Art of travel

1 Aug

by Mandy Jiang

 

 About ED Raw

Easington District Respite Activity and Well-Being (ED RAW), the community project that Sasha, Stephanie and I have been working with is a project dedicated to providing support and inclusion for vulnerable and isolated residents of Easington District.

Built around County Durham, Easington Colliery was a former coal mining town that was pretty thriving during the time when mining industry grew rapidly in England. However, since the decline of the mining industry and with the closure of the last pit in 1993, Easington District has been experiencing a significant economic downturn. People lost their jobs and left their families. The once united community gradually turns into a broken one and no longer prides itself in its strong community spirit. ED Raw therefore works to revitalize the physical and mental well-being of the community and tries to promote the area’s education, health and sense of inclusion. It manages to achieve its goal through programs such as Mentoring Programs and Recovery from Addiction Program and through holding free community activities. Though still an extremely young organization, ED Raw has a huge vision and determined faith towards the future. It genuinely believes that with the right support and guidance from the community, individuals can recover and come to be useful and valuable social members again.

For more than three weeks, Sasha, Stephanie and I have been working together on a huge community family picnic planned by Easington District Raw. (Our job about the picnic mostly was to design flyers and invitation letters and contact with companies/shops/clubs/restaurants/hotels around County Durham for free raffle prizes)

The community picnic is designed with the theme of inclusion and mental/physical health. ED Raw hopes that through providing a recreation and fun day for all families living in this area, community spirit can be strengthened.

On Friday, 26th of July, the huge day finally came!

More than 500 folks (Honestly, we didn’t expect this many people to come) joined in this big community picnic and participated in a variety of activities including children’s games, raffles and dance party during the picnic.

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About travel

—-  some random thoughts about our travels to various sites in and around Durham:

If my life is dominated by a search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dimension of the request as travels, no matter it is the trip to a foreign country or just a simple walk around. They express, though not always applicable, an understanding of what my life might be about, outside of the constraints of my study and of the occasional uncertainty of my identity. I have been to many places, more than 10 countries I dare say. Travel has already been a part of my life.

But every time when I am going on a trip, I keep thinking of one question: what exactly is the art of travel? It is such a cliché to say that everyone has his/her art of travel, although that is often the case. For many travelers I have encountered (including myself sometimes), having a travel only means taking a tour in some places, for the purpose of egoism–or simply put, vanity— rather than the enjoy of the real beauty of the geography or history and culture of the scenery. Nobody cares about that, right? The most important thing is that they want others to know that they have been to the places. A picture is enough to tell everything, isn’t it?

The three weeks’ trip in Durham told me one lesson: I can hardly enjoy my trip unless first, I set up no anticipation because the reality and anticipation is primarily different. Secondly give up my ego. I felt most enjoyable whenever surprises came. Un-expectation, however tragic, comic, heroic or bizarre or surprising it is always gave me the best experiences. On the contrary, on days when I built a too powerful ego or self-consciousness, I always failed to have genuine delight. In essence, egoist. All egoistic travelers share the common: shooting pictures of themselves is more than anything else, or that’s everything, fond of boosting themselves. In effect, how good they are.

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Diamonds in the Rough

1 Aug

Upon hearing bellowing laughs, viewing the beautiful assorted artwork displayed on the wall, and inhaling the aroma of fresh brewed coffee and tea, I cannot help but smile when entering Waddington Street Centre.

The ambiance is soothing and inviting. Warmth radiates everywhere.

As you enter the reception area a physical fitness group leaves to play a game of badminton or football, on the patio a group of budding artists dabble with their paint palettes, and in the sofa lounge old friends are deep in conversation.

As you venture upstairs you may have the chance to intrude on a drama class, hear strains of “Brown Eyed Girl” from the music group, or find the stress management class deep in meditation.

In those few minutes it becomes apparent how unique and wonderful Waddington Street Centre truly is. (Waddington Street Centre is an organization that provides social and educational opportunities to those with mental illnesses. It offers several services including art and education classes, health training, and support and accommodation.)

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Service users partake in the annual butterfly count – one of many activities that occur daily at Waddington Street

From the first time I set foot into Waddington Street, I have always felt welcome. Despite having a myriad of problems to deal with, most of the service users go out of their way to engage in conversations with me everyday. I have been moved by their warmth and compassion. I’ll certainly miss being called “pet”, “flower”, “love”, or a construed version of my name.

Looking back I realize how different my experience has been from what I envisioned. Having no prior experience with mental health, I was initially very apprehensive about what my work would actually entail. I wasn’t sure if I would be allowed to interact with service users, I certainly did not think I would spend everyday with them.

Inquisitive and brilliant, the service users have astounded me with their versatile talents. I am surrounded by musicians, movie aficionados, bird watchers, graphic design artists, history buffs, and poets on a daily basis. Everyday has definitely been an adventure for me. During the past weeks my rather one dimensional, black and white picture of mental illness has morphed into a more accurate picture rooted by interactions with real people. My experiences during the past few weeks have also made me reevaluate the way I think and react to people. I am more aware of how I have involuntarily been misled and prejudiced by labels, diagnoses, and definitions in the past.

For me the biggest surprise has been witnessing how someone’s external persona can completely belie his or her inner emotions and turmoil. Amid friendly smiles, it was certainly difficult to remember that the people I was surrounded by had mental health issues. However, sitting in on one-to-one meetings and accompanying support workers on visits this past week has given me a better perspective. I have realized that the act of simply coming to Waddington Street is a feat for many people. Although it may be difficult to detect at first, it becomes apparent that there are many side effects of medication such as sedation, lack of motivation, and weight gain that greatly alter people’s lifestyles. For many with mental illnesses, everyday is an uphill battle. Daily tasks such as washing, cooking, and shopping are often neglected due to a lack of willpower.

I truly wish that the people I have met get the chance to once again fully engage in and enjoy life unburdened by the dreariness and depression that accompany their medication. Due to the unwanted side effects of antipsychotic drugs, people often lower their dosages. Although this may temporarily produce beneficial results, it eventually results in a relapse. The constant attempt to find the thin line between the medication’s benefits and side effects is strenuous and dangerous.

In a few weeks I’ll be back in Durham, North Carolina, the City of Medicine, where I am pursuing a degree in biomedical engineering. I hope that someday I can help discover a method of drug delivery that results in greater drug specificity while being accessible to those with mental illnesses. By more effectively controlling how these antipsychotic drugs are reaching specific brain receptors, a new delivery method could reduce the severity of current side effects.

Having realized the detrimental effects of medication, I love coming to Waddington Street and witnessing the perseverance and optimism of service users. I won’t pretend to understand what they are going through, but I have been inspired by their strength and resilience.

I am very lucky to have spent the past weeks at Waddington Street under the guidance of such passionate and wise supervisors (Ali & Steve I hope you’re reading this ;)). I will forever cherish the kindness I have been shown and will never forget all of the service users I have met, for they are truly diamonds in the rough.

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A farewell gift from a service user – a pair of lovely handmade glass earrings bearing the City of Durham crest 🙂

Cheers,

Neha Pathmanaban

Durham, Durham, and the Gospels

30 Jul

A street banner representing the historic Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition (in Durham University’s Palace Green Library between July 1 and September 30) will find its new home in the other Durham. The Lindisfarne Gospels, a relic of Christianity in northeast England in the Middle Ages, have come home to Durham after several decades in the British Museum in London. The Gospels were written in the late 7th century in honor of St. Cuthbert, northeast England’s most important saint. Significantly, Cuthbert was taken to his final resting place in Durham alongside the Gospels. DukeEngage Durham participants attended the exhibition earlier this month.

Vice Chancellor and Warden Chris Higgins and DE Durham Program Director Domonique Redmond with the street banner. Courtesy Durham University, The Northern Echo, and the Lindisfarne Gospels Exhibition. To read the full story in the Northern Echo, visit http://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/10580598.Spreading_the_Gospels_message/.

Vice Chancellor and Warden Chris Higgins and DE Durham Program Director Domonique Redmond with the street banner. Courtesy Durham University, The Northern Echo, and the Lindisfarne Gospels Exhibition.

Vice-Chancellor and Warden of Durham University, Professor Chris Higgins, presented DukeEngage Durham Program Director Domonique Redmond with the banner, which is adorned with an image of a cat taken from the illuminated manuscript. The banner will remain at Duke University after Professor Higgins approved Program Director Sam Miglarese’s special request; it will be presented to President Richard Brodhead upon the completion of the inaugural DukeEngage Durham Sister Cities program at the end of the week. Click here to read the full story on the exhibition’s official website and here to read a different article published by The Northern Echo newspaper.

Green Sun

28 Jul

By Jenny Ni

“Why did you paint your sun green? It should be yellow!” my kindergarten art teacher yelled, her face contorted with a grimace of disgust. Pieces of my drawing landed quietly beside my shoes; my green sun painting was torn down. “Why must it be yellow?” I protested, only to hear an indifferent “It’s the rule. That’s just the way it is.”

Too many times I have been told to follow the set rules. As a former director of a financial securities company, my father has envisioned a “perfect” blueprint for my future: to follow his footsteps as an investment banker. Just as the sun is a fixed yellow, this path is set and allows no question or rebellion. Even though I have long been fond of visual arts, I have never been permitted to undergo formal training because my parents fear that I will end up graduating with a diploma in arts and deviate from the “right” path. Because of my parents’ strict discipline, I have been working toward their “perfect blueprint” by participating in all kinds of economics-related clubs and activities at Duke. The DukeEngage Sister Cities program, with a theme of economic development, seems to be a perfect match.

Thank You Card for Community Empowerment Fund

Thank You Card for Community Empowerment Fund

But things turned out differently. I am not doing the data entry or calculation work that my parents pictured upon hearing about the program. Rather, I am communicating with the local residents, helping them with job applications and housing assistance while learning about their unique pasts; I am creating newsletters, posters, and brochures to help spread the word about CEF and Project Moving On; I am wandering across cities, meeting leaders in various industries and exploring cultures and histories that I was once too busy to learn about. Motivated by this unpredicted stride away from my “set path,” I am genuinely happy and energetic everyday not because of my own achievements, but because of the progress made by those I have helped. When the clients proudly discuss their new jobs and apartments, or when a young girl, once too shy to converse in public, confidently accepted a graduation certificate in front of crowds of people, I felt as if I had succeeded. This time, instead of blindly following strict rules, I found myself working toward a meaningful cause with genuine, heartfelt passion. During the school year, as I was sitting at my desk in an attempt to calculate P/E (price-earning ratio) for a stock pitch, I often lost sight of the purpose behind this work. Yet now, I am giving what I have, my marketing skills and problem solving ability to people in need.

Drawing Congratulations Cards for our clients

Drawing Congratulations Cards for our clients

Challenging the strict path from which I have long been too afraid to deviate, I found myself creating something of my own. But this time, my efforts were not in vain; courageously, I managed to produce something personal, just like my green sun. For the first time in my life, I experienced something different from the usual “that’s just the way it is.” I have found a greater sense of purpose, passion, and wisdom. Having enjoyed communication and design so much, I have set my mind to further explore marketing, a perfect blend of business and arts. I want to explore life to its fullest by trying paths that have not yet been paved. DukeEngage has encouraged me to rediscover and face the green sun deep in my heart, the curiosity, courage, and true passion that have never faded away. This green sun lights up my world, not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else.

* P.S Special Thanks to Stephanie, who has been my awesome friend!

Daily Experience at the Waddington Street Centre

24 Jul

By Cindy Deng

It has been almost three weeks since I began to work at the Waddington Street Centre in Durham, UK, and I really began to love this place and my work here. During the first week, I was assigned to work with the housing and support department. The Waddington Street Centre provides two houses for six service users to live in. Not only does it support the accomodation, but it also helps the tenants to learn new skills for living and allow them to move on to independent living. I was able to visit the two houses and learnt how exactly the housing support works. During the visit, my supervisor and I talked with one of the tenant there. It’s the support workers job to see how are the tenants doing and to solve the conflicts between thte tenants if there’s any. We also helped the tenatns with the laundry work and reminded them to clean up the kitchen. It’s not easy for support workers to help, for they cannot command the service users to do anything. The best thing they can do is to suggest and remind them of the cleaning as frequently as possible.

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The Waddington Street Centre also provides floating service, which is supporting the living of service users who live in their own houses, and usually far away from the centre. I met one of them who was currently applying for a scholarship for music study in a collge. My supervisor and I helped him wiht the paper work and collect supplementary documents. Soon, this person will be able to pursue his dream in music and live independently as everyone else. I’m really impressed by the influence from the centre on its members.

Housing is not the only part of work I’m helping with. Meanwhile, the centre is decorating the wall of tis balcony, in order to provide a more harmonious environment for its service users. Gladly, I was able to assist with painting the wall. Our current plan is to put on oulines of butterflies and let the service users here to paint them as they like. In this way, everyone will have their own work on the wall.

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By working at the Waddington Street Centre, I’m improving a lot in communicating with people from different backgrounds, and I’m really enjoying myself at the centre. I really look forward to my next 10 days there and wish I could contribute to this wonderful centre in my own way.

The Big Meeting

17 Jul

Greetings from Durham, the great historic and university city of northeast England. I am one of the directors of DukeEngage Durham, to which fourteen Duke students have committed ten weeks of immersive experience this summer. The experience with them has been fabulous.

Our cohort spent Saturday morning serving scones, soft drinks, sandwiches, and--most importantly--tea to Miners' Gala attendeees.

Our cohort spent Saturday morning serving scones, soft drinks, sandwiches, and–most importantly–tea to Miners’ Gala attendeees.

On July 13th, we attended the 129th Durham Miners’ Gala. They call it the “Big Meeting,” with over 150,000 attendees. It was part celebration of the rich heritage of the Durham coalfield with a long parade of banners led by brass bands from each pit village and a state fair atmosphere of rides and food. In the midst of all these carnival rides and brass bands was an enormous political rally with a rather clear leftist position. The politicians and journalists who took the stage celebrated the death of Margaret Thatcher and “had no regrets about it.” The towns and villages of the county still experience more and more deprivation and distress in these austere times since the mines in 1984-85 were closed by the Iron Lady. It was an unforgettable rally of the British working class.

The Durham racetrack, where most of the Miners' Gala jubilations take place, early on Saturday morning.

The Durham racetrack, where most of the Miners’ Gala jubilations take place, early on Saturday morning.

The Durham racetrack during the Miners' Gala--you can see that a few more people showed up around noon on Saturday!

The Durham racetrack during the Miners’ Gala–you can see that a few more people showed up around noon on Saturday!

While walking and watching the colorful parade I stopped in to visit the Elvet Methodist Church for rest, hospitality and shade from the hot sun (can you believe that we almost got sunburned in northeast England?). As the gala remembered the past and spoke to the real crisis facing the working class in the Northeast, I viewed a moving piece of religious art. Hanging on the right side of the nave was a metal work crafted by a local artist of “the good shepherd.” The shepherd was a sad but caring miner protecting the sheep he carried and those at his feet. With the multigenerational stories we heard, the unhappy but proud villages of the coalfields our students served, this piece said it all to me about the past, present and future of the British working class.

Local miners' association banners parading through the Durham City Centre on the morning of the Miners' Gala. Almost every banner was accompanied by its own brass band.

Local miners’ association banners parading through the Durham City Centre on the morning of the Miners’ Gala. Almost every banner was accompanied by its own brass band.

On a more personal note, I am eager to explore my family’s history with the coal mines of West Virginia upon my return from England later this week. I am confident the students will continue to learn and grow throughout the remaining weeks of this program, just as they have throughout the summer.

Warm regards,

Sam Miglarese

We all share the same sky

16 Jul

By Ezgi Ustundag

The stigma surrounding mental illness permeates the media and, consequently, our lives. Perpetrators of vicious crimes are often painted as “psychopaths” or “maniacs” by mainstream news outlets. Films like Fatal Attraction paint those with personality disorders as menaces to society who deserve to be isolated from the rest of the world. We do our best to avoid those people on the street who appear to talk to themselves. I am as guilty of buying into these misleading and often destructive perceptions as anybody else, though we are often too embarrassed to verbalize such beliefs.

Although I’ve always prided myself on trying to be sensitive to as many perspectives as possible, I realized just how easy it is to get caught up in stereotypes and judgmental mindsets after I started working at the Waddington Street Centre (WSC) last week. Admittedly, I was a bit surprised that I was placed in a mental health support and resource center. My placement in Durham, North Carolina, had been with Self-Help, a community development financial organization. WSC, on the other hand, focused all of its energy and resources on providing the mentally ill in County Durham with a productive and safe social outlet through access to education programming and physical exercise. “What on earth does WSC have to do with my proven skills and work experience?” I initially thought. “Am I even qualified to work with the mentally ill? What if I do something wrong? Is WSC a safe environment?” As I sit here and write this blog post, I realize how insensitive and judgmental all those comments must sound. But I hope that those who read this post may come to realize their own insensitive and judgmental stigmas and just how isolating those can be to those who require our support—not just the mentally ill, but all the members of the human family who could use a helping hand. I feel so fortunate to work at WSC for the next month, as I have an opportunity to see my own faulty views and reconcile them with reality. It is safe to say that WSC’s service users are the nicest and warmest people I’ve ever met. Every morning when I come into work, I feel safe and invigorated. I take every opportunity I can find to chat with the support staff and service users.

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The Waddy football (read: soccer) team at the County Durham Recovery Cup, an annual celebration of recovery from drug and alcohol addiction in the local community. We didn’t do too well at the tournament, but I had a lot of fun as part of the cheering section!

I now understand that my month-long service placement with WSC was not meant as a time for me to donate some incredible ability or intellectual gift to the organization, but so I could realize that I have a huge amount of learning to do myself. I am far from being a bias-free, totally-objective-yet-enormously-sensitive individual. Indeed, none of us are nor can ever really be. But we can learn to be humble and always be willing to identify and mitigate our own faults or errors. Sometimes all it takes is to look up and around, to see the beautiful and challenging planet we all inhabit together to realize that there are a range of positive and negative life experiences that impact all of us, regardless of wealth, health, or appearance, and that stigmas against any population only serve to splinter society. I am reminded of the importance of unwavering empathy by a sign that’s posted just inside WSC’s main staircase, which I climb multiple times throughout the day. Rather plainly, it says, “We all share the same sky.” Even after this short service experience in Durham, England, is over, those six words will stick with me.

The incredible poster at the entrance to Waddy's third floor office space, where I deposit my personal belongings every morning before setting to work.

The incredible poster at the entrance to Waddy’s third floor office space, where I deposit my personal belongings every morning before setting to work.

I know that four weeks of service is not enough to become some sort of an unprejudiced saint—in fact, I don’t think a lifetime would be enough. But it’s a start, and I promise I’ll never stop trying to learn and grow.