A volunteering summer

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When an economy is brought to its knees, the word volunteering tends to get thrown around quite a bit.

In times of recession, people willing to do good work for little or nothing in return are seen as vital cogs in a machine of humanity through which - let’s face it - we should all be willing to do our bit for the common good.

This summer Derry sisters Blánaid and Carmel Canavan spent time volunteering in situations which are worlds apart, but in both cases they were involved in stories which were making international headlines, for very different reasons.

Third year medical student Blánaid is still reeling from a busy two weeks spent inside London’s Olympic Stadium. Blánaid, from the Northland Road, was one of hundreds of ‘Games Makers’ who volunteered at the Games. She was on hand to help ticket holders and dignitaries to their seats and to answer questions and help direct some of the thousands who attended the Games.

Blánaid, who first applied to become an Olympic volunteer in 2010, was one of the hundreds chosen from thousands of initial applicants and describes her experience at the Games as a truly once-in-a -lifetime experience

“It was just absolutely amazing,” says Blanaid.

“I was inside the stadium and everyone was just so excited and so happy to be there. I got to see Usain Bolt in the 200 metre final and the atmosphere was unforgettable. My job as a Games Maker was really to greet everyone with a smile and I got to meet so many different people. I was working with volunteers from all over the world as well so it was a great chance to meet people.

“As volunteers, we were there to assist and help with the Games and make sure everything ran smoothly but getting to be inside the stadium and being involved in the Olympics didn’t really seem like work. I just felt so lucky to be in the middle of it all.”

Out in Africa

In a very different setting, Blánaid’s 17 year-old sister Carmel spent two weeks in Ethiopia volunteering with her mum Peggy. Peggy and her husband Conor have worked tirelessly fundraising for Irish charity Aids Partnership with Africa (APA) for many years.

The APA ethos is to work with the local people within a region’s social structure in Ethipioa- medical, educational, health, political, influential leaders, religious leaders - to educate them and provide them with the skills and support so they in turn can educate and mobilise their local communities in the fight against AIDS and HIV.

While her mum has visited Ethiopia several times, it was a first visit for Lumen Christi pupil Carmel to the devastated country where 1.3 million people are HIV positive.

Carmel said; “I’d always helped out with the fundraising here at home. But when the chance came to go over and see the projects on the ground I decided to go. We spent the two weeks travelling around and meeting many of the people that APA has helped. What amazed me most is that even though the people there have nothing, they’re still so generous and so welcoming. Even when we bought them food, they were forcing us to eat some of it even though they needed it so much more.

“Most of the kids we saw are orphans and even with the tiniest amounts of our money I’ve seen for myself now how that can make a huge difference to the way they live. I’ve heard people say before how even £1 can change everything but now I know for myself that that’s true. I’ll definitely go back to Ethiopia, I’m hoping to study dentistry at university and I’d like to go back to Ethiopia then and use my skills to help people.”

If you’d like to help Aids Partnership for Africa, contact the local committee at the.jill.devine@btinternet.com