Tag Archives: volunteering

What do you do?

2 Oct

Invariably, when I meet new people, one of the first questions I get asked is: “What do you do?” It’s a common conversation starter of course, and it’s even more logical to ask in Bermuda, where most twenty-something expats are here because they are on a work permit. I’ve often wondered whether I’m the only twenty-something expat without one!

My answer used to be simply that “I volunteer”. It wasn’t unusual for people to assume that this meant that I shook a donations bucket outside the supermarket once a month, and then spent the rest of the time on the beach drinking G&Ts. So my answer became a garbled protestation that “I volunteer with three charities, and actually it’s like the equivalent of a full time job without getting paid, and I really don’t like G&Ts”. After a while, even I got bored of my defensiveness, so I just made up jobs – I was an accountant, an insurance underwriter, and a management consultant all in a period of about a month.

I have loved my volunteering work and it certainly has kept me busy. I’ve written communications strategies, delivered workshops on social media, organised corporate fundraising events and, my favourite project, taught a little group of senior citizens how to use the computer. In the office of the charity I volunteer with most regularly – The Centre on Philanthropy – I have my own desk, email account and responsibilities. But I’ve hated not earning my own money.

The Centre on Philanthropy's Give Back Games 2011: waiting to collect the scores for the Sack Race! We raised $72,000 for local charities.

However, after eleven months of being on the island, one rejected work permit, and an encounter with an agency that discovered after two months that my paperwork had actually “gone missing”; the “third time lucky” adage came true. Last week I got my work permit through for temporary and contract roles. A few days later I was offered a marketing role for a telecoms company. I start tomorrow!

I cannot tell you how excited I am to start work. Bring on the Sunday evening blues, the daily commute in rush hour, the overflowing inbox… – I’m ready for it all!

On Friday, my last day of unemployment, I kept my diary clear so I could do the one thing I hadn’t allowed myself to do in almost a year of being here – spend a few hours at the beach, on a weekday! The sky was a perfect blue, the sun shone, and, as I walked along the shore, iced tea in hand, the waves rushed up to greet me, as if to say “what took you so long..?”

Advertisements

Bridging the Gap

28 Jan

Card games are a universal social ritual, which seem to punctuate transitions through life. When we are young children, we learn object recognition by playing Pairs and Snap. At primary school we collect and exchange cards like a currency. In our teens we formulate friendships and pass the time between lessons with Rummy and the delightfully named Sh*thead. When we move into our twenties and thirties, cards become an evening event with poker chips and, in my hubby’s case at least, a glass or two of Johnny Walker.

Then, at some point in later life people learn how to play Bridge. I’m not sure if Bridge is the final rite of passage into retirement, but it would seem so if yesterday’s tournament is anything to go by.

A colleague of mine who I volunteer with was in desperate need of some helpers to assist with an international Bridge tournament, from which a donation was being made to her Girl Guides group. I was happy to go along – both to help out a colleague, as well as having a new experience. The beauty of not working is that you can say “yes” to so many more things, without worrying about how exhausted you are going to be at the end of the day! I was reassured that knowing absolutely nothing about Bridge wouldn’t be a hindrance, so I hopped on the bus to the plush hotel where the event was taking place.

The event was being run by a team of Americans who travel around the world managing different tournaments (and get paid to do this. Clearly these Sexagenarians are onto something here.) Candy was a slim lady from Virginia who probably spends her days off playing badminton and wearing sweaters draped over her shoulders. Jack was a practical, jolly fellow with a moustache who wouldn’t have looked out of place in a hardware store, advising people on the best varnish to go for to protect their porch benches in the winter months.

My surreptitious papping of the focused Bridge players in action

Jack talked me through what I needed to do. The game was played by four people, and at the end of each round, the East and West people would move to the next table, whilst the North and South remained seated. I had to ensure that I watched for the movement to know when to collect the scorecards. It was important to be prompt, as I should not risk another game being completed and being left with two scorecards for different rounds. I would know if the scorecards would be complete as they would be face down, with one corner folded back. Clearly Bridge is a game of rituals.

Bridge: the world's most complicated card game. No idea what this is for!

For the first round I felt as if I carried the responsibility of the success of the entire tournament. Heck, maybe these people’s lives! If I didn’t collect those scorecards fast enough the whole event would come crashing down! There would be international outcry! These people may never play Bridge again because of “The Bermuda Incident”! After the first round however I realised that it would be quite impossible to cause a catastrophe and that actually a six year old could manage the scorecard collection adequately. But my initial fear was compounded by how SERIOUSLY people were taking the game. I’d presumed that, like the card games I’d played throughout life, this would primarily be a sociable event. People would chat to the new East and West pairs that joined their table – finding out where they were from, how long they had been playing, comparing lists of ailments – that sort of thing. Given the age of the majority of the players I made the assumption that playing Bridge was almost secondary to the opportunity of meeting new people and companions. But, oh no! This was a competition! As I went along to collect the scorecards there was complete silence on the tables, faces fixed in concentration. If I had to reach across the table to collect the card it would feel like I’d just burped in the middle of a prayer in church.

I suspect that my 60 year old self would only have been this serious had there been a $1,000,000 prize. (Otherwise she’d have opted for Bingo where she could have a chat and a Martini.) But I admired their ability to concentrate on playing a complex card game for almost 4 hours, without constantly checking Facebook on their iPhone or looking at their emails. That’s something that my generation isn’t so good at. I do wonder, when the times comes, will we have the patience to focus on learning Bridge? Or will the rituals of Bridge have been replaced with a quick and easy electronic game we can do whilst watching the TV? Regardless, I now have a newfound respect for Bridge players!

What’s Good About You?

25 Jan

Phew! What a busy week it was last week! This post arrives rather tardy as a result.

I’m now volunteering two days a week at the Centre on Philanthropy. It’s a great organisation which links corporates with not-for-profits and volunteers, and I’m assisting them with some of their initiatives around corporate charitable giving. I’ve also started a Spanish class to improve my rusty memories of verb endings and knowing when to use the imperfect tense. Ironically, I could remember how to say that “the issue of inequality between the sexes is still significant in today’s society” but couldn’t remember the word for “small”. (It’s pequeño) It’s a great back to basics class which clearly I need.

Last week I also had a two day training course on facilitating psycho-educational groups on subjects such as anger management, dealing with divorce and drugs education, for my volunteer work with drugs education charity PRIDE. It was extremely interesting to learn more about working with vulnerable young people, as well as meeting a range of local people working as counsellors or in pastoral care roles in schools.

We spent some time discussing raising young people’s self-esteem, and one delegate observed that children find it easy to answer “what they are good at” but difficult to answer “what’s good about you”. This is all too true. When I first started working with young people from “disadvantaged backgrounds”, I was baffled as to why some would get themselves pregnant. To my friends and me, at that age, the idea was terrifying. But then I realised that it was so terrifying to us because we knew we wanted to go to university and build a career, and getting ourselves pregnant would make that harder to do. For some of the girls I worked with, their attitude was more “well, what else am I going to do?” Despite these experiences in the UK, I still felt a little pang of sadness that, in Bermuda’s tight-knit community, there are so many young people going through life without knowing what is “good about them”.

Then I had an interesting conversation. One of the ladies in my group was too nervous to present our group’s work to the rest of the delegates. She explained that she’d been told in the past that she came across “too Bermudian” when she spoke, and this had knocked her confidence. She’d not spoken in public since.

I was dumbfounded – to speak with your nation’s accent is detrimental? In your own country? I think if I unpacked this prejudice, I’d find that this was really about class and race and other ridiculous notions of discrimination and snobbery. I truly hope that one day this lady realises that one of the things that is good about her is that she is from a country where people still say “good morning ma’am” and treat strangers like neighbours. And I hope that everyone who reads this post can answer the question “what’s good about you?”

Community Spirit

22 Dec

If there’s one thing Bermuda does well, it is promoting community spirit. It is common for people to say good morning to the whole bus as they board, and you are thought of as rude if you do not at least say hello to strangers as you pass them in the street. On the roads, people beep their car horns to say hello to others – a habit that’s hard to get used to, as you automatically presume you’ve wronged a driver when you hear the horn honking! It’s a world away from London commuters, where people stand in close proximity yet only share the air that they breathe. Of course, for a lot of Bermudians, most people aren’t strangers; the island is only 20 square miles with a population of about 60,000.

Almost immediately I was really keen to get involved with the local community and signed up to volunteer with a children’s home and a drugs education charity. My first “assignment” was helping out at a fundraising bake sale. Whilst I did feel a little bit like I was in an episode of Desperate Housewives, it actually was a lovely way to get to meet a range of different people. One visitor to our stall turned out to be Lucy from Essex, who had arrived on the island just two days before Rich and I had! Our Essex background, and love of chocolate chip cookies was all we needed to forge a friendship, and we catch up regularly to talk about all things British – from X Factor, to missing chip-shop chips!

Just last week Lucy and I went to see the Christmas pantomime in Hamilton, the capital of Bermuda. The show was put on by Bermuda’s amateur dramatics society but certainly wasn’t amateur; it had clearly been created with a huge amount of energy and love as the whole spectacle was lavished with detail –  from the sets to the score written for the show. The auditorium was packed and I suspect almost all of the audience knew someone on the stage. It felt like a big family putting on a show and was a real Christmas comfort – like hugging a mug of Bailey’s hot chocolate by your Christmas tree. It was a great cure to the pangs for home I’d felt recently…

 

If there’s one thing Bermuda does well, it is promoting community spirit. It is common for people to say good morning to the whole bus as they board, and you are thought of as rude if you do not at least say hello to strangers as you pass them in the street. On the roads, people beep their horns to say hello to others – a habit that’s hard to get used to, as you automatically presume you’ve wronged a driver when you hear the horn honking! It’s a world away from London commuters, where people stand in close proximity yet only share the air that they breathe. Of course, for a lot of Bermudians, most people aren’t strangers; the island is only 20 square miles with a population of about 60,000.

I was keen to get involved with the local community and signed up to volunteer with a children’s home for children in the care of social services and a drugs education charity. My first “assignment” was helping out at a fundraising bake sale. Whilst I did feel a little bit like I was in an episode of Desperate Housewives, it actually was a lovely way to get to meet a range of different people. One visitor to our stall turned out to be Lucy from Essex, who had arrived on the island just two days before Rich and I had! Our Essex background, and love of chocolate chip cookies was all we needed to forge a friendship, and we catch up regularly to talk about all things British – from X Factor, to missing chip-shop chips!

Just last week Lucy and I went to see the Christmas pantomime in Hamilton, the main town in Bermuda. The show was put on by Bermuda’s amateur dramatics society, but certainly wasn’t amateur; it had clearly been created with a huge amount of energy and love as the whole spectacle was lavished with detail, from the sets to the score written for the show. The auditorium was packed and I suspect almost all of the audience knew someone on the stage. It felt like a big family putting on a show and was a real Christmas comfort – like hugging a mug of Bailey’s hot chocolate by your Christmas tree. It was a great cure to the recent pangs for home I’d felt recently…