REFLECTIONS: NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND
My name is Liz Haggerty and I am currently in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England volunteering at a charity called Kids Kabin. I have been in Newcastle since September and I have to say, it was the best decision I have made for myself. At Kids Kabin, I work with children from ages 8 to 13 who are either arriving from different schools around the area or join us after other school sessions. During the different sessions Kid’s Kabin provides, the children have the opportunity to express themselves as we teach them different practical skills, e.g. woodwork, pottery, textiles, cooking, bike repairs, glasswork, and drama. When I am not working with the children, I am working on different projects for Kids Kabin or as a volunteer at a different charity called Wor Hoose. One of those projects involved making shelves. The picture here is of me with one of the shelves I built with a little help from my boss Will. Building this shelf taught me that I can do things I did not think I was capable of doing and showed me different skills I did not know I had. Just like building these different shelves, this experience thus far, has taught me more than I could ask for.
Also, working at the YMCA has prepared me to work with children and to react to different situations involving children. When I arrived to England, I was not prepared for letting go of my control. When I say this, I do not mean letting the children take control over me. I am talking about when the children want to create a wooden box or cook a stir-fry. I have learned to just supervise instead of taking control of what the children want to create. From the start, my boss Will stated “If you do more than 50% of a child’s work, then it is not their work. It is yours.” I found this to be 100% accurate. Letting go of control has not been the easiest thing for me to do. When I do let go of control, I notice a difference with the children during the session. I let them take the reins and create what they want with supervision. This has taught me that children can do more than we think they can, but the only way we can see that is if the children try to create what they want with the supervision. For example we have let them go into the ocean with all their clothes on, cut plywood with a saw, or even cook a recipe they think they remembered a year ago. By letting the children explore what is around them, the children learn from their accomplishments and their failures while getting to know the tools they might be using and how to use the tools properly. Volunteering has been a blessing for me and I am proud to say Kids Kabin has opened my eyes to what children are really capable of which is just about anything adults can do, but with some guidance.
Before this experience abroad I did not know where my path was going, but I knew I wanted to follow what God had planned for me, which I believed was to help others. Over my time here, I have realized that God has been able to work through me to help others learn the practical skills I have been taught. By teaching me, I know he will want me to use these skills in the future. Realizing that God wanted me to use my time by serving others, in return, I feel like I was rewarded a million times over again. I am able to travel, meet so many different people. I am thankful for this journey that God has put me on and especially for the people that He put in my life. I look forward to what is to come!
Liz with child at Kid's Kabin
Walker, Newcastle, England
(Rebecca is from a small farm town in Illinois and graduated in May, 2009 from DePaul University. Her studio art major and interest in kids naturally led her to a year of service at Kids Kabin, a project started by the Assumption Sisters some years ago).
Black and White
While walking around an art show in downtown Gateshead (the town across the Tyne River from Newcastle), I found myself staring at one particular painting longer than others. The scene was that of a city neighborhood, painted entirely in black and white with children playing various games in the street. What drew me in was that the children were painted in bright primary colors, completely transforming the dreary cityscape that took up most of the canvas. Later, as I reflected on my time here, while looking out over Newcastle from the top floor of a flourmill turned art museum, I realized what had caused me to stare at that painting for so long.
Walker, the neighborhood of Newcastle my roommate, a volunteer from the Philippines, and I live and work in is not much to speak of. We live on, what I would consider, the main street going through the neighborhood. Aside from residences there are a couple of small clothing shops, a convenience store similar to what would be found at a gas station in the U.S., a handful of take-out (or takeaway as the British say) food shops, a place to gamble and the Catholic church across the street from our flat. Closing at 9:30pm, the convenience store is the last place open. As I sat in the art museum, I reflected on how quickly I had biked to another area of the city to spend my Saturday. This brought on a sense of guilt, but also a sense of understanding for the often-pessimistic sentiments of the native Geordies (a name given to people born in Newcastle). That painting had drawn me in because Walker and all it has to offer its residents is a black and white cityscape.
But let us not forget those small but vibrant children skipping (as the British say, rather than jumping) rope and playing games in the streets of the grey city! I quickly forget the desolation of Walker inside the walls of Kids Kabin. There, I have the beautiful and inspiring opportunity to encourage the children of Walker to use their imaginations and run away with their creative minds. It is a place focused on positive reinforcement, as many of the children degrade their wonderful work out of habit from hearing mostly negative comments directed towards them. Through pottery, woodwork, glasswork, cookery, art, music, dance, sewing and bike repairs they are given the responsibility to complete almost any kind of project they can think up. For a Midwestern American girl with a freshly earned Bachelor’s degree in art and a passion of working towards social justice, it’s an ideal place to be.
(Abby comes from North Carolina and garduated in May 2010 from Appalachian State University, where she studied graphic design. She spent years working at Y camp near her home, and her skills with kids are certainly coming in handy during her AMA year!)
You Are the Potter
I've officially been living in Newcastle for a little over one week! What a week it's been. The past few days have been spent learning more about the other sites where we can volunteer, working hard at Kids Kabin, meeting new people, figuring out the complex workings of our kitchen (none of us are very skilled in the fine art of cooking), and shopping for food and other essentials. It's been incredibly fun but it will be really nice once we settle into a schedule and a routine.
In addition to Kids Kabin, we will be volunteering a few other places throughout Newcastle. We had the chance to visit all of them over the past couple of days. Now that we've seen them all, we can decide which places we are most drawn to. The first one we visited was Common Ground, a place for those seeking asylum in this country. They provide support in a number of different ways. The second place we visited was St. Vincent's. It's a Catholic primary school. We got a tour of the school and were introduced to all the kids in each class. The head, Sister Josepha, was one ball of energy and enthusiasm! She's obviously very passionate about her school and her students. The final place we visited was St. Anthony's. It's the church across the street from our flat and they run a day program for the elderly in the community. They also serve those with mental and physical disabilities. The people there are so friendly and I've heard that once you get to know the people, they tell incredible stories. All three places were amazing so it's going to be tricky figuring out which places I can spend time at.
Kids Kabin will take up most of my time during the week. We'll be there everyday. We just finished out our first week there and it's been pretty good. It's definitely a lot to take in. I'm sort of taking over the pottery room which is awesome. One of the volunteers, Rebecca, from last year did the same thing. A few days ago, I ran my first session by myself. I worked with two kids and it was great! I'm currently just trying to organize and clean things up. This week, I also had my first taste of a Kids Kabin street session. We have various things hooked to the back of bikes and we go out into the nearby neighborhoods and do activities. This time, it was cooking and pottery. It was great to interact with the kids and make some pottery outside in the lovely Newcastle weather (so glad it wasn't raining!!). So much fun!!
In addition to the day to day at Kids Kabin, I've been offered the opportunity to run a little pottery program with a school group once a week for the next five-ish weeks. The kids in the group all have some sort of disability. I think it will be amazing to work with this group and introduce them to ceramics. I'm excited to be able to work with the same group, in the same medium for an extended period of time. I also get to run some kind of pottery workshop at the beginning of October...more details on this once I learn more about it.
So needless to say, the world of volunteer life is pretty good. I'm loving it so far! Other than work, my flatmates and I are just getting settled into life here. We've slowly begun learning to cook and our meals have been pretty good so far! I even succeeded in making yummy banana bread a couple nights ago! We've also had our first excersion to the grocery store (scary!) and rearranged out kitchen in a order that makes sense to us. In addition, we made a trip to a bunch of the charity shops (aka: thrift stores) and other places today to get the final things to make our rooms more our own. My little room is so cozy now! Tomorrow we're heading into town to try out a different church, tour some historic buildings, and shop around a little more. Ahhh, life is good for sure.
With all the work I've been doing with pottery and with all the incredible things that have been happening in life lately, I couldn't help but think of the Bible verse, Isaiah 64:7, "Yet, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands." This verse encompasses all that is happening in my life right now, plus I like that this verse talks about pottery, which is quickly becoming a big part of my life. If I just offer it all up and let Him lead me down His path, all will be well. I've just got to put all my faith in the Lord and be confident in Him. Easier said then done sometimes, believe me.