Making a Difference
Making a Difference is a wonderful opportunity for recent past Wesley pupils. The College is seeking to support pupils of the class of 2023, or past pupils who completed 6th Year in the College in the years 2018-2022. This support will comprise a financial contribution towards their endeavour to enable them to undertake their making a difference project. Application forms can be sent by post or email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Have a read below about some of the projects that the 175 Making a Difference has helped out already!
Ben Sheeran-Purcell (Class of 2020) came in to assembly to tell the school about volunteering with Conserve Natural Forests in Thailand. The 175 Making a Difference program had supported him in this trip and he spoke to a whole school assembly and showed them some pictures of the work he was involved in.
My name is Ben and I was in the class of 2020. This Summer I took part in the Wesley College 175: Making a Difference Initiative. I wanted to learn more about sustainability so I can apply it to my own life and work. I went searching online and found a charity called Conserve Natural Forests. They operate out of Northern Thailand and were looking for volunteers to help them during their planting season. A few short weeks later, I was on a plane to Mae Hong Son, a region in northern Thailand to spend 5 weeks with the charity, mostly on the outskirts of a town called Pai.
There was a lot to do. I helped Conserve Natural Forests reach their goal of planting 1 million trees this year, travelled into the jungle with locals to harvest and cure bamboo, which I then used to design and build raised-paths and a footbridge through their botanical gardens. I became a tour guide for ecotours and taught tourists and locals about the reforestation process and wildlife conservation. I learned about and described the Australian Species Framework - which is considered one of the best ways to approach reforestation, and in 15 years can rebuild an ecosystem that would take hundreds of years to repair naturally - I introduced them to the elephants we were protecting on site and explained how to identify healthy, well-cared for elephants while they were travelling around Thailand.
Every day I was served three home cooked meals prepared by locals - I ate everything from frogs and crocodiles to eels and pig ears - I can’t say I recommend eel. For the most part no one spoke any English - however they always enjoyed laughing at me trying new and spicy foods.
So why Conserve Natural Forests? And why Thailand? In the 1900s over 70% of all Thailand's natural Forests were felled and burned down. At the same time the population of elephants, a keystone species, has reduced from nearly half a million to only 6,500 thousand. Which is why charities like Conserve Natural Forests are so vital. They do so much - from releasing Tortoises back into the wild, to planting millions of trees that replicate the old forests of Thailand. They plant seagrass back into the oceans and mangroves back onto the beaches - all while educating locals and tourists in sustainable practice and how they can make a difference in their own lives.
I learned so much by taking part in the Wesley 175 initiative and staying with Conserve Natural Forests. I spent three weeks in a small hut in the jungle and at 4am every morning I would wake up, drag my bed to the centre of the room and curl up into a ball as far away from the walls as possible. At this time, all of the spiders and millipedes, scorpions and lizards that lived in the walls would wake up and start scuttling and running around. I barely slept at all for the first few nights. Not only were my roommates a concern but temperature rarely dropped below 30 degrees at night and mostly hovered around 34-35. In that heat you can have a cold shower and be sweating before you have dried yourself off. However I’m glad I went through those long nights, you remember and learn the most from the bad experiences and they are what help you grow. I could write pages and pages about a single day spent out in the jungles around Pai, and for better or worse, I would not change any of it in the slightest.
I cannot recommend enough that everyone finds a cause they are passionate about or want to learn more about and applies to the 175 Making a Difference Initiative. You might end up driving pick-up trucks around the southern provinces of Thailand with trees and locals in the back, or you might spend a few weeks hanging out with an elephant called Kamee; whatever you end up doing - you won’t regret a moment of it.
Jonah Lindroos - Seychelles
Simon Jennings - Morocco
My trip to Morocco started with me waiting in line in the immigration hall at Fes airport hoping I had filled in my entrance form correctly. As it turned out I hadn’t - I had left the address blank. I reasoned that since I didn’t know the address of the place, how could I possibly be expected to write it down. Eventually, I made it through and met up with Cindy (one of the house parents from the orphanage) and a couple of the younger children. We went to their car and set off towards the orphanage which was an hour’s drive away in the mid-Atlas mountains. During the drive, the kids were chatting away to me so I didn’t get much chance to take in my surroundings!! Finally, we arrived at the orphanage which was to be my home for the next 19 days. The first few days passed in a blur of card games, entertaining the younger kids and settling into the apartment I had been given. At some point during the first days I ended up giving some of the children piano lessons, although I have no idea how to teach the piano!!! I also did Sunday School with them which I had prepared for!
While I was there, the project the orphanage was running in the village was in full swing. The house of a family had been destroyed in a flood some weeks earlier and the orphanage was providing them with a home on the campus while the house was rebuilt, financial aid and workers to build the house. The house was nearing completion during my stay - they were pouring concrete on the roof and the downstairs walls needed plastering.
One day, the youngest child, Nora, brought a friend from the village, Melek, to play. As it happened Melek didn’t speak any English and I didn’t speak any Arabic, so I smiled at her. Then Nora and I showed her the baby frogs we had caught earlier. Melek had a very sweet smile so you can imagine my surprise when I saw her smiling for the first time as she attempted to crush one of the baby frogs under the boot of a smiling mechanic doll. She failed, if that is any consolation, and moved on to other things like trying to catch chicks and trying to get me to do things for her. The only problems with that were: we didn’t speak the same language and Mas it was during reading time we couldn’t make any noise, so communication was limited to frantically pointing at different things and acting out what was wished for. That time it turned out she wanted a cup of water.
Every evening I organised what can best be described as stealth games, but rarely ever just plain hide and seek. Anyway, we went and hid while attempting to complete the goal of the game. One evening, a group of us found a marvellous spot to hide (which later turned out to be out of bounds). It was working well until two of the boys (Rayane and Zak) decided to leave. We told them not to come back if they left. They left and you’d never guess but they came back, bringing with them a squad of people who were “on” so everyone in the hiding spot was caught and the secret was out. Another time I went to hide, and Nora and her friend Melek wanted to hide with me. I agreed and then we found a marvellous place to hide. Some time went by and no one had found us. Nora then suggested she would be a lookout and tell me if anyone was coming. It didn’t take long and someone came (I wonder why?) so we ran for it, but the little girls couldn’t run fast enough so I threw them over my shoulder and sprinted to safety. Another time a similar thing happened but we didn’t make it. That time it was all my fault!
One day a few of the kids and I decided to build a treehouse (a house under a tree). Rayane collected wood while the rest of us cleared the area. We hammered the poles into the ground and joined planks between them creating a fenced off area. Then we put blankets on the ground and the treehouse was complete (but improvements were always taking place). Rayane even made a gate for the treehouse, which worked most of the time. Not long after, the creators of the treehouse formed “The Society”. “The Society” was dedicated to raising money for the orphanage and its interests. We held meetings in the treehouse and as a result of the meeting decided we would hold a bracelet sale. During the first day of the society we raised 10 dirhams and the next day raised even more. We made signs and someone even came up with a chant. “HELP THE SOCIETY, HELP THE SOCIETY!”. As you can see everyone was very enthusiastic about the society. I don’t know if the society still functions and has remained true to its founding ideas, but it was definitely good fun while I was there, and in case you are wondering, I witnessed them donate the money they raised, so they did not keep it for themselves.
Quite often, during the times I wasn’t doing anything with the kids we would go on walks. These were very enjoyable and very long. On the first walk we ended up walking through the forest and then saw some apes. They got very close, then one of them grabbed an empty crisp bag from one of the kids, only to be disappointed by the contents. Later, during the same walk, Anwar started falling behind and so I fell back with him. As it turned out we became very late for lunch, so they sent out the van to bring us back. Oops.
Tuesday was Souk (market) day, so early in the morning a few of us (including some of the locals) got into an ancient van which smelt like sheep and goats and drove down the hill to the market. It was huge, with stalls almost as far as the eye could see. All sorts of things were being sold: freshly slaughtered chickens, exhausts and starter motors, hand woven rugs and blankets, fresh vegetables, cutlery, pots, pans, plates and bowls and even a huge section for livestock. Our first job was to buy some melon, so Mehdi led us past many stalls with perfectly fine-looking melons until we arrived at a trusted supplier, who cut each of us off a piece to try. It was good so we bought one of his melons. Then we dropped the skin of the melon we had tried on the ground, which was apparently what everyone did, and continued on our way. After making a few other purchases we passed through the livestock market, which was huge because the feast Eid al-Adha would be happening soon so many people needed to buy sheep to sacrifice.
Fast forward to the feast, and people from the village of all ages had gathered in various places to watch the sheep being sacrificed. It was a big occasion for the people in the village and someone even brought out mint tea and cakes to accompany the spectacle. Where I was two sheep were slaughtered. Later that day, someone from the village dropped round a bag full of sheep parts to the orphanage. Unfortunately, I was returning to Ireland so didn’t get to taste any!!
My plane home was early in the morning two days after the Feast. I left, telling the kids truthfully that I would love to return soon. I loved the time I spent in Morocco and it was even better that I was able to go as a part of Wesley 175. As a result, a huge contribution was made to the orphanage and to the family whose house was destroyed in the floods. As for me, I was able to make a difference in the lives of the children by spending time playing games with them, talking with them and perhaps even teaching them. I would certainly encourage anyone who is thinking of doing something similar to go ahead - the memories and experiences will stick around.
Ilona Liechtenstein - India
I have now been living in Pedda Kottala, a village in South-eastern India, for nearly a month. On Sunday I will be taking the night train to Vijayawada, 320km north of here and a big city. It will be such a different experience living in a big city instead of a rural village surrounded by farms.
I will miss the farmers bringing me fresh buffalo milk in the mornings and the monkeys jumping around the houses stealing unguarded food and even entering the school classrooms when the doors are left open! I will not miss the snakes coming in from the fields, even dangerous Cobras and Pythons, which scare me to death but which the local people bravely fight off with sticks!
I will find it very difficult saying goodbye to everyone here as I have become really close to all the teachers and children over the last month.
The teaching was sometimes exhausting and difficult as some classes had more than 30 pupils making it hard to control them all. The common method here is to beat the loud pupils with a stick but they soon realised I wouldn’t use a stick so they started becoming a bit cheeky, especially the younger children! It was challenging making them understand my lessons as their English was not very good and I can’t speak Telugu. Their school week is also very long with 6 days from 9am until 4pm even for the 6 year olds!
However, I also saw how hard they worked for me. It is great to see that the children here actually want to learn and enjoy coming to school unlike Europeans who constantly express how much they hate school and studying.
It was also good to spend time with the children outside of school on Sundays or in the afternoons and during break-time. While we complain about needing new phones, more Xbox games or new TV shows, the children here build their own kites and toys out of newspaper and rubbish they find. They are so creative in their constant attempts to invent new games.
The Teachers are lovely too and keep inviting me to their houses. In school they always look so beautiful in their bright saris with golden earrings and necklaces, like elegant ladies. This is in sharp contrast to their basic living conditions. Most of the houses I visited consist of 2 tiny rooms: a bedroom containing one bed in which all the family sleep together and sometimes a small TV in a corner and maybe a wardrobe or just piles of sari cloths and books; and a kitchen with an old gas stove and a few old pots and pans. To eat we just sat in a circle on the floor around the pots and eat using our hands (something I found quite difficult at first but then came to learn). Bathrooms are usually tiny sheds outside and they go to the river to wash their clothes.
Even though they live such a simple life they are all so generous offering me everything they have and cooking me the most amazing meals with different rices, chapatis, curries, chutneys and sweets.
Not only did the teachers invite me to their homes, but also some of the pupil’s parents, people from the village, and some of the people I meet at our daily Mass (at 6am every day and the Church is always filled with kids, young and old people). I was even invited to 2 different Hindu marriages, a Bishop’s visit in a nearby town, and Birthday parties too!
The people here keep asking me if I will come back to visit them again and it is so hard not being able to give them a proper answer. I keep telling them that I will try my best and maybe come back after College, but who knows if I will ever be able to return to this tiny remote village again.
I will keep you posted with news when I reach Vijayawada and until then goodbye.
I had to fly home early because of the virus. It was a very sudden and I was sad leave. I only left a few days before India went into its countrywide lock down. This led to great chaos as so many people only live off the few rupees they earn per day. The lock down has resulted in lots of families dying of hunger and in need. My three months of volunteering were almost done. Leaving was especially sad for me though, as I had planned to travel around India for a few weeks before coming home. I really hope I can go back and do that some other time, to visit all the friends I made there. I am still in contact with the Jesuit fathers.
They are very tired, as they go out every day - morning till night - to raise money to buy food, to donate to families who would otherwise die in their homes without them. It is amazing how only 15 euros there can nourish an entire family for a week, while it would not even be enough for a day in our homes. The police also seem to be in strict control, my friends have told me how they have seen policeman beat people who tried to leave their houses or flats. It is almost 40 degrees there now and some of them are stuck with their parents and up to 5-6 siblings in 1 or 2 room apartments - almost unbearable. My photos are of the fathers getting their food donations, my last week in Vijayawada and one of the Indian food I tried to cook at home for my family :)