When Kati Brown took a 12-month sabbatical from her job at the University of Cumbria she had no idea where the trip would take her.
The Carlisle-based Volunteering and Engagement Facilitator for the university’s Students’ Union knew she wanted to travel and help out but nothing could prepare her for the variety of work she would undertake or range of people she would meet.
From working with children in Colombia as part of a project to engage people from disadvantaged areas through football and sport to offering tours around Los Angeles, Kati met people from all walks of life, all with very different stories to share.
“The trip was incredible – from working on a horse ranch in Arizona in the U.S. to helping make wine in Chile,” Kati says. One of the more unusual challenges she faced was helping to construct an ‘earthship’ a building made of tyres and mud while eating meals made from ingredients grown within metres of where they were cooked.
“We ate a lot of vegan meals together by using the fruit and veg from the land and learnt how to make traditional Chilean meals from the older people involved in the project,” Kati said. “One morning we were building steps up to the house on the hill – the next we were preparing for wine making. I really mean it when I say each day was different from the last!”
The variety of work and ability to mix with people from all walks of life have helped improve her communication and the skills needed to work in a team; good experience she is now applying back at work in UCSU at the university.
As the person responsibility for linking students up with organisations who might need a helping hand, she is in demand to create the kind of ties which can help make a difference. From a few hours a month to several hundred a year, University of Cumbria students want to offer their services to a variety of causes, several of whom (such as Carlisle Youth Zone) have gone on to offer paid work. A volunteer platform – a virtual volunteering hub – aims to match opportunities with volunteers. From September when a whole new group of students will arrive it’s hoped even more people will take up the opportunities available and organisations in need of help are being urged to get in touch now.
“Students have a variety of skills to offer and can bring huge value to an organisation, likewise the organisations can offer students the opportunity to apply the skills that they have learnt on their course,” Kati said. “Whether the opportunity is to do with the environment, people, sports, arts, animals etc to be able to bring benefits for the community is the kind of rewarding experience money can’t buy.”
And judging by her passport which is filled with arrival and departure stamps, Kati should know.