Monday, 15 October 2012

Garden of Light, Bradford

Last night I went to Bradford's City Park to see the much raved about, Garden of Light for the last night. And it's safe to safe I was really impressed for two reasons. 1 - The lights were truly spectacular and 2 - For 7pm on a Sunday night the town centre was full of people, which I'm sure doesn't happen often.

I've been to City Park a few times, but it was the first time I've seen the huge fountain turned on - very impressive. Even more impressive was the brave women so who decided to go walk through the water to stand right underneath it (it was cold enough without being stood under a 30m fountain!).

People still give Bradford a hard time, but it's moving in the right direction and I for am proud to have these spectacular features in my home time! It was also great to see so many people from all different backgrounds there to enjoy the amazing Garden of Light. 

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

A Month in Romania in Photos

Okay, so  I still haven’t finished writing about my month in Romania… but I’ve had a long day and spend look at my photos approximately 10 100 times a day so I thought I’d share them with you (whilst giving me another excuse to look again).

Some of my boys from first camp - Levi, Lala and Marius

The boys in their football kit

Levi suits my glasses :-)

The kids queing up for food at the BBQ - over 150 turned up!

All the volunteers and a few kids at the BBQ

At the zoo with the cutest kids

All the kids and volunteers at the zoo

Enjoying being one of the kids :-)

Painting at one of the playschemes we ran

Round the back of the village where some of the poorest kids live

Me and my favouritist Joska

One of the games the kids play - would not pass health & safety in the UK!

Bela and Dudu traditional Roma dancing (they both had bruises on their legs after this)

Dudu, Pepi and Bela in their hats

Me and Dudu colouring in his folder 

Amazing dance off

Chicken with cornflakes (yes, that's right)

Last meal with the volunteers and helpers from the village :-(

Camp 1 boys balloon game

The volunteers turn at the balloon game :-)

Possibly my favourite pic - all 74 kids plus volunteers

The contrast of the back of the village and town

For more information on the work of the charity Aid for Romanian Children (ARC) visit their website.  

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

English Lessons, A Trip to Budapest & a Reunion With my Boys – Romania, Part 2

 So you made it back for part 2…. congratulations! :-)

After the first group of volunteers left, me and my friend Alice had a week off before the next group of volunteers arrived. We moved from the hostel we were staying in, to Katie & Jeno’s house in the village. This was this first time I’d stayed in the village, as we usually stay in a hostel in town where there is enough room for all the volunteers. It was quite surreal staying there after going so many times for just  few hours at a time.

We decided to teach the older boys who have been helping the English volunteers run the camps for several years now. When we first met the boys they were 14/15 and now they are between 15-18.  It’s been really strange seeing them grow up and change every time we see them (one of the lads is now married and living with his wife!). Being a teenager in the village is difficult, there is very little for them to do and without support from their parents there is nobody to drill in the importance of getting an education to them. Three of the boys have now dropped out of school and have very limited options available to them. In the four days we had spare me and Alice took them out of the village for a couple of days to teach them a little bit of English.

For our first English lesson we took the four lads, Lapi, Vergin, Gyozo and Feri to a beer garden and played pool to break the ice as we wanted it to be relaxed. We tried getting them to only speak English but that didn’t work very well whilst playing pool! So decided to go back to ‘proper’ teaching and gave them all a pad of paper and pens. It was great to see them writing and really taking care. Gyozo ripped up his piece of paper about 5 times as it wasn’t neat enough for him!

The walk back to the village was the highlight of the day. The lads had got confidence in speaking English at this point. Everything we passed we pointed at and told them the word in English and practised what we'd taught them already - sit down, stand up etc. It was amusing them suddenly stopping or sitting when we said something! What was even better was Gyozo shouting ‘What’s the problem’ across the street at a stranger. Luckily not many people speak English in Tirgu Mures (or don’t let on that they do anyway!).

The next few days of teaching them went well. I tried out my skills as a TEFL teacher and made little cards and got them to match them up to make sentences. It was going well until a gust of wind blew them all off the table! Despite trying our best to get them speaking in English it was conversations about girls, drinking or smoking that got them all talking – typical lads! It was great to see them taking in an interest in learning and even though we might not have taught them as much as we’d like, it’s more than they knew before and got them more confident in speaking English. Lapi and Vergin the older two lads, knew a bit of English but would never speak it so that was progress in itself! Vergin was even reading his notes on the walk down into town one day, which was really nice to see, as he'd been one of the quieter ones on the first day and we weren't sure if he'd return for day 2! 

For our last lesson we took them to see Batman in English with Romanian subtitles. I don’t think they had ever been to the cinema before. It’s little things like that, which we take for granted in the UK but it’s a real treat to them. Felt like such a mum buying them popcorn and drinks. We asked them if they enjoyed it and Gyozo looked really annoyed, he said he didn’t like it because Batman died so when we told him he didn’t he decided he did like it after all!

Vergin, Lapi, Feri, Alice and Gyozo at the cinema :-)

Me and Alice booked a couple of days in Budapest. After we booked it we realized there was a big festival, the Sziget festival on at the same time so we decided to go to that while we were there. I got a really cheap deal on a 5 star hotel, which was actually cheaper than most hostels so we couldn’t pass up on the opportunity! We enjoyed the 5 star luxury and all the touristy things around Budapest before heading to the festival. If you’re ever in Budapest Sziget festival is a must. Good bands, cheap beer, great location and a lack of festival idiots – what’s not to like?!

That's me and Alice with our Hungarian (not Italian) festival hats

On a bar suspending in the air on a crane (sorry Alice!)

After a horrendous plane journey back (see cheap beer reference and above pictures), we returned to the village for a day to relax before the second group of volunteers arrived. The second summer camp is the one I usually come for. The same kids go on the camp until they get too old and I've looked after the same boys for three years now. As soon as I saw them in the village they told me who else was going to be in our cabin this year!

Well, this has turned out to be quite long so I'll stop now! I'll post the final part of what should really be a book soon...

Thursday, 6 September 2012

A Month in Romania – Part 1

Long time no blog! I’ve just returned from an amazing month in Romania. Well, I say just it’s been over two weeks now but I’ve spent all the time since I’ve been back looking at my pictures, listening to the songs and just generally getting emotional. So, I’ve finally got round to writing about my time without bursting into tears (not so far anyway!). 

Before I start rambling, I’ll give you a little background into what I do in Romania (if I haven’t already bored you!). I started going to Romania in 2009 when I found out about the project through Leeds met university. The charity Aid for Romanian Children (ARC) work with kids in a poor Roma gypsy village in Transylvania. These kids live in horrendous conditions and have very difficult lives. ARC run two summer camps with the help of Leeds Met volunteers every year which take between 60-75 kids out of the village to have a week of fun and just generally allow them to be kids again. 

Without wanting to use a cliche (I'm going to anyway) volunteering in Romania has changed my life and the work that the charity do to help these kids in need is fantastic. I usually just go to Romania for two weeks, but decided to go for a month this time and go on both the summer camps. I flew out on my own to meet the volunteers who were already in Romania. Flying alone on a Wizz air flight is a scary enough experience in itself! As soon as I got to the hostel to meet the volunteers it was straight into helping with the preparation for the first camp, then after attempting to catch up on some sleep we had a early start to pack the bus and go pick up the kids to start the journey to camp (all 68 of them!). The first day of camp is always a bit mad with the kids running round excitably! Each of the volunteers is given a room of kids to look after for the week. I got a room of 8 boys, who are some of the poorest boys in the village. One of them, Peti, who I had in my first year has a really tough live and sniffs glue :-(  Seeing them being happy and enjoying what all kids should on camp couldn’t make me happier.

6 of my boys with their photoframes before we put photos of them in :-)

 This was my fourth camp with the same routine and you'd think you'd get a bit bored with it, but I don't at all. I still love watching the kids say grace before they even touch their food, seeing how much they love their new clothes and seeing them sharing their sweets with you!

The week on camp was made up of craft activities, group games, a sports day and lots of playing football. I’ve been learning Hungarian (the kids speak Hungarian not Romanian!) for a while now. I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t understand or was able to speak that much in my first few days. One of the only sentences I picked up on was when playing football and one of the kids said to his friend that I played like a boy. To be fair it’s true, compared to most girls I probably do play like a bloke haha.

Some of the boys in their football kit – Marius, Levi, Lala, Petu and Peti :-)

On the last night of camp we have a disco with the kids. No matter how many times I see the kids dancing it will always amaze me. The kids learn traditional Roma dancing from a very early age and it’s impressive to say the least. The disco is always a fantastic night where the kids have a great time, but it also means it’s the last night we put our kids to bed for the last time as we had back to the village the next day. At least for me this time, I knew I’d be doing another camp.

The following day we left camp early and the volunteers said goodbye to the kids until the next day when we returned to give the kids their photos! Even though I wasn’t leaving the village, it was still quite emotional seeing all the other volunteers getting upset and the thought of me actually leaving after a full month wasn’t exciting me!

Well that was my first week in Romania, I’ll be posting about the rest of my trip soon! I’m sure the anticipation will kill you! In the mean time I'll leave you with some of my favourite photos from my first week:

Say cheese!

Levi, Lala, me and Marius

Me and Lala :-)

All of my boys and me and Laura!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

A Weekend in Milan

Just got back from a weekend in Milan. I’ll admit Milan wasn’t ever on my list of places I wanted to visit. Rome and Venice would definitely have been higher up on my list of Italian cities to visit, but cheap flights (£44 return!) and the urge to have a weekend away called! Despite not really being that interested in going, it was an amazing few days and it may have made it as my top European city (I’ll have to give that some thought though, don’t want to be too hasty).

Here are my highlights from the weekend:

The Duomo – Not to be missed!
Wow. Just wow. I’d Googled it before leaving and thought it looked impressive, but boy it was so much more in real life! 

It really was breathtaking and just as impressive in the day as it was at night then even more so when you’re on the roof of it! We took the stairs up, as I was being stubborn about paying an extra 5 euros just to get the lift! Although I started to regret my stubbornness about half way up the 250 steps you have to climb up! 

The view from the top was amazing, luckily we had nice weather compared to the previous day and that night when we had really bad thunderstorms. 

Just resting against the Duomo...

Almost at the top

On the roof finally!

At night

Just as impressive inside

Tour of the San Siro
A must see for any football fans. As one of the only stadiums where two rival teams share the ground, it certainly doesn’t lack in history or character. The tour costs 13 euros, which is definitely worth paying. It starts in the museum, which is divided into a red and black and a blue and black side. Notably the AC Milan side was showcasing lots more memorabilia and trophies. 


Yup that's me in the stadium

 The Brazilian corner of the AC changing room

No explanation needed
The tour of the stadium was ruined a little as they were putting up a stage for Madonna playing there in a few weeks. Still, the ground was impressive. I’d love to go there for a game one day, the atmosphere would be immense. The tour of the changing rooms was my favorite part, pretty weird sitting in the changing rooms where so many football legends have sat over the years. 

After going to the Nou Camp for a tour and to watch a game I wasn’t as impressed as with the San Siro but it still beats Bradford City’s ground (yup, that’s who I support unfortunately!). 

Visiting One of the Oldest Shopping Mall
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is one of the oldest and most impressive shopping malls in the world. Unfortunately I don’t have money (or style!) to be able to take advantage of the luxury shopping! I’ve never seen Louis Vuitton and McDonald’s so close to each other in the same mall before.

Not a bad shopping mall
If you’re prepared to pay a little over the odds for a nice meal it’s well worth eating at one of the restaurants inside. We ate there twice out of the three nights we were there and it was definitely worth it. 

Watching the Italy Game in the Pub
Italy were playing Spain in the Euros, so naturally wanted to experience the atmosphere of the Italians. We were all set to go find the big screen by the Duomo to watch the game on, but ended up losing two of my friends and confusion with the non English speaking taxi driver meant we missed the first bit of the game and just got dropped off in the middle of nowhere at a very local pub. But it was great, the atmosphere was amazing, especially when Italy scored early on.

Despite being the only English people in the pub and stranded in the middle of nowhere (we didn’t have a map or a clue where the nearest taxis/buses/trams were) it was a great night and probably turned out better than if we watched it with all the other tourists.  

The pub had every English clubs scarf 
apart from Bradford it would seem...

A Pretend Venice Experience
I didn’t realize there was a canal where you can take boat tours in Milan, now I’ve never been to Venice so can’t really compare and I’m sure it’s nothing alike at all, but it was really nice. We didn’t get to go on a boat trip as they fill up pretty quick, so think you’d need to book in advance. The surrounding area is really nice though, loads of shops, cafes and a market that runs along the top of the main street. We also visited an unexpected art gallery, which looked like it was just the entrance to some apartments. There were loads of really cool paintings (and even a wedding dress shop). If I hadn’t just had a small bag as hand luggage I’d definitely have bought a painting or two. 

Open Tour Bus
Okay, this is going to make me sound like a typical tourist right now, but the open bus tour was a great way to see all the sites (funny that…). It only costs 20 Euros and the ticket is valid for 48 hours, which is really good value compared to others. Once we figured out where everything was we used it more as a taxi service than a tour bus. 

One thing not on my list that might surprise people is the lack of references to shopping! Milan might be the fashion capital and all, but the city has so much more to offer in its history, art galleries and impressive buildings. Plus I was on a budget and not really a big shopper so site seeing, eating (lots of pizza and pasta) and drinking suited me down to the ground.

Well that's my highlights from Milan… ciao!

Thursday, 31 May 2012

6 Reasons Why Everyone Should Volunteer Abroad in Their Lifetime

1- It puts everything else into perspective

How many times do we act as though something that has happened will end the world? The supermarket running out of your favourite food, the queue at the bank being really long - you name it, we all act like these things are the worst thing that could happen. On my first every day visiting Valea Rece in Romania, I saw things I never thought I would see in Europe; houses without proper roofs/walls, children walking around (on glass) without shoes, babies with no clothes on laying in the mud, rubbish everywhere and children no older than 5 begging on the street. It’s then that you start to realize how good I have things here. Yes, we all know poverty exists, but for me it was only when I saw it first hand that it really put my life into perspective and realized how lucky I was.

2- You’ll experience some of your proudest moments

Okay, so I might have felt proud when I scored a winning goal for my football team, or when I achieved my targets at work and I’m sure I’ll have a huge grin on my face when I graduate, but I will never ever forget the look on the Romanian kids faces when we gave them clothes for the winter! There is genuinely nothing else that I could feel more proud about than when we give clothes/toys/sweets to some of the poorest children in Europe.

The kids waiting to get clothed. We gave to 316 this year :-)

3- Improve your employability

I’ll admit when I signed up to volunteer in Romania with Leeds Met in 2008, I wanted to do something different to put on my CV. I guess, I’m a bit ashamed of that now (see number 1 and 2) but I’d like to think it’s made me much more employable. I’ve worked from when I was 16 so my CV has never been bare but it was my experience in Romania that gets employers interested. Every single interview I’ve attended have asked me about Romania and the feedback from these interviews was that no-one else had that kind of experience (I didn’t get the jobs for other reasons… but that’s another story!)

My current employers loved my volunteering experience and I think you’ve got to do everything extra you can these days to stand out and international volunteering ticks all the boxes!

4 - Make friends for life

I never thought I would make some many friends from volunteering, but I really have made some friends for life (cheesy I know!). I met some of my best friends from Romania in 2008 and we’re still great friends now. The one thing you’ll have in common with them is your experience. While your other friends dread you saying “This one time in Romania….”, you’ll always have your experiences to talk about with your volunteering friends.

Some of my Romanian besties :-)

5- Experience new things

Everyone experiences something different, I’ve been to Romania 7 times and every time my experience has been completely different. I love that volunteering is so unpredictable, one time I went to Romania we sung and danced to Greece Lightning at 3am with the locals. Another time we had a singsong sat with 65 kids sat around a bonfire. One of my favourite memories of Romania (am I saying the R word too much?!) was the night when we were followed by a creepy man on a bike (it was okay in the end), we stayed on mattresses on the floor in a nursery and had two of the lads from the village as our body guards (in case said creepy bike man appeared). It was the first night of us getting there, but turned out to be the best icebreaker we could have.

The night of the bike man

6- It’s a life changing experience

It really is a life changing experience, I never thought volunteering would have this much impact on my life. But it’s something I can never stop thinking about. I spend a lot of my time collecting clothes and doing fundraising events. It’s not just the charity side of it’s that’s made it a life changing experience though, it’s also helped develop me as a person. Four years ago I had hardly any confidence and hadn’t done anything like this before. It sounds stupid, but for me it was a big deal and I did almost wimp out! I always remember the look of fear on my mums face when I got on the coach with 11 strangers! She sent me a text 10 minutes later saying ‘are you going to be okay’. Well, I was okay thanks mum!

My boys :-)

One of my favourite Romania pics

Point of this long article?! - Do it!