Thursday, 18 April 2013

Project Trust Returned Volunteer Weekend on Coll 13th-15th April 2013

The Project Trust Returned Volunteer Training Weekend- the journey, the people, the experience...

About Me-
My name is Charlotte and this summer I will be one of the four Project Trust Recruitment Interns in London.

In 2010/11 I volunteered in Mauritius at CEDEM, a social care and teaching project. As secondary projects I taught Indian Bollywood and Classical dancing at a safe home for girls and taught English at the Chagossian Refugee Centre near Port Louis, the islands capital.

I’m currently a second year History student at the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London) focusing in Africa and South Asia.


RVs and PT Staff posing by the whalebone
Incase you want to skip anything here is what is going to come up:
1.    The Project Trust Returned Volunteer Weekend- aims and objectives
2.    The Journey to Oban
3.    Backpackers in Oban
4.    The Ferry to Coll
5.    Arrival on Coll/ The first day
6.    Day 2- the meat in the sandwich
7.    The Final Day
1. The Project Trust Returned Volunteer Weekend.
Aims and Objectives

The Project Trust Returned Volunteer Weekend (13th-15th April) was a fantastic opportunity to:
·      Spend time on Coll (the mother land of PT)
·      Build on relationships with staff
·      Learn about new Projects
·      Re-engage with the charity
·      Network with other returned volunteers who worked in various countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas
·    Gaining a realistic insight into the inner-workings of Project Trust
·      Learn more about other volunteer opportunities

Official Objectives:
·      Use the knowledge and skills of a pool of engaged volunteers to feed into Project Trust’s strategy and delivery of programmes  
·      A commitment to investing in our Returned Volunteers and their skills (in line with our long-term strategic vision) 
·      An opportunity to further our Global Citizenship Programme, sharing good practice so far and planning for future opportunities 
·      Gain input from volunteers in terms of our social media strategy and how to keep Returned Volunteers actively engaged 
·      By the end of the weekend, volunteers should have an action-plan of how they are going to remain active Returned Volunteers (3 pledges) 

2. The Journey to Oban-

For any of you who have never been to Oban, or even to Scotland- it can be a bit of a journey (especially if you live in the South of England).

I have worked out that my journey had 8 legs- though some of them were more vital than other- and that was just to Oban- the trip to Coll is another step- which involves an early morning ferry that takes about 4 hours.

Leg 1- Trip to Essex (overnight)
Leg 2- Trip to Stansted (early morning)
Leg 3- Stansted to Glasgow Airport (arrive 9.30am)
-       At the airport a spotted a girl who, for some reason, looked very familiar. I thought she looked very ‘Project Trust’, but said nothing. I only found out when I got to Oban that she was.
Leg 4- Glasgow Airport to Glasgow

Additional Legs-
Leg 5- Glasgow-Edinburgh
Leg 6- Edinburgh- Currie
Leg 7- Currie- Glasgow

Leg 8- Glasgow- Oban
-       This section of the journey was by far the most enjoyable as the train was full of excitable Returned Volunteers full of stories about their time abroad (and also at home)

3. Backpackers in Oban 

For anyone who has never stayed at backpackers in Oban before; do it!

It’s really central, not badly priced (£15 odd a night- including breakfast/showers etc.) and the staff are extremely friendly. For anyone considering Project Trust if you have to go to Coll, I’d recommend staying the night here beforehand. It was a chance for me to meet loads of other Returned volunteers on neutral ground without having to do any arranged activities etc. (training sessions) and we were able to play games, generally hang out and as we are all grown ups now have a genuinely dignified trip to the local free house, as well as getting some rest before the boat trip.

Also, all of the beds are named. Things like ‘French Fries’, ‘American Pie’, ‘Danish Pastry’ and ‘Brazil Nut’- all of these examples are foods, mostly yummy, but this time I stayed in ‘Chinese Checkers’- right next to the radiator.

Most of the RVs I met had been to South Africa or China. However, there were some who had been to Namibia, Chile, Bolivia and one who had been to Mauritius the year after me.

4. The Ferry to Coll

One thing I have to say of importance: journeys go very quickly when surrounded by friendly, like-minded people.

Some highlights of the ferry journey:
·      A little girl from the islands telling one of the RVs how to put the lid on the bin without breaking it
·      Counting how many forward rolls it would take to travel across the room
·      The view and the stillness of the sea

5. Arrival on Coll/ The First Day

Getting to Coll was like coming home.

The ferry port on Coll
We were met at the ferry port by various Project Trust staff and whizzed up to Ballyhaugh (the PT centre) in a variety of vehicles passing the very rugged landscape or rocks, grass and crashing waves- no trees.

As soon as we got to the centre we unpacked our bags and got used to being back.

The day then went as follows:
Ø  Introductions- to each other and the weekend:
-       RVs: Objectives for the weekend
-       Welcome from jen- objectives from PTs perspective
-       Overveiw of the Weekend

-       Just one thing’ game (Round 1)
-       We went round all of the RVs and some members of staff in turn.
-       What is ‘just one thing’?
-        Should be something that represents your time overseas i.e.: a piece of material, clothing, gifts from your students, something of no significance to anyone but you, memorabilia of some sort!
Which one is which?
-       My ‘just one thing’ was ‘The secret diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 ¾’ which may seem like a strange choice. It was given to me as a present at the end of my year by one of the older girls in the school. For the first few months of working there they really tried and tested my patience, but this book was a representation of how they had come to accept me. Amusingly it turned out the boy on the front cover looked rather like Ben Thomas- a PT member of staff.
-       This was a really interesting session and some examples of ‘just one thing’ will be up on the PT blog soon.
Ø  Journey Mapping- on debriefing we had to do a visual map of how we though our year had gone- its ups and downs.
-       This weekend we did one about our gap years but on having from a couple of years to a couple of months to reflect, we were able to see how our perspectives had changed through both mapping on paper and physically- walking from one side of a room to another going through each of the highs and lows and plateaus with a partner.
-       Wumi (China)- you are already a poster girl for Project Trust, I hope you don’t mind…
Wumi- the Poster Girl of Project Trust
Ø  Lunch- you always know you are on Coll when you get a hot and tasty two-course meal for lunch- tomato soup and macaroni cheese.
Ø  Global Citizenship- Heloise- during the weekend she became rather famous for her enthusiasm for this programme… every time it was mentioned she (or someone else on her behalf) would cheer.
-       We received two really inspiring talks by Returned Volunteers who had done Global Citizen workshops in inner city schools in the north of England. One from Clara on HIV and AIDS based on her experience working in a clinic in South Africa, and another by Emma on Women/ Gender Issues in South Africa too.
Ø  Afternoon Tea and More Cake- fantastic, wonderful chocolate cake and refreshments. Lots of people standing outside in the gusty courtyard- but it was sunny- so to stay inside would be counter intuitive.
Ø  Other volunteering opportunities- what it say on the tin
Ø  Media and Communications- discussions about engaging with current and returned volunteers through different media avenues. Also a chance to meet one of the newest members of staff- David (read Davel) Lyons.
Ø  Free time- A trip to the beach… The cows ganged up on Caitlin and I, but Doug saved the day by zooming through on his scooter (I hope that is the correct term).
Caitlin and the Cows
Ø  Drinks Reception- an inspiration speech from Ben that, to my joy, mentioned Adrian Mole.
Ø  Dinner- Mince and Tatties (I think… I had the vegetarian option) and sticky toffee pudding. You can tell the food was a highlight of my day. Unusually the ceilidh was on the first night, rather than the last night. This meant that we were all able to see each other all dressed up, and relax a bit, with a whole day still to go.
Ø  Ceilidh- Although not all of the RVs and staff are Scottish the ceilidh was really enjoyable and people managed to get through to the end of dances without too much embarrassment. However, I must admit, I found a good polka dancer in a fellow Scot- we managed to lap everybody in the whole ceilidh circle. Also, a shout out for everybody who wore the national dress of his or her respective countries (and to Sophie- who wore three different items from three different places).

Pre-ceilidh group photo

6. Day 2- The meat in the sandwich   

Today- was full of chatter, debates, pledges, talks, free time (yay), films, friends and food.

So, as is becoming a theme here, the day went as follows:
Ø  Breakfast- I have taken to mixing muesli and rice crispies
Ø  ‘Just one thing’ (Round 2)- This time we went round the group talking about our community projects, write ups of our secondary projects and answering a couple of questions:
1.    What would you have changed about your project?
2.    What impact did you have?
      My favourite answers for what impact did you have was… an impact on the local economy because the girl in question ‘liked eating Chinese food’. Fantastic- Anemie in China.
      Another of the top ones was- I was in my house and I heard a noise from outside. It was a goat kind of screaming I saw that there was a baby coming out (a kid) so I phoned my dad (who is a vet/farmer) and he explained what to do so, essentially, I delivered a goat. (Not direct quotation)-  Lottie in Senegal.
This is a picture of one of the pages of one of the China volunteers’ projects. She won a prize on her debriefing for it.
Ø  Presentations- a chance to go through the PT school talk and discuss ideas to make it more interesting/ tailor it to your personal experiences whilst tying in those of others at the same time.
Ø  Global Citizenship Part 2- working in groups to develop a basic structure and ideas for our own global citizen workshops. My group focused on cultural diversity, whilst others focused on the rights of children, HIV/Aids, Women’s issues etc…
Ø  Global Citizenship Pledges- all volunteers had to make three pledges.
Ø  Facilitation skills- led by Ben. Group work- discussing the difference between teaching and facilitating and how the two often go together.
Ø  Admin and Finance- How can RVs continue to be involved- fundraising is something that we can help with.
Ø  Afternoon tea and biscuits- becoming a common theme. I think it was ginger cake, whatever it was it was lovely.
Ø  FAQs- 3 hotseats. Question time. RVs put on the spot to answer FAQs from the audience such as:
-       Can I bring my baby?
-       What happens if I don’t get on with my partner?
-       Can I do turtle conservation (that’s one I’ve added in now- lots of people at school talks ask about working with animals)
A trip to the beach during free time
Ø  Setting up Events- RV networking and buddy system- a surprisingly heated debate about RVs being fundraising buddies for volunteers who are struggling to reach the fundraising targets.
Ø  Free time- Some of us went for a trip to the beach
Ø  Film Night- ‘Brave’ and ‘The Boat that Rocked’ interspersed with games of ‘sardines’, cards and sleeping. The rank room was full of RVs and PT staff wrapped up in duvets with chocolate and popcorn.

7. The Final Day

Ø  Breakfast on the Beach- this was the initial plan, however, the weather was… let’s just say less than welcoming… so it was muesli/ rice crispies again for me.
Ø  Speed Dating with all staff- this is when everybody found out that John Fraser, if he could be any biscuit, would be a Jaffa Cake. Also, Davel’s dad wrote ‘The Worst Witch’- the TV series- not the book- that was written by Jill Murphy (apologies for all of you who read before the correction! You know who you are). Other than that this was a chance to chat 1-1 or 1-2 to the staff about their job and life on Coll.

Ø  Final evaluation in An Cridhe (the heart)- the community centre in Arinagour. Action-plan and yet more pledges. I pledged to:
·      Write a blog for Project Trust…
·      Do a talk at my own school
·      Do at least one global citizenship talk.
We also got to see the ‘bunkhouse’ where there was vague chatter of a PT reunion.
Ø  Walk around village- for the first time ever I went to the Post Office where I get so many letters/ packages from – the postmark Coll is, well, extremely desirable (or maybe just rare)
A stroll from the community centre to Arinagour "central"
Ø  Ferry leaves Coll- the sun was shining for what seemed like the first time the whole weekend. We posed by the whalebone and again by the famous yellow Coll sign before getting on the ferry for what didn’t feel like the last time. After a couple of Mexican waves- of varying success rates- the ferry had sped off, and we were all looking back to Coll and forward to the future.

Final Comments-

Ø  Phone signal is not key to enjoyment… but we all knew that already.
Ø  Coll is much bigger than I remembered
Ø  The RV weekend has really encouraged me to do more volunteering. Although I already do some in London I’d like to do an overseas with International Citizens Service, which I heard more about this weekend.
Ø  I feel that with all of the new stories I have heard from the other volunteers and staff that my school talks will be more up to date and engaging.
Ø  I already have plans to meet up with some of the other RVs in London as we’re going to a VSO meeting this spring.
Ø  Thank you Project Trust for an inspiring and engaging weekend.
Ø  Below: When we were asked what we learnt on our gap years somebody wrote this: