Thursday, 24 July 2008


How is volunteering perceived in the UK?

When volunteering is mentioned in the UK, the image that appears in most people's minds tends to look something a bit like this:

Either upper or middle class young people going to developing countries to help out with specific projects. It is true that this is one form of vounteering, and there is a whole industry based on setting up and running these projects for young people. However, this is only a small part of what volunteering is.
What is volunteering?
Volunteering is working for free for anyone who is not a member of your friends or family. This includes both informal and formal volunteering. Formal vounteering tends to be with a specific charity, and can involve a form of code of conduct. Informal volunteering includes activities such as helping a neighbour with their computer or helping out at you local church.

What makes a good volunteer?
A good volunteer has the following qualities:
  • the ability to use their own initiative,
  • flexibility,
  • a willingless to help,
  • enthuiasm,
  • the ability to remain professional even when those around them seem to lack it.

What makes a good volunteer placement?
A good volunteer placement would, ideally, have the following:

  • A clear goal,
  • A reliable work supervisor,
  • Clear tasks, but with room for the volunteer to use their own initiative,
  • Having work to do,
  • Not having to chase up work supervisors every weekend,
  • Specific roles for the volunteers.

Who benefits from volunteering, and why?
There are many people who can benefit from volunteering. The organisations that are supported by volunteers are obviously financially supported as work is done by people who don't require financial reimbursement. Equally though, they benefit because they receive help from people who aren't influenced by money. This can be a blessing and a curse. It can be a blessing because volunteers aren't coming in just because they have to in order to get to paid. They are coming in because they want to. However, this is also a curse because the organisations has to find ways to keep the volunteers enthused in order to encourage them to stay.

Volunteers themselves benefit from volunteering. First and for most, they can game experience more easily than from a job (as getting a job so often depends on having prior experience already, whereas volunteering usually doesn't). A volunteer can also gain confidence and new skills through the work they do. They can also make new friends through volunteering.

Community in general benefits from volunteering because it increases the availability of services that volunteers support.

Monday, 14 July 2008


Definition: Keeping the work in community going even after we've left.

Work placementIn Glasgow, Mima and I worked for Amina, the Muslim Women's Resource Centre (as featured in Voluntary Sector and Social Inclusion). For them, we helped organise a fundraising event which took place on the 7th June, just before we left Glasgow.

Whilst we were there the organisation of the fundraising event mostly fell to four people, myself, Mima, an Amina volunteer Ghazela and a member of the management committee Sofiiya. Through our time at Amina it became pretty clear that the regular volunteers weren't all that interested in fundraising and preferred to concentrate on either administration or the services Amina provides. These are both vitally important but without fundraising there would have been little money to pay for these services, except for the money received from the government or other sources. Mima and I being there highlighted the need to have dedicated fundraising volunteers in the organisation, so I hope that now we have left they will be successful in recruiting new volunteers so our work can be sustainable. A way Mima and I could help is for us to write about our experiences at Amina and how rewarding it was to organise the fundraising event to encourage others to follow suit.

Community Action Days
In our time in Glasgow Team 69 took part in a record number of CADs, including:
  • litter picking in Govan,
  • clean up by a revier bank,
  • gardening in "the Quad",
  • cleaning up a area of woodland,
  • marshalling the Great Scottish Walk,
  • painting a church hall,
  • painting a mosque's fence.
Each of them had varying degrees of sustainability. The one which I think will prove to be most sustainable is the clean up in Govan. This is because we made up less than half of the number of volunteers present, as there were so many members of the community obviously present. This is largely thanks to the efforts of Dania and Peter who through their work placement got the community to come along. Hopefully the community will continue and set up a regular clean up of the area.
In fact, all of the more sustainable CADs that took place involved members of the community, including the clean up at the river bank which was already a monthly event. A way we could have made CADs more sustainable would have been to encourage the community to take up the torch lit by us and continue the work we've done when interviewed by the press. Also on the days themselves, we could have tried to encourage members of the community to get involved for our future CADs. In future, it may be an idea to more widely publicise the CADs, not just to the team but to the people of Aleppo as well

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Social Inclusion and the Voluntary Sector

What is the Voluntary Sector?
The best way to define the voluntary sector is by first defining what it isn't. There are two sectors that most people come into contact with on a regular basis, public and private.

Public sector
The public sector is anything run by the government, either national or local.

Private sector
The private sector is anything that is run by business for commercial gain. Their main focus is on making profit.

The voluntary sector is a third sector which covers anything that doesn't fall into the public or private sectors. They provide the services that would otherwise not be met by either the public or private sector. It includes charities and other Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) that aren't focused on making profit. It includes organisations that can't be defined as charities such as Amnesty International and Greenpeace.

What is social inclusion?
Reducing inequalities between disadvantaged groups and the rest of society. This involves opening up oppurtunities who wouldn't have them otherwise and making sure support reaches those who need it the most.

Amina - Muslim Women's Resource Centre
The Muslim Women's Resource Centre is a charity (so as such is part of the voluntary sector) which operates in Scotland. It is based in Dundee and Glasgow but operates country wide. It was set up in 1997 after it was recognised that the specific needs of muslim women were not being met by the public sector in Scotland. It is campaigning to encourage the public sector to meets these needs, but also provides services to the community to meet these needs in the interim. It is as such an example of social inclusion. These services include a helpline, counselling services, PPP (Prevention, Provision and Protection) for domestic violence, and capacity building. For capacity building it runs various courses including arts & crafts and personal development through the Pacific Institute's Steps Programme. Part of the helpline's role is to act as a third party reporting service to encourage muslim women who feel they can't report racist or ismalist abuse to the police directly to report it to someone neutral. The helpline is also there to offer advice, and where necessary to sign post appropiate services for the callers.

As it provides for the needs of muslim women, Amina is able to apply for grants to enable it to keep on running from the Government. This is fine in the interim as it means that muslim women's needs are being met, but in a way it might mean that the government might feel that they don't need to provide services for muslim women directly, as they're funding a charity to do it for them. This is in essence one of the downsides of the existence of the voluntary sector, as the public sector could get complacent. As Amina is campaigning for the publc sector to meet Muslim Women's needs, it is in essence aiming to not exist, as all the services would be provided directly by the state.

What can I do as a global citizen?

I Vicky Heather Syred, of sound body and mind, on the 3rd July 2008 hereby pledge to:

  • Close my Alliance & Leicester and HSBC accounts.
  • Open a Co-Operative Bank account.
  • Transfer my ISA from Kent Reliance to an ethical one next April.
  • Stop shoping at stores like H&M and Primark, but not without telling them the reason why.
  • Start buying my jeans from Marks and Spencer when they have Fairtrade ones in stock.
  • Buy all my other clothes from charity shops or People Tree.
  • Put durability and ethics before price when buying clothes.
  • Accept this might mean buying fewer clothes and having a smaller choice.
  • Recycle more.
  • Only buy Fairtrade tea, coffee and chocolate.
  • Choose Organic and/or Fairtrade food when it is possible.

Victoria Heather Syred

3rd July 2008

The things that might prevent me from following this pledge are:

  • Low interest from ethical bank accounts or ISAs.
  • Being unemployed after GX and not being able to afford ethical choices.
  • Low availability of ethical options.
Hopefully though, I'll still be able to see past these and follow my pledge.


There has long been a mix of cultures around the world. This is partly due to invasions from conquering nations and then the trade routes set up within empires. There has also been movement by peaceful settlers and immigrant taking their culture with them. Since the advent of rapid transport and communication however the world has become a lot smaller and the mix of cultures has become a lot greater. It is now possible for people in the UK to hear an accurate account of events happening in Australia within a few minutes despite the two countries being on opposite sides of the world and despite them being 12 time zones adrift. In a typical UK high street is is possible to find Chinese or Japanese noodles, Indian curry, Mexican chili, American burgers and Italian spaghetti. Go into a typical high street store and you will find items made in Turkey, Bangladesh, Hungary or China, with raw materials sourced from Africa.

At the moment, globalisation comes hand in hand with capitalism so as such it is inevitable there would be winners and losers. A definite winner, as is so often the case, is America. There are many American brand names that can be found in nearly every country around the world which easily roll off the tongue, including Starbucks, McDonalds and Coca Cola. Other winners include the consumers in the West who can buy goods made in China and the like very cheaply. They also have a wide range of items from all corners of the world for their perusal. Globalisation also encourage the exchange of ideas, which includes music, art and scientific knowledge.

On the flip side there is a downside to globalisation. The losers include the workers in China and the farmers in Africa who work for below substinence wages. There can be winners and losers in the same country. In the UK, manufacturers go out of business as it becomes increasingly cheaper to make goods overseas. This ties in with social responsibility as consumers have to weigh up the pros and cons of buying goods from their own country or overseas on the basis of price, impact on the workers' lives, the effect of not choosing a particular product and also the environmental impact.

The environmental impact of globalisation generally is huge. All the transport that allows business to be carried out internationally has a massive carbon footprint, what with transporting goods and business people from country to country constantly. The communication that allows different countries to learn from one another also an environmental impact because it is so dependent on electricity whether it be using the TV, the internet or the phone.

Without globalisation however, each community would be stuck in their own little bubbles. This would encourage contempt, ignorance and fear of the unknown. Through globalisation different communities can learn from another. Globalisation generally enriches the world and the people in it. However as with all things in life there is a negative side where people or the world suffer thanks to globalisation. The only way to prevent this from happening though and to undo the damage that has been done by globalisation would be to go back to the stone age where people only moved with their tribe to find food and shelter. All that we can do now is make the best of the situation and hope the positives of globalisation can in time outweigh the negatives.

Outside my Syrian host home...

Some brands literally are everywhere... (pictured, Coca Cola, Nestle, Sunsilk, and the previously unheard of (to me) - Windmill.

Sexual Orientation

I'm going to start off this entry with a minor admission. I'm bisexual. This means I like both men and women, not necessarily equally, and not usually at the same time. What this does not mean is that I'm:
  • greedy,
  • confused,
  • unfaithful,
  • lucky...

or anything else that gets thrown at me whenever I decide to be totally open about my sexuality. The worst thing is that the most bi-phobic remarks I receive are normally from within the gay community. I can never understand why someone who has had to put up with prejudice and discrimination on the basis of their sexuality is quite willing to dish it out to someone else. Believe me, I know at times I do have it easy. When I'm dating a guy I don't have to worry about public displays of affection getting me beaten up or jeered at by random passers by. At no point in my life have I had to stop holding hand with a boyfriend simply because a child happens to be walking towards us, whereas I have done this when I was with a girlfriend. (At this point I hasten to add that I am currently only talking about what it is like in the UK, as I might need to worry about PDAs with men in other countries...)

All of this does not mean I prefer going out with men, far from it in fact, it just means that it's easier for me to go out with them, which can be a pain considering I do normally vastly prefer women.

Right, before this turns into an out and out rant about the gay community's treatment of bisexuals, perhaps I should start looking at the matter in hand as a whole.

I'm probably going to start off with a bit of controversy. Gay and bisexual people have it easy in this country now. That isn't to say that it is completely perfect, and discrimination still occurs, but instutional homophobia is rare. Unless we are talking about the asylum system, but I'll come back to that later. All I'm saying is that thanks to the hard work by countless campaigners over the years, same sex couples now have the right to join in the eyes of the law, adopt and foster children as a couple and are entitled to inherit pensions from one another and become next of kin for one another. Gay, lesbian and bisexual people all over the UK are entitled to live free of discrimination at work and through the provision of goods and services. Of course, this doesn't always happen, but at least the legal right is there.

All around the UK, there are countless perfectly visible centres supporting lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered people (the latter isn't mentioned again in this post, but I mentioned in my gender post) The photo below shows quite how many postcards about sexuality one of these centres has on display: There are also pride events in most major cities, including London, Manchester, Cardiff and Glasgow.

None of this can be said for Syria. The only places gay men get together are cruising grounds infamous for being infested with AIDS and the fact I haven't heard where the lesbians meet up shows quite how visible they are. Homosexuality is illegal in Syria, or at least having sex with someone of the same sex is and the punishment is 3 years imprisonment. So what chance is there that there is going to be laws protecting their rights?

In some countries, such as Nigeria, it is even worse as having sex with someone of the same sex is still punishable by death.

Times when the attitudes towards homosexuals in different countries and here in the UK become undeniably linked is in asylum seeker cases where the claimant cites their sexuality as a reason for not being able to return to their own country. The UK government seemes determined to not accept this as a reaonable claim, even in cases where people's lives have been directly threatened, or the partner has already received the death penalty, like in the case of Mehdi Kazemi, a 19 year old gay Iranian.

The attitude of the UK government seems to be that the best thing for these asylum seekers is "to go back where they came from" and be "more discreet" as if such a thing were possible when you've already been arrested once before and had to flee the country due to this (like in the case of Jojo Jako Yakob, a Syrian claiming asylum in Scotland).

In conclusion, for the main part, I believe that homosexual and bisexual people have a lot to be thankful for when looked at on a global view. There are still problems that need to be addressed, like in the case of the asylum seeker cases. I do wonder however if I would have this attitude if I was a camp looking gay man, who isn't really able to hide his sexuality anywhere he goes. Would I have a different opinion as to how open and accepting this country is?