Bali on a Mission

Selamat malam! I’m excited to say that I am writing this blog post from Bali having been here a week already, but what am I doing in Bali?!

Bali is the ultimate holiday destination for loved-up couples looking to honeymoon, or for yoga enthusiasts on a spiritual retreat. It has mountains, it has beaches, it has rice fields and temples, it’s famous for surfing and cheeky monkeys, for culture and beauty; Bali seems to be paradise! That is, for the tourists…

Okay so you may have guessed, I’m not here for a holiday, this isn’t just another solo travel episode; I’m here on a mission to serve the Balinese people!

 

Why Bali?

Watching the Waves roll in
Photo Credit: @guiagogogo

As you may know, last year I spent a month and a half in South East Asia and in that time I really came to know and love the culture and the people. Now, having been given the opportunity to volunteer abroad by my church, I really wanted to give something back to South East Asian community.

So here I am in Bali, volunteering with a group of people from all over the world; Japan, Brazil, Argentina, America, Germany and many other countries. A good number of the volunteers here are Indonesian from Bali and other islands nearby. Some have been here volunteering for more than 10 years, others are here on a short term trip like myself.

 

The Other Side of Bali

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So what is the need of the Balinese? Where tourists may benefit from the extremely low cost of living compared to the western world, the local people don’t always benefit from it. Here are some of the main issues the Balinese face.

Poverty

The average person here will earn less than $2 per day, but those are the lucky ones who have jobs. Many are unemployed and therefore struggle to make enough to live on, so it isn’t uncommon to see street children who are unable to go to school and get an education.

There are also many animals that wander the streets in the gutters, or in large piles of litter. Amongst poverty there tends to be outbreaks of diseases due to an inability to obtain medical care. A recent outbreak of rabies was reported across Indonesia which makes it dangerous with the stray animals that seem to be everywhere.

Prostitution

As a result of poverty, many young girls (and in some areas boys) are coerced and forced into a life of prostitution which they feel they can’t escape. It may have started as what they thought to be a job at the bar, but they rank up debts to the owner when they don’t hit certain “targets” and are forced to go with men to make enough money to pay back their debts. Those who resist are usually broken down until they comply. They don’t have anywhere to run, many don’t have family to go to. The majority of these girls are not educated and so do not have a full understanding of the consequences of unprotected sex and therefore catch HIV/AIDS or get pregnant and are not in a position to look after their children.

These girls rely on drugs and alcohol to get them through the nights, they have no sense of self worth and have become hardened to the world. Some at very young ages.

Education

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Poverty also means that getting an education is near enough impossible, causing a destructive circle that people don’t feel they can escape. Education would mean that opportunities would open up for the people and this means a chance to break the cycle of poverty. One of the main ways to make money is through tourism, so learning English is an essential skill that can become a way to make money.

Pollution

The beautiful shores of Bali are no exception to the hideous plastic problem that the world faces. Every January the stunning shorelines turn into dumpsters as tons and tons of litter pollutes the shores. But it isn’t just a problem on the shores, you don’t have to look far to see the pollution. In the gutters, by the sides of the road, across fields and even next to temples.

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The problem really hit home when I saw a tiny kitten lying amongst a pile of rubbish with flies on it’s back. I was so sad that I couldn’t do anything for the little guy as he mewed gently at me, but even a couple of steps past this kitten was a hen and her chicks in the gutter pecking at a plastic bag, and a couple of steps beyond that were some skinny cows in a bare field grazing amongst plastic bottles.

Plastic is a real problem, and I’m thankful many of us are starting to do something about it but let’s not stop until the problem is solved!

 

Volunteering

I’m here in Bali with a fantastic organisation that does some great work for the people here. One of the things they really like you to do is to know and respect the culture. That means dressing in a way that is respectful to the Balinese, behaving in a way that is becoming to their culture and even learning the language! We have some Indonesians here working with us who help us to connect to the culture and teach us the language and it’s been so great to see most of the people already here speaking in Bahasa with the locals!

The work that they do for the locals include: Teaching English, Teaching Maths and Science, Teaching Football with the street kids, visiting those in Prison, visiting local families, reaching out to the girls in prostitution and bringing them to a safe-house but there isn’t a limit to what you can do. Each person brings their skills and helps in whatever way they can.

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Whilst I am here I will be joining in with as many of these as I can, although some of these are limited at the moment due to the Hindu holidays.
Last night, the girls from my room were out until 2am giving gifts to the girls in prostitution and speaking with them, being my first week I was not allowed to join (due to the dangerous nature of this work) but I hope to join the next time they go.

I expect to go and visit some people in prison on Tuesday and possibly teach football to some of the street children later in the week (although I admit, I don’t have much to teach them)! In addition to the hands-on volunteering, people are needed to run the base by cooking, cleaning and other jobs which I have been involved with so far, as well as putting together the gifts for the girls in prostitution.

 

Exploring Bali

 

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I do get the weekends off and sometimes even a day in the week off (depending on what volunteer outreaches are happening that week) so I will be taking the opportunity to see as much of  Bali as I can.

Getting around in Bali is difficult if you can’t ride a motorbike, so I am relying on my lovely new friends to take me out and about on the back of their scooters!

So far the majority of my adventures have been in starbucks (volunteers love their coffee!) and in an amazing doughnut shop called J.Co! I also have the beautiful Jimberan beach right next to our base where we can sometimes play football with the street kids. And I’ve been to see a stunning temple full of monkeys, but more of that in my next post!

I look forward to being able to show you some of the sights on the amazing Island that is Bali, so keep an eye out for the upcoming blog posts.

 

 

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Italy Bound; A Day in Pisa, San Gimignano & Siena

One of the great things about Florence was that it was so well connected to other parts of Italy. So, when we were approached by a tour salesman offering a day trip to Pisa, we readily agreed. The tour was to include a morning trip to Piazza dei Miracoli, Pisa to see the leaning bell tower, Duomo and the Baptistery. Then we would be taken to the medieval town of San Gimignano to explore the wonderful views, have lunch and wine tasting in a local vineyard and finish with a tour of Siena.

 

Pisa

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“You can’t go all the way to Florence and not see the leaning tower of Pisa” is what my younger brother told me, and I have to agree. This famous symbol of Italy is a must-see if you visit this side of the world, only 1 hour 30 mins away from Florence by car.

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Aside from the iconic leaning tower shot that everyone will be getting (I include you, no matter how strong willed you are, you won’t be able to resist), you can actually go to the top of the bell tower for great views over Pisa. I warn you now, walking up will feel wonky!

After you have got your shots and climbed wonkily to the top, make sure you visit the Duomo next door and the baptistery. I didn’t feel like I needed more than a morning in Pisa to see the Piazza dei Miracoli (square of miracles) but there is more to Pisa than the tower if you do want to spend the day!

 

San Gimignano

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A magical town, built upon a hill, enclosed in medieval walls; this beautiful location happened to also be the place that my colleague and friend got engaged, in fact the friends whose wedding I attended the day before my very first solo adventure (read about it here… it was emosh).

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It’s easy to see why it is a popular romantic spot for many couples from all over the world when you approach the castle-like walls and wander through the inclining and declining walkways defined by the towering medieval stone shops and houses.

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Between buildings you may find winding alleys that lead you to magical views, history-infused sculptures, medieval buildings or local Italian restaurants, gelaterias and cafes.
Take your time and explore, you will certainly find something you love here.

 

Wine Tasting

We were taken to a local family vineyard, the vineyard of Famiglia Mazzarrini, for a tour of the winery, a taste of the Tuscan Italian wines and a delicious pasta for lunch. We enjoyed a selection of refreshing and rich red and white wines, as well as a sparkling, and this was a chance to really get to know others on our tour who were sat with us.

In addition to the wines, we were given a platter of meats and cheeses with breads to try a drop of the most expensive and potent truffle oil I’ve ever tried (probably the only truffle oil I’ve tried).

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Afterwards, we were also educated on real olive oil/balsamic vinegar; extra extra virgin olive oil comes with extra bullshit and if you buy balsamic vinegar that contains sugar or colourant then throw it in the bin. Consider yourself now also educated.

A few glasses later this was us…

Shout out to spinach boy and to the girl who got wasted on the wine tasting, fell asleep on the bus and then wandered off so we couldn’t find her. What a lad.

 

Siena

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So the final part of the excursion was a guided walking tour of Siena, by which time my feet were so sore it felt like I was wearing down the heel bone. But, I hobbled through the tour paying particular note to the bi-annual 90 second Palio horse race that takes place around the Piazza del Campo. They transform their main square into an arena by adding sand to the outer square whilst people gather in the centre by the thousands, or if they are lucky (rich) they can nab a balcony above one of the many shops and restaurants surrounding the square.

I also learned that there’s an equally weird reason for the weird breastfeeding wolf symbol of Siena and that’s all thanks to a legend of two brothers, Senius and Aschius, who were suposedly raised by wolves.
A final point worth noting is the Cathedral in the centre was built by the same architect who built the leaning tower of Pisa as well as Florence’s esteemed Duomo.

Thus ends my Italian mini adventure.

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12 Months of Simple Living: End of Year Thoughts

It’s been a year of this transformation journey and as January 2018 arrived, I thought this would be a good opportunity to reflect on each month and what impact, if any, it has had on the way I live my life now.

1. | January – Vegetarian |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Vegetarian Recipes

If there was ever going to be a controversial challenge it was this one. With opinions and beliefs splitting people world wide on the subject, it was always going to be harder for a previously strict carnivore to “try out” being Vegetarian for a month and then blog about the short lived and not hugely successful experience. But this journey is my own and now I can see this short lived month really did have an effect on my view, and now my lifestyle choices. However insignificant they might seem, they are still small steps toward a healthier life and a better world.

Since January, I’ve found myself increasingly choosing the vegetarian options whether it is in my work canteen, at home or out to eat with friends. I put this down to a change in my attitude towards meat as a result of understanding the vast amounts of waste, the damage to the environment and the inhumane treatment of animals all for the sake of corporate greed.

From a health point of view, I am so much more aware of the fats and greasiness of meat and how much heavier it sits in my stomach, I do tend to feel a little odd when I eat some types of meat now. It does make me wonder what sort of diseases we are potentially exposed to by eating meat.  That’s not to say I don’t crave the odd steak now and then but I am so much more aware of  trying to choose organic, free range, grass fed meat.

Having said that, I do want to aim to be even more veggie and I have concluded that being a full time vegetarian would be the ideal lifestyle choice and probably is how we were once meant to be. Not that any of my life choices are ideal- we’ll see!

Note: Spiralizers interest me now more than ever before!

 

2. | February – Forgiving |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Part Three
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This one has to be the hardest of all as it’s a continuous battle and a continuous cycle. Choosing to let people off the hook when they have wronged you seems unnatural to our human instincts and makes us feel like a doormat sometimes. But this doesn’t have to be so. I am continually reminding myself that forgiveness does not mean reconciliation; if you are continually wronged, don’t let them wrong you again. But love them and show them kindness anyway.

I can definitely see improvements with the way I handle disagreements, knowing that just because we have differences of opinion doesn’t make us bad people, just unique individuals who handle things in different ways. I try to respect another’s perspective even if I disagree.

I still struggle with letting things go quickly, but I can usually get over it after taking a breather. And with my long term grievances, it will always be a battle to maintain forgiveness but I will keep trying.

 

3. | March – Positivity & Thankfulness |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four
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This challenge is one that went beyond my natural disposition. I’ve grown up in an environment of complaining, from my family to the culture of the UK, so trying not to was a real difficulty. Being thankful for everything, including the bad times, just opens your eyes to how blessed you really are. Blessed you have arms and legs, and eyes and ears, blessed you are able to use them, blessed you have food, shelter and a job. There’s actually a lot to be thankful for!

I really struggle, still, to see the glass half full rather than half empty but I am working on it. A good way to start thinking a bit more positively is by writing a diary of your week noting, at various points of the day, how you felt – happy, sad, angry – and to what degree out of 100% you felt those emotions. When you look back, you will likely realise you have a much happier life than you initially thought. This is because our minds get conditioned just to remember the negative and not the positive.

Try it out and let me know how it works for you!

 

4. | April – Stick at It |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Part Three
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This challenge  actually made me realise that my problem wasn’t so much giving up on things, as feeling like giving up every time something gets tough. Also it was about believing in my ability to achieve what I set out to do.

Through going travelling, something I needed to do for myself but was afraid to, it helped me build confidence in myself. I’m trying to maintain this confidence now that I am back; it’s actually the mundane things in life that knock the confidence out of you.

I have found myself being a little braver and taking those risks even if I might fail, but there’s still work to be done!

 

5. | May – Exercise |

Navigate: Part One| Part Two | Part Three

This one’s gone out the window! Seriously, I don’t like doing any of it – classes annoy me, I don’t even know where to start in the gym, I HATE running, going for walks in the cold British weather is not up there on my fun list… so what can I do?!

I know I have to exercise, I know it’s very important for mental and physical health, but I just need to find something I actually enjoy doing.

I am working on it!!! The only classes I do quite enjoy are yoga classes, so I will try to keep those up at least. Any suggestions? Let me know!

 

6. | June – Meditation |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two

A very interesting challenge, in that, I thought this would be the easiest, but it turned out to be much harder than I thought.

I enjoyed it when I did it, but I found that I had to make time for it, rather than try to fit it in my day.

I haven’t kept it up on a daily basis but have naturally found myself meditating on life, faith and positive thoughts when on my own and spending time enjoying the beauty of Nature.

“Beauty is the purest feeling of the soul. Beauty arises when soul is satisfied.”
― Amit Ray

 

7. | July – Water |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two
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A challenge that you either understood completely or didn’t get at all. Fellow water haters, I confess, I was doing so well and then I reverted… But I have a plan to get me back on track!

Drinking water has always been at the bottom of my to do list, and something happened when I realised, in my sugar free month, that (some) wines only had naturally occurring sugars; I started drinking more wine… And more… Not like an alcoholic, but just like with my dinner and in replacement for water…

Okay jokes aside (sort of), I just struggle in this already damp and wet, cold English weather to feel thirsty. I feel somehow I’m absorbing so much water just through breathing damp air. And even when thirsty, I’m so cold I opt for a dehydrating cup of tea (that’s right, tea is a diuretic so you ultimately lose more water than you take in).

But the plan? I bought this from Kikki.K and I intend to use it.
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New Year, new pee… I mean me.

8. | August – Say Yes |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two
Climb every mountain

This challenge was certainly the most adventurous and the most rewarding, delivering me to exciting new places, giving me more out of life and connecting me with the best people the world has to offer!

It’s an attitude that takes courage and takes self-belief. You need to be a risk taker, taking chances when there may be disappointment. Worst, you need to be prepared to be disappointed.

I have definitely carried on with this type of attitude, but I have to remind myself. I am naturally cautious and if left to my instincts, I would let opportunities pass me by. I struggle with disappointment and so when I am let down it hurts, a lot! But life is not going to get more interesting, fun or exciting if you don’t take risks.

I hope 2018 will be a year that I don’t hold myself back with my own self-doubt, but a year which I open my eyes to opportunities and take them with both hands!

 

9. | September – Slow Down |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two

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Image Credit: ryangoggin.com

This one is harder to keep up when life just gives you busy schedules week on week. Certainly, my technology diet assisted with this and I naturally slowed down in most aspects of my life.

I have since had to remind myself to enjoy beautiful moments, the first full moon of 2018 for example, and a stunning sunrise the following morning.

Slowing down ties in with meditation, with reducing social media and other time fillers and many other parts of my yearly challenges.

I hope to carry on a slightly slower, more purposeful pace into 2018.

 

10. | October – Sugar Free |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Breakfast | Lunch | Dinner | Dessert
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This is the challenge I am most proud of. It was complex and required a lot of effort; cooking, reading ALL labels, turning down tasty office junk food etc. But I smashed it!

I honestly saw the health benefits (especially when I returned to sugar), I realised the effect that sugar had on my asthma!

Sadly, the return to sugar has been a full submersion due to the time of year, but I would like that to change in the new year and I’d like to greatly reduce my intake. If not for my overall health, for my asthma (which has suffered greatly due to the return to sugar and all the other factors that trigger it).

I will proudly say though, that I have not returned to putting sugar in my tea!

 

11. | November – Technology Diet |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two
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Being cut off from the world of social media came with mixed feelings… It was strangely freeing but at the same time isolating.

Yes, I missed out on social events, life updates from all my 900+ facebook “friends” (ha! I have more than you! JK) and ultra-hilarious memes, BUT I gained an independence, learned a new language (slash carried on learning Spanish from all my years of dabbling) and met people in more organic ways.

Being back on social media, I actually am not as bothered anymore… It’s sort of an effort to post so I’m doing it less. And I’m only really scrolling through facebook for the “12 times you failed at life” style posts, because … they make me giggle.

So, although I won’t keep off social media, I think I have struck a balance along the way.

 

12. | December – Volunteer |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two
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What a feel-good way to end the year; by volunteering! I honestly got such a sense of achievement by helping these charities in the skills that I had to offer. I really cannot urge you enough, if you have any spare time, to give some of it to a charity of your choice. You will form new friendships, new connections and it can even help you gain more skills.

One thing that is overlooked when people are looking for jobs but lack the experience, is volunteering. The way I gained my administrative experience was by volunteering for the Lifetrain Trust. So if this is where you find yourself, just go for it – if not to help, then to look better on your CV. But you will feel good when you see the contribution you have made to these charities.

Charities do amazing work, and I will be more than happy to give more of my time to volunteer during 2018!

 

So that’s it, my end of year update! Let me know how you have found my challenges and if you have a resolution for 2018!

Thanks for reading!

Ciao!

X


December Month 12: Volunteering (Part Two)


Challenge: Volunteer
Charities: The British Red CrossThe Natasha’s ProjectBe@titudes
Total Hours completed: 23
Thoughts: “Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves.”
― Horace Mann


The Final Challenge: To Volunteer

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Getting myself started with volunteering wasn’t as simple, quick and easy as I thought. The thing with volunteering is, the opportunities to do so are there but you do have to look for them. Most charities really need long term commitments and not one off days here and there. But I found this site useful in finding opportunities nearby that fits my skillset and availability.

Thankfully I have some good connections and so it wasn’t long before I had booked myself up for a few days. My workplace pay for up to 5 days a year of volunteering leave so I can volunteer without fear of losing out on a day’s work. I was able to take advantage with 2 of those days.
Tip: If you are thinking of volunteering, why not ask if your work place would be open to doing the  same? Charity has become a very important part of our society, especially to businesses and you will be surprised at how supportive your place of work can be towards you volunteering.

 

How did it go?

As promised, I gave time to Be@titudes, giving two of my Saturday mornings to hang out with Rosemary and be that extra pair of hands. It was there that I found out how much of a help it has been that the Duke of Edinburgh awards have included voluntary work as a mandatory. Two lovely girls were also giving up their Saturday mornings to help in the shop and really seemed to be enjoying it!

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Image Credit: http://www.facebook.com/DorkingBeatitudes

If you have a spare Saturday and want to do something good for the local Dorking community, consider volunteering here!

I was also lucky that Val (my partner in crime for all of my challenges) volunteers regularly at the The British Red Cross and so was able to contact the manager directly and arrange a time for me to come along.
I was given free reign to arrange the Bridal window as I please and organise the bridal room. I was also able to bring in my pre-loved wedding dress and donate it. I hope you think I did a good job:

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If you are getting married, try popping in to the Red Cross, you will be surprised at the quality of the Wedding dresses in stock; some are even brand new!

Even if you aren’t getting married, pop in anyway – I put out some (otherwise) expensive designer bags and shoes yesterday; Ugg, Cos, Ted Baker and more! I may have nabbed a cheeky deal myself… shopping and working, what could go wrong?!

Sadly, I couldn’t volunteer at The LifeTrain Trust this time, but I will be doing so in the new year which I am looking forward to!

I was, however, able to volunteer my time from home by doing some admin work for The Natasha’s Project! This has been particularly good because it means I can fit it around my job and social life so it doesn’t feel as if I’m giving up an entire day. If you have any skills around fundraising, social media, general admin or even if you have some connections that will help this amazing charity to get some secure funding then get in touch!

 

The Conclusion


Success rate: 100%
Hours given: 23



Will I carry on volunteering?
 Definitely! I already am looking at doing some hours with the LifeTrain Trust in January and I will continue to support Be@titudes, the Red Cross and the Natasha’s Project.

What can we do? Get involved! Give some time to any of the charities that I have supported this year, or any causes that are close to your heart. Whatever you do, whether it is giving a sandwich to a stranger, or lending a hand to a friend in need, the reward is the same; a little light of kindness in a broken world.

If you can’t give time, you can always give dolla $$. Many companies are starting to do charity matching, whether they match a certain monthly contribution you decide to make to a charity of choice or they may match an amount that you raise for a charity through an event up to a set limit. Ask your employer about this!

Or if, as the new year looms, you are feeling super inspired by my 12 months of simple living, why not give yourself monthly challenges and wager your time/money to a charity for when you (inevitably) balls up!

I hope you have enjoyed following my year! Here’s to an amazing 2018!

X

 

December Month 12: Volunteering


Challenge: Volunteer
Charities: The British Red Cross,  The LifeTrain TrustThe Natasha’s Project, Be@titudes
Thoughts: “Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.”
― H. Jackson Brown Jr.


The Final Challenge: To Volunteer

Why Volunteering?

Having had different charities each month benefit from my failures by reaping financial reward, it made sense to close the year by giving my time to some of these Charities.

Volunteering has always been something close to my heart. Growing up in West Africa, poverty and need was not something alien to me, and one of my favourite things about the culture of Ghana, was the willingness of the people to share with one another. It was not unheard of for people to show up at a friend or neighbour’s house in a time of need and expect to be fed, housed or even have money lent to them. For all it’s flaws, the Ghanain culture is an open and giving culture and teaches you that what you have is not yours alone; it is by good luck if you are well off and it is your duty to share this with your friends, your family, and even strangers.

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The welfare system we have in place here in the UK, although necessary and a God-send for so many, seems to put a distance between our connection to need and our understanding of how we fit in in terms of giving. Here, if someone needs, it’s the government’s duty to provide. In Ghana, if someone needs, it’s the family’s duty to provide. One common way this is done is by having “house girls” or “house boys”; a distant relative or friend of a friend of a friend could approach you and in exchange for food, shelter and sometimes even school fees, they will cook and clean and look after your house. My Granddad has helped many a person in this way, and the most recent girl, Baawa, has just graduated from university as a nurse!

 

Where, Who and What?

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Sleeping outside of St. Albans Abbey to raise money for the homeless one Christmas

I have chosen a number of charities that I feel are close to my heart for various reasons. I have supported these charities throughout my year’s challenge except for one; The British Red Cross.

The British Red Cross help people in crisis. Part of a global voluntary network, they respond to conflicts, natural disasters and individual emergencies.
They help vulnerable people in the UK and abroad prepare for, withstand and recover from emergencies in their own communities.

 

The Natasha’s Project is a charity that a good friend of mine has worked to set up. It is a merger of two things she has been passionate about for as long as I have known her; dance and putting a stop to human trafficking. They travel around the country to raise awareness of human trafficking through dance and to help restore trafficking victims through dance workshops.

The Lifetrain Trust assist young people of underprivileged backgrounds providing them with the skills and give them the opportunity to build a life they have chosen rather than the one they were destined for; seek further education or qualifications and to say no to anti-social behaviour.

Be@titudes are a children’s shop, with a play area for children to use their imaginations and interact with one another while parents relax, shop or share stories. It’s intention is to be a community project, making it more affordable for low-income families to be able to obtain necessary baby and young children’s clothes, equipment and toys. It’s a project focused on bringing people together, where all local parents and children are welcomed in.

 

The Plan

What I plan to do is give as much of my time as possible to each of these charities, if they are happy for me to do so. I have already accumulated 3 hours of assistance that I must give Be@titudes from last month’s challenge, but the rest is our of the spirit of goodwill… after all – it is Christmas!

I’d like to take the opportunity to remind us all of how blessed we really are, and though some of the things we have gone through may seem too much to bear, we must always thank God that things are not worse. There is always someone better off than we, but more importantly, there is always someone worse off. Let’s do what we can to help, when we can and the world will be a better place.

“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”
― Barack Obama

Happy Christmas X