Challenges, Experience and Fun: A Summer of Volunteering in Africa

This summer two of our students who have just completed Level 5, Banaeshia Tooley and Rhian Jones, are volunteering abroad in order to develop their skills and expand their experiences. Both will be travelling to Ghana to work with Original Volunteers as teachers together, while Rhian will also be spending some time in Morocco working in orphanages. In this blog post we hear from Rhian and Banaeshia as they look forward to their summer.

Rhian Jones (seated on left of image) and Banaeshia Tooley (on right) who will be volunteering in Africa during their summer vacation

Rhian Jones (seated on left of image) and Banaeshia Tooley (on right) who will be volunteering in Africa during their summer vacation

What made you decide to spend your summer volunteering?

Banaeshia: Every summer I have always said to myself that I would volunteer, however although I have travelled throughout my life and have lived in very diverse areas of the world (United Arab Emirates and Russia), I never wanted my first experience of volunteering outside of the UK to be solely by myself. After living with my housemate Rhian this year, I soon found out that she has the same values and ambitions in life as I do, so when talking briefly about volunteering, we decided to research into it and ended up booking a volunteering opportunity for just over four weeks in Ghana together.

Rhian: For me experience is the most important thing, the more you can get of it, from anything, the better. That’s why I chose to spend my whole summer volunteering in Africa this year. I also want to do as much travelling as I can, and if you can do some good while doing it, then great! It’s such a worthwhile thing to do, benefitting myself in regards to experience and also future employability, and then also obviously benefitting the people I will be working for, too.

 

What made you choose this volunteering opportunity?

Banaeshia: The reason why we chose this particular opportunity is because I personally have heard great things about the company that we booked with “Original Volunteers,” this is due to the fact that my close friend had already been with them to Ghana last year for three months and expressed how much of a fantastic time he had, whilst changing other’s lives a huge amount via building schools, teaching and working in hospitals. We both chose Ghana in particular as where we will be staying is very rural, we considered other places such as Thailand, but found that where we would be working were much commercialised areas. I personally feel that if I want to experience the country itself and truly help people in need, I certainly will want to be living as a local.

Rhian: The volunteering organisation that I decided to work with ‘Original Volunteers’ send individuals out (mostly British) to the most severely deprived areas of the world, to work in institutes that run more or less solely due to volunteers. For example, I’ll be working in a school in Ghana as one of the teachers, where the children will rely on me and others like myself completely to provide them an education. And then whilst in Morocco I’ll be in orphanages where the only love/care these children experience are from volunteers. Can you imagine sending your children to a school where the teachers don’t really know what they’re doing as such and come and go every few weeks? As scary as it does seem, I choose these two projects mainly due to this high level of involvements and responsibility. I thought that if I was going to volunteer, I wanted to do it at a very ‘hands on’ level where I could actually possibly make a big difference, even if it’s only a difference to one child. In relation also, another reason that I chose Original Volunteers is that I actually knew a girl that had volunteered with them previously, therefore I knew they were legit and would look after me and not just leave me stranded after I had paid and flown all the way out to a third world country! I found Original Volunteers to be the cheapest company to volunteer/travel with, too, making it an extra bonus for me as a student!

 

What will you be doing during the project?

Banaeshia: I am extremely passionate about helping others through volunteer work, in the UK I have taken up other opportunities of volunteering, for example in Cardiff I have worked in a primary school helping children gain self-esteem and academic confidence, and back home in Worcestershire I have helped the elderly with dementia whilst working in a day centre. I have chosen to work with children in particular in Ghana; this will include teaching English within local primary schools and working in an orphanage. Whilst we are there, we are also able to help with other aspects of the project, such as building work – which I will obviously considerer and if I have time on my weekends off, I will join in with this type of work.

Rhian: As stated, in Ghana I’ll mainly be teaching English in a school situated in a rural community a few hours from Accra (the capital city). As I’ll be living in a community, I’ll be interacting in many other projects too, such as conservation (working with crop and so on) and also building (previous volunteers with this company are actually responsible for building the school I’ll be working in and various other buildings also). In Morocco, I’ll be working in many different orphanages- disabled children’s orphanage, baby orphanage, and boys / girls orphanage. I’ll also be working to help the homeless community of Marrakesh (which is where I’ll be staying). However, I will be treated with some time off to explore too! In Ghana we have a choice going on a weekend long safari- which I will be! Or visiting the coast (Cape Coast) and staying in the hotels in that area to experience the night life aspect of Ghana!

 

Where will you be staying?

Banaeshia: As stated previously, Rhian and I will be living and working in rural areas of Ghana. The project itself is based in Kwahu South District of Ghana, and we will be working in and around Mpraeso.

Rhian: In Morocco, I’ll be living in the Sahara Desert for a few days with the locals, eating their food and experiencing their way of life, we also have the choice to visit the town near Marrakesh where scenes from one Indian Jones film was based. In both countries I’ll be living in very basic volunteer houses (no hut, thank goodness!), though in Ghana I do actually have to rely on a ‘bucket shower’ to wash. Something I’m not looking forward for!

 

How has studying for the Psychology BSc at Cardiff Met helped you in preparation for this opportunity?

Banaeshia: Studying Psychology at Cardiff Met has prepared me for this particular opportunity due to giving me the skills and knowledge I will need in order to work with people. I have decided from studying this particular degree that I would like to strive to be an Educational Psychologist, discovering this ambition over these two years of study encouraged me to apply to work with children in Ghana and has given me the confidence in order to believe I can help.

Rhian: As I’m a psychology student (that’s very keen to go on to further specialize) this volunteering aspect further appealed to me. Being in such deprived areas will I’m sure open my eyes and shock me in some ways. I’ve already been warned by the organization about the different ways of living the people in Ghana and Morocco follow, also about the morals the locals hold and their different views of what is acceptable and what is not. I was told that I must be expected to see women treated more like 2nd class citizens, and realise that the people have different ways of punishing children than we do here in the UK. This frightens me slightly as I know I won’t feel comfortable being around such type of behaviour, though I know I must bite my tongue seeing as it’s their country that I’m in and if that’s their way then I have to accept it (this relates to the tradition of the Arabic culture in Morocco to cover most of your body, regardless of the scorching heat. Never have I packed so many cardigans to go to such a warm country in my life!). This is where studying Psychology here at Cardiff Met has really prepared me for the trip as I feel that it has accustomed me to the ways of the people in these different cultures and their different ways of thinking, particularly in regards to male and female roles and how this will influence the behaviour within these different societies. It has taught me to be aware of that the economical differences between the African and British families may mean that the children I will be working with will have been brought up in very different ways, under different circumstances to the children that I have worked with previously through volunteering schemes in Cardiff. The malnutrition that the children could quite possibly experience in these deprived areas may cause that the children I’ll be teaching in Ghana for example to be slightly more challenging in ways than children from back home. There are many things different in Africa compared to our life back in Cardiff, whether the social aspect of life or developmental aspect of each individual, and due to studying Psychology here at Cardiff Met I feel that I am quite familiar with many of these aspects and have a bit more of an understanding regarding different types of people and their ways of life.

 

What are you most looking forward to?

Banaeshia: I am most looking forward to getting out of my comfort zone, which I know sounds very odd, however I am a type of person to enjoy other cultures and get ‘stuck in’ to their way of life. I am excited to meet all of the children I will be working with and to make new friends, including locals, the Original Volunteers team and other volunteers who have applied also. I am also extremely excited to try local foods and experience the social side to Ghana, including seeing different sites out there and going on a Safari. I guess I am just excited about it all, there isn’t one thing I can pick out. It’s going to be the best experience and the fact I have my best friend there to enjoy it with me is a wonderful feeling; I just can’t wait to get there now!

Rhian: In conclusion, I am most looking forward to really living like an African. Whether in Morocco while travelling by camel to simply get me to the next orphanage, or in Ghana while playing football barefooted with a crowd of smiley local children. I don’t want to be even close to WI-FI for the whole time I’m there; I just want to know what it is like to live in their world. I’m hoping to really make bonds with the children, and also the other British volunteers that I’ll be meeting out there, too. I’m really looking forward to do something different, something other than normal trip to Ibiza with your fellow student friends! Something that I’ll be able to return from with a ton of amazing stories to tell. And also, the closer I can get to riding an elephant the better. I have my fingers crossed!

 

We wish Rhian and Banaeshia a wonderful time over the summer and look forward to hearing about their experiences in a few months!


“A very positive reaction and lots of questions”: Presenting at The British Psychology Society Welsh Branch Annual Student Conference

Our final year students have all been busy completing a research project that is the culmination of the skill and knowledge they have developed over the course of their studies. The dissertation is a chance for students to really focus their talents on a topic of their choosing and as academics it is really rewarding to see projects flourish over the course of the year. Some of our students are keen to enhance their research profile and this year some of our final year students attended The British Psychology Society Welsh Branch Annual Student Conference (this year hosted at Aberystwyth University) to present their research.

One of the attending students, Claire Thomas, presented her research which is a qualitative exploration of the views of retirement among farmers in Wales. In this blog post Claire describes her experiences of the conference:

“I will admit it was a daunting idea at first to consider sending off an abstract to the BPS to apply to present at the Annual Student Conference. An abstract is such a short summary of what proved to be a lengthy dissertation, but I was keen to promote my research as I am so passionate about it.  I was also aware that presenting at a well-regarded conference at this stage of my career could only be a positive.  I also had the support of my Dissertation Supervisor (Dr Shirley Hobbis), the Project Co-Ordinator (Dr Nick Perham) and the Programme Director (Dr Dan Heggs) which gave me encouragement to submit an abstract.


I then received an email confirming my paper had been accepted for presentation and that I was to prepare a 10 minute presentation to provide an overview of my dissertation. That for me was the hard part. I am very passionate about my research area and it was very hard to condense my enthusiasm and hard work into just a few minutes!  However following several re-writes and some careful presentation planning I succeeded.


On the day I was fortunate enough to be going with a friend from university but I also met lots of fellow psychology students at the conference. Although the day is busy, because we were spending a whole day together I came away feeling like I knew them very well.  I was very lucky to have a lot of people turn up to my presentation and to be asked a lot of questions.  Looking back it is hard to remember what I said exactly but it went very well and I received a very positive reaction and lots of questions. So many questions in fact, I received emails about it the following few days.  It was really pleasing to have so much interest in my dissertation!

If you are thinking about applying for this conference, then just go for it.  While it was nerve wracking at times, it was a great opportunity and I’m really glad I took part. Networking, talking to lecturers and students from other universities and presenting all give you a boost in confidence that will only benefit you as you go on from your final year.  Good luck!”

 

Claire Thomas presenting at The British Psychology Society Welsh Branch Annual Student Conference Photo Credit: @BPS Welsh Branch

Claire Thomas presenting at The British Psychology Society Welsh Branch Annual Student Conference
Photo Credit: @BPS Welsh Branch

Following her presentation Claire has been approached by academics and organisations with an interest in her work. The retirement of farmers is an issue that is generating some concern at the moment and Claire’s research has provided a valuable insight which is generating some interest!  Claire’s supervisor, Dr Shirley Hobbis, has also found working with Claire an educational experience:

“I have been Claire’s supervisor for her Final Year Project. Her work gives insights into the farming community and during this time she has taught me a lot about the intricacies of modern day farming. It has been a real pleasure to work with Claire this year – her enthusiasm has been unbounded and the commitment she has demonstrated will, I’m sure, stand her in good stead for her future career. All the Best Claire”

It is really encouraging when our undergraduate students are so enthusiastic about their dissertations and as Dr Nick Perham describes below the conference is a perfect first academic conference for students:

“The British Psychology Society Welsh Branch Annual Student Conference is a fantastic environment for final year undergraduate students to present their ideas, data and interpretations to a host of engaged and inquiring minds. As nerve-wracking as this experience can be, every student I have spoken to who has participated, has enjoyed and welcomed the experience. It provides an informal setting to disseminate ideas, boost confidence and network with people who are likely to populate some of the academic departments around the UK and the world.”

We are proud of all of our final year students who develop so much during their time with us and when they exceed as Claire has done we are prouder still! Well done Claire!


End of Year Celebrations

Unfortunately this year our annual picnic was cancelled due to poor weather.  This is the first year we have been unable to celebrate outside, but we were determined to celebrate anyway! Instead staff, students and families gathered in our research area for coffee and cake.  

Cake!

This has been a busy academic year for us with new modules, new placement opportunities and new members of staff so it was lovely to be able to mark the end of the year in a relaxed environment. 

As always it was really enjoyable for staff to spend some time with students outside of a lecture context.  It is good for us to spend some time talking about non-university activities!  As students enjoy their post-exam freedom and staff are busy marking it is important for us to make some time for some enjoyment.  Thank you to all who came and we look forward to next year’s picnic where hopefully we will be fortunate enough to experience some sunshine!