Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Reflections on Volunteering: Britain, Travel and Unconventional Help for the Elderly

May 12th, 2010 · No Comments

CT logo from “cinnamon.org.uk”

Though I haven’t gotten to see the results of my volunteering manifest in the community the way some others have, I feel like I’ve learned something about Norwich, but particularly Britain, from it. Looking for volunteering opportunities, a process which was late to begin with because I had held out hope of reconciling my paper with my experiential, was itself a tedious game of email tag and involved being crushed to see I inexplicably needed a background check for certain great jobs. However, I think I did notice some unusual trends in what volunteering was out there.

Firstly, although Claire came up with the idea for the first Holiday from Home from her own experience being unable to travel due to severe ME, and it is her own ingenuity and passion for travel which prompted her to develop the project into a larger organization, there is something else in the mission of HFH which speaks to something larger. This is the idea that travel is almost a right or at least something that ought to be available to everyone as a matter of fairness  seems to me a quite British idea (despite Britain not having a stunning national record on accessibility for the disabled).

After all, this is a nation where small bookstores will devote a whole wall to travel books and a Google search for British Travel yields more mentions of deals for Brits to go to Mallorca, Egypt and India than for foreigners to go to Scotland or Cornwall, which led a friend of mine to conclude that “the English seem to spend all of their time plotting how to get out of their country.” The first item on the HFH mission statement is “the advancement of health,” which I find to be an innovative way to think about the concept of travel.

Age Concern Norfolk Logo- “www.acnorfolk.org.uk”

This leads me to a wider point about volunteering opportunities in the Norfolk area and nationally: I was impressed with the amount of organizations which catered to the needs of the elderly, and did so in nontraditional ways. I would count Holidays from Home among these, but other larger and more national organizations do this as well. One example is the Cinnamon Trust, which helps to “relieve the anxieties, problems and sometimes injustices, faced by elderly and terminally ill people and their pets, thereby saving a great deal of human sadness and animal suffering.” Another is Age Concern Norfolk, which Anya explored as part of her experiential. It is an organization that offers volunteering roles from keeping older people active to helping with personal finances, all with a eye on companionship.

Doing what you can to help create a holiday or spending some time with an elderly or ill person while looking after their pets address important but often overlooked emotional needs of older people and are something that anyone can do, even for a few hours a week without having to have a background check. I saw a remarkable number of these organizations, both national and local, which is good, especially because I don’t see British culture in general as being notably reverent towards older people. I have no basis for comparison in terms of whether Norwich or Norfolk is exceptional in this regard, but it would be interesting to see whether a younger, larger urban area has as many opportunities in this vein.

I’m still hoping to learn more from my Holidays from Home experience, and because I can volunteer remotely, I intend to do what I can over the summer. Perhaps I’ll be able to see the fruits of my labor in the new holidays. Even if I do not, I feel I’ve gained something from the experience.

Tags: Aidan

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

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