Ranger Things: Love in Motion – Volunteering

With it only being a month until the end of Epiphany Term and summative deadlines looming, it’s easy to forget that university is about more than gaining a degree. It’s a place where you meet new friends, find your passions in life and try new things. Over the past two years, I have found that there is no better way to do all those things than by taking part in volunteering. Through volunteering you get to meet people from all walks of life, gain new skills such as communication, and make an impact on the local community through exciting activities. What’s more, gaining all this real-life experience increases your employability, complementing your degree. A study by Oxfam (2017) showed that 80% of employers are more likely to hire an applicant with volunteering experience. So what’s stopping you? Time is often a big barrier but, whilst there is the option to volunteer weekly, you could do a ‘one-off’ session and volunteer just once this year. If you are not convinced yet, continue reading because I’m going to share my volunteering experiences with you!

Volunteering abroad

There are so many ways to get involved in volunteering, you just need to know where to look. Last summer, DUCK (Durham University Charities Kommittee) led me to Peru. Here, I volunteered for 3 weeks at an after-school programme which provided a safe place for the children. It kept the kids off the streets and gave them a decent childhood, as well as a good education to increase their chances of escaping the cycle of poverty in the future. After my volunteering placement was done, I trekked to Machu Picchu!

It has to be one of the best and most meaningful summers I have had. Volunteering is more than gaining skills for your CV. It is the best way to meet new people and get to know other cultures better. It also gives you so many opportunities to try new things and go to new places, like Peru! And all these little things you do greatly impact the local community in the long run.

Volunteering closer to home

Back in the UK, every Wednesday I volunteer at a beautiful farm in the North York Moors through Student Commuity Action. This farm is a safe haven for adults who are physically and mentally disabled. Here, we join in with and facilitate whatever activities they are doing, like woodwork, arts & crafts, and animal care. Sometimes we just take a relaxing walk with them in the woods. One of the reasons I keep on going back is the people. Although I am the volunteer, I always feel like the adults I am volunteering with are the ones helping with all their excitement and joyful personalities. Going to this sanctuary helps me to de-stress and get away from all the university work for a while.

When I can, I get involved in ‘one-off’ events to try new things. One memorable event was when we went Christmas carolling at a Dementia care home. As an international student I can’t celebrate Christmas with my family, so it was nice to share the Christmas spirit with the residents who were also unable to be home with their family! Volunteering brings so much you to and the people who you help; it’s really worth getting involved.

Your Turn to Get Involved!

If anything I mentioned intrigued you to volunteer, get volunteering!

Next week from the 19th – 25th February is Student Volunteering Week, when the whole country will be volunteering together. Student Community Action (SCA) is organising almost 40 activities to give you the opportunity to volunteer, both in Durham and Stockton. With opportunities ranging from conservation projects, to kids’ parties, to horse riding and visting to Fowl Green farm, we have many options for you to choose from. Head to https://www.facebook.com/events/1985326794827946/ for the Stockton timetable, and https://www.facebook.com/events/1587849067918800/ for the Durham timetable.

Ranger Things: You Will Never Ride An Elephant After Reading This

Last summer I travelled with 7 other girls to Petchaburi (Thailand) to volunteer with various abused animals for a month being the Deputy Expedition leader of the DUCK expeditions 2017. Since then, I am much more aware of animal abuse and want to share my experiences with as many people as possible. We volunteered at a sanctuary called “Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand” (WFFT) which is responsible for over 550 animals.
Some animals were previously used as pets with some being forced to wear clothes and eat human foods which were harmful to their bodies. Bears were trained to walk on two legs and dance to entertain humans. This upbringing has changed them forever, leaving many sadly unable to return into the wild. At the sanctuary they received the care that they deserved. If an animal was hurt and brought to the sanctuary, it would stay as long as necessary at WFFT until it was strong and healthy before returning to the wild. There was a strict ”no hands policy” meaning you could not touch the animals (except the elephants as they were so mistreated that they would stay in the sanctuary) to make sure none of the animals were humanised and to give them an upbringing closest to as it would be in nature. The animals I worked with ranged from different ape species, otters, bears, iguanas and my beloved cassowary, Bernie.
However, not all animals are brought directly to the sanctuary and a major problem was that a lot of hurt animals were brought to temples because monks must take the animals in. Even though they had good intentions, a lot of them just have no idea how to take care of wild animals. Often monkeys were chained and even when they grew bigger their chains were not removed or changed, meaning their flesh would be hurt and their body deformed as a result.
During my time there I also visited and volunteered at an elephant refuge. Here I learnt many things however the main thing I found out was: don’t ride elephants. Many people wrongly believe all elephants are gentle giants who are so powerful that riding on them causes no harm. Nevertheless, despite elephants being extremely powerful animals, their strength does not lie on their backs but in their legs and trunks. They are exploited for the logging, begging, trekking and the film industry and even when they are hurt, they are forced to work. No elephant would let a human sit on them naturally. In order to do so they have to go through the torture method called ”phajaan” when they are still a baby. No mother would give up their baby by choice so in order to train a baby elephant the mother is killed. Then the elephant is deprived from food and sleep. The aim of this cruel torture is to break the animal’s spirit. Eventually, the elephant will give in and let the tourists sit on her for many hours even though they are hurting her back. Most elephants here at WFFT are still scared from being abused for so many years, a lot of them have deformed spines or other visible injuries and, of course, all are traumatized. My daily work included cleaning the cages and preparing food for the elephants. I especially enjoyed going on walks with elephants and showering them. Some people might here ask what it felt like to be so close to these fantastic animals and I must admit, at first I was quite scared as elephants are very strong and big animals. However, after some time I felt comfortable and there was always an elephant trainer with me so I felt secure.
Elephant Blog
Now I am much more aware of animal abuse and the global wild life trade. Please don’t ride elephants or take pictures with monkeys or lorises who are being exploited to be used as photo-props. They are poached from the wild as babies and their families are killed. Especially in Bangkok the tourists attractions start from crocodile shows, taking selfies with chained animals to watching elephants draw pictures or play football. Don’t pay into this cruel industry! This does not only happen in Asia and countries far away. I think in today’s society we see animals as our property and want them to entertain us in shows, dress them up as humans and take selfies. However, we do not own wild animals and should ensure they are wild and free.

Ranger Things: Working Abroad

Isabelle gives us the low-down on all of the skills she developed whilst working abroad before University

The idea of taking a ‘year out’ to work abroad may seem daunting to many young people. Some fear not being accepted, not being ‘good enough’ or are generally frightened by the unknown prospect of living, and working, in a different country with different customs and expectations. All of these thoughts were racing through my head just over a year ago but taking a year out suddenly became one of the best decisions I ever made.

After a period of hesitation, my parents were the ones who finally persuaded me that this would be a good idea (proving that time really is the enzyme that turns experience into wisdom). The year out, or gap year, was not just a time to ‘find myself’ as so many joke, but time for me to learn invaluable life lessons, gain extra brownie points on my CV and expand my knowledge about the world through experience. But surely all of these benefits are blue-sky thinking? Surely I can’t have an incredible time and also boost my CV? Anyway, where do I even start?

Well, for my year out, I started by working on a ski season in the mountains as a chalet host in La Rosière, France for just over 4 months. During the rest of my gap year, I worked at a Summer camp, just outside of New York, lifeguarding. All of the work I did was tiring and difficult at some point, but after completing it I was met with an amazing sense of achievement that I had, all on my own, worked and lived in two different cultures and I had done it successfully.


Looking back on my year out, I have realised a few things. Firstly, I am capable of so much more than I ever expected of myself. And secondly, I’m now, so much more outgoing, confident and determined to do what I want to do and that I can do it – heck, I lived and worked in two different countries on my own.

As you can see my experience was transformative and inspiring and if I had one piece of advice for anyone thinking of taking some time to travel, work abroad or just try a new career it’s that everybody you will meet is in the same boat as you: nervous, anxious and a little uneasy, but you will find that these like-minded people will become your friends for life. It is incredibly rewarding when you succeed during your year out, as you get to discover new places and learn new skills. None of that can ever be taken away from you.