the major points of contention in the current election is the issue of immigration. The Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives, and the Labour Party all agree that something must be done to manage more closely the immigration process in the country. Their platforms are quite different but all suggest that the country is worried about the number of people coming into it. The positive side of the election is that none of the parties suggest completely closing the country’s borders; England still very much remains a tolerant nation, willing to allow non-native born people to live in the country. It does ask of those people trying to enter the country to jump through quite a few hoops in order to stay here. Still, once here, those immigrants are offered opportunities to establish a life as long as they abide by certain guidelines.

I may not agree with this blog post at the end of the election but, as of now, England operates in a similar fashion to the Greenhouse Trust. The Greenhouse Trust asks that its volunteers prepare to stay with the company for three to four months and follow certain guidelines of behaviour while there. Once accepted, the volunteers are treated equally and with respect. Sometimes there are awkward lulls in conversation during which times people are searching for common ground about which they can chat. But that’s the beauty of it. People are forced out of their comfort zones and must learn about different lifestyles if they desire to work in anything but silence for their four-hour shift. So conversation happens. And the melting pot melds together a bit more.

Tags: Audrey

Holidays from Home

April 30th, 2010 · 1 Comment

As many of you know by now, travel has played a huge role in my life since high school when I first went to Australia with People to People Student Ambassadors. I’ve now been a member of People to People International for 6 years and have travelled all over the world with them. When I was looking at colleges, I specifically searched for school with expansive study abroad programs and global opportunities, and that’s how I ended up at Dickinson. I’ve always been grateful for the opportunities I’ve been offered and I understand that I am very lucky to have had so many wonderful experiences at a young age and I have always tried to not take them for granted.

However, I’ve recently realized that there is one thing I have taken for granted–the fact that I have the physical ability to travel. During my frantic search for volunteering opportunities, I came across Holidays from Home, an organization that creates virtual holidays for people who are unable to physically travel because of physical conditions, disease, extreme phobia, finances, etc. The founder, Claire Wade, developed the idea of a virtual holiday when she was 18. She suffered from Myalgic Encephalomyelitits (ME), more commonly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and could not travel despite her dreams of seeing the world. She decided that she wouldn’t let her physical ailments stop her and used her imagination to develop a holiday in Greece, a destination she dreamed of visiting. Realizing how exciting a virtual holiday can be for those who are homebound, Claire began to expand her idea.

Holidays from Home currently markets gift packages than contain virtual holidays to New York and Australia. They also offer a chocolate tasting tour around the world that stops in Saint Lucia, Mexico, and Belgium. Each itinerary is seven days long. For example, the New York holiday visits Ellis Island, Wall St., 5th Avenue Shopping, Broadway, the Empire State Building, Bryant Park, Central Park, the Bronx Zoo, numerous museums and more. The chocolate tour comes with sample truffles and chocolate beans to taste and smell during the virtual holiday.

I discovered Holidays from Home on the UEA Volunteers webpage. Claire was looking for individuals to document their travel experiences to be used in future virtual holiday packages. As we were about to leave UEA for the Easter holiday, I thought it would be a good opportunity for my to share my travel experience with others. I took extensive notes during and after the holiday about each country and the cities/sites I visited, some of which I will share with everyone in my next post.

Tags: Sarah

Precisely What They Need

April 29th, 2010 · No Comments

After a five-week hiatus due to Easter break and an extended holiday in Rome (thank you, Eyjafjallajökull), I finally returned to the Thursday club. I was immediately greeted warmly and they made me feel like my presence was really missed. I was thrilled to catch up with Duane and company about their holidays, and of course I had a chance to brag about my beautiful (and free!) set-up overlooking the Vatican dome. Don’t be jealous or anything.

After reminiscing and catching up with my fellow volunteers, we split like usual into older and younger kids. Fellow student and experienced child-worker Katie and I were the only ones working with them, and considering how difficult the kids can be, I proceeded with trepidation. When we entered the auxiliary building, we found two kids lounging on newly purchased beanbag chairs, playing Wii. A few more kids started funnelling in and before we knew it, we had a full house. Fortunately, they were all superbly behaved! A teen named Thomas, Katie, and I found ourselves embroiled in a nail-biting game of giant Jenga, while the rest of the kids wrestled on the beanbags. After much suspense, I pulled the wrong block and demolished the structure. After a few more games, we decided to set the blocks up like dominoes in a giant figure eight. All in all, everyone had a great time.

Once all the kids left, Katie and I tidied up. While I washed dishes, I met a church member. Never in my life have I discussed the weather so vigorously. I’ve officially spent too much time in this country.

After joining the rest of the workers, I noticed everyone was in high spirits. The kids in both groups were exceptionally pleasant, so moral was high all around. While we chatted, I learned that the two of the kids I spent time with had severe behavioral disorders. One of them only attends half-days at school, spending the rest of the day away from his peers who he has a history of abusing. The other has an impressive police rap sheet, and he is only fourteen. I could hardly believe my ears, considering how well they behaved.

There are, I believe, two contributing factors to their improved demeanor. The first is the selfless dedication and hard work the volunteers show week after week. Every pleasant moment spent with the kids makes up for all the swearing, fighting, and disciplinary action. It is all part of the challenge that, in the grand scheme of things, improves both the lives of the children and the volunteers that help them grow.

The other factor is humungous beanbags. Everyone loves those.

On the ride back, Duane explained to me that Lakenham, the district New Hope Christian Centre is located, has a 24 percent illiteracy rate. To draw a comparison, all of Europe has a literacy rate of over 90 percent; the vast majority is over 97 percent. Lakenham is poor, uneducated, and dilapidated. The issues faced by many of the children are related directly to neglect by their parents, or in all but a few cases, parent. Volunteers keep returning because they give the kids something they seldom find at home: love and devotion.

Hours logged: 2.5

Total hours: 10

Tags: Andrew B