Facebook, Brexit and the Global Community: a reflection on my time as a WCIA Volunteer

Sereen Kutubi looks back at her time as a volunteer for the Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA).

I started volunteering with the WCIA during my last term at university. The knowledge and skills I gained during my time volunteering were extremely useful and the range of opportunities I was offered in the WCIA was great. I began volunteering on a weekly basis as a social media volunteer: I researched and produced content, scheduled it for publishing and attended events during my spare time. I thoroughly enjoyed creating social content for the WCIA as they share such a variety of information that promotes peace and global citizenship. Being able to work in the Temple of Peace also gave me an insight into the other organisations that share the building such as Hub Africa and Wales for Peace.

Attending the Brexit debates held at the Temple of Peace was extremely insightful:  listening to influential speakers such as Sally Holland (Children’s commissioner for Wales), Sir Emyr Jones Parry (former British diplomat and representative at the UN) and Adam Price (Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Business, Economy & Finance) gave me a deeper understanding of the issues surrounding Britain post-Brexit and hearing their opinions on matters that are important and are going to affect the population helped me to understand how we can spread awareness.

My involvement in the WCIA has been a significant experience for me:  it taught me a lot about how charities work, about the impact they can make on social and political issues and the extent that Wales is contributing to a greater global community.  Being involved with the WCIA motivated me to be a more active member in my community and to spread the message that individuals have the potential to make a positive impact. I look forward to continuing my involvement with the WCIA and learning more valuable skills and contributing to a positive, peaceful global community.

Seeing the Vision

By Matt Buxton

I volunteered with the WCIA for two weeks as part of my university course, under the idea of work based learning. What drew me to the WCIA was the idea of active global citizenship, which is part of the WCIA’s vision of “everyone contributing to a fair and peaceful world”. These are big words and I hoped by spending some time at the offices I could understand what this was and how to make it a part of my daily life. My responsibilities have been varied and have included working with communications, organising feedback forms and attending meetings. This variety has gifted me a wide range of skills and enabled me to understand how the charity works and how the work I was carrying out fits in. For example the use and worth of the feedback forms I put into spreadsheets contributes to improving future events and are used as evidence of outcomes for funders. What initially feels quite small adds up to something a lot larger. How every action taken has to be logically proved and justified, with nothing being taken for granted; as a result planning, monitoring and evaluation are important parts of day to day work. The majority of my days were concerned with creating paths of communication with the public, whether through Facebook posts or publicising events. The importance of reaching people was continually felt, how creating a fair and peaceful world was not tied down to physical events but required continual conversation and debate.

At the meetings I attended I was able to witness a different type of debate which is usually hidden. One stand out was a meeting with a coalition of charities, who were coordinating a future event regarding refugees and human rights. What struck me about this was the thought which went into this initial planning stage, how tone and representation to both the public and refugee communities was very important. The idea being pushed forward was a Nation of Sanctuary status for Wales, within this was an emphasis on creating a welcoming safe space for all. Such things may seem small but a change in attitude and perceptions can create huge differences. When I consider the idea of everyone contributing to a fair and peaceful world now, events like this come to mind, how participating, meeting new people and learning can be powerful methods in creating change. The paths individuals follow are shaped at multiple levels and interactions, when looking at such a system it is easy to become overwhelmed by focusing on world trends and international failings. Creating a meaningful change seems impossible but by changing the focus to smaller everyday activities of interactions; it can become manageable. Having worked in the WCIA offices the vision has been realised and understood through the work carried but more so by the people who work here. The friendliness of everyone has been amazing along with the passion for the work being undertaken. It was good to see how education and learning was an important pillar of the WCIA, not only within the projects but for the staff as well. How there are always new ideas, skills and techniques to be learnt which are shared amongst any who care to know. Over my time here I believe I have acquired several new skills which will improve my employment prospects but more importantly I have learnt skills to help improve my outlook and the lives of others around me.

A week as Caernarfon Poppies Volunteers

img_0101By Megan & Dani

A week of volunteering as a Poppy Ambassadors at Caernarfon Castle was a brilliant choice for us as it appeared to offer a range of opportunities, not only in allowing us to gain experience that will aid us in the world of work, but also facilitated us in completing a part of our gold Duke of Edinburgh award.

Conversing with such a diverse group of volunteers has provided us with a real insight into what the installation evokes within each individual; whether it acts as an artistic muse or as a commemorative exhibition (especially poignant with regards to the centenary of the First World War).

We first read about the poppies’ move to Caernarfon in our local newspaper and this sounded like something both of us would be motivated to get involved with, especially as we are both currently studying A-Level history and are considering taking this to degree level.  We believe that it is important for people of all ages to be involved with history and to remember and reflect upon our past, as well as learn from it – particularly in lieu of recent world events such as the American presidential election and the Syrian refugee crisis.

A highlight of our volunteering has most definitely been a guided tour of the exhibition with a group of blind veterans as The Last Post was played.

Fflur’s work experience

By Fflur Jones

I volunteered with WCIA for a week and half in July, hoping to learn more about charities and organisations working in the field of international relations and politics. I was not disappointed. Even though I was only in the office for 4 days, I was given a varied range of activities from posting on the WCIA’s social media to evaluating ChangeMakers packs for teachers. I was introduced to the concept of the charity’s “voice”, the one which I had to write Facebook and Twitter posts with, and shown how to collate data the Wales for Peace team had collected during various events.

These activities enabled me to understand the goal of the charity and the means through which they achieve it. Indeed, it was gratifying to be of some use and to contribute to the team’s work instead of being a spare part lying around. It was also interesting to work in conjunction with other projects and charities sharing the corridor and to meet new people from all sorts of backgrounds.

I was also extremely fortunate to be able to attend the National Eisteddfod with the Wales for Peace and Hub Africa projects. These trips not only provided a break from the office work but also introduced me to the direct relations the charity has with the public. Working to introduce others to the projects in such a unique festival-like atmosphere proved challenging, but we quickly figured that drawing for children brought in the parents! The whole team was very welcoming and made me feel very much at home both in the office and in the Eisteddfod tent. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed my time there and by how quickly the time flew. When I first contacted them I was just hoping for something to talk about on my personal statement, I walk away with a whole package of new skills and an insight into the field I hope to work in.

Find out about volunteering at the WCIA at http://www.wcia.org.uk/volunteer

Volunteering with the WCIA

By Megan Griffiths

Volunteering with the WCIA over the past few months and this last week has been an invaluable experience as I have been able to pick up and learn many new skills. I volunteered for half a day every week for the past few months, finishing with a week-long placement after my exams. Undertaking just a half day each week may seem, to some, a short time that isn’t really worth it. I’d say the opposite because I’ve been able to pick up different skills and learn new things in a short space of time gradually over the weeks, but also, I’ve found it so refreshing to get out of the all-consuming ‘uni bubble’ for a couple of hours a week and meet and work alongside different people. [And realistically, if not volunteering, I would probably have ending up spending my Wednesday mornings at home in my pyjamas, vowing to start revising tomorrow.] During my full week placement, I’ve had more time to carry out and complete more extensive tasks.

I’ve found the whole experience rewarding because I have actually been able to undertake relevant, interesting tasks, as opposed to being resigned to photocopying and making tea. My roles have been really varied: researching heritage, writing blog posts, communications through Facebook and email and website optimisation to name a few. I’ve surprised myself with how much I’ve enjoyed working on the website and the different programs, such as optimising the website to make it more accessible for search engines to pick up. Before starting, I would have told you that I’m not a techy person in the slightest but I feel completely at home adding to and updating the website and basic html code now. The same goes for using social media. I’ve enjoyed looking at how social media can be used to connect with people and provide a link between the public and the WCIA. Finding the right balance of WCIA news and interesting content related to international issues relevant to the organisations ethos that I could share on the Facebook page was particularly enjoyable. It has also been interesting to go through the branding and communications guidelines as I have never had to work within a specific set of rules to enhance the look of the website and how an organisation communicates with its audience through the tone and voice that you use. Volunteering has given me an insight into how organisations really work behind the scenes, so to speak, as well as the chance to learn skills I wouldn’t have necessarily been exposed to through my degree alone.

Day 4 – Work experience at the WCIA

Today was filled with a mixed range of activities, which allowed me to get an idea of all of the different tasks that have to be carried out in the workplace. Following a mail merge on Excel yesterday, I started doing some administration work, fiddling around with the photocopier and sorting out the shipping of the ‘New World’ magazine that gets sent to all of the UNA members. It gave me a good idea of some of the office work that goes on, and I found it extremely beneficial as it was my first time carrying it out on such a large scale.

Luckily, I got given my own copy of the ‘New World’ magazine which I’m looking forward to taking home and reading afterwards, further developing my knowledge of the UN. After all this sorting of envelopes was finished, I helped out with several more administration tasks of different varieties, such as putting data into spreadsheets and trying to find alternate addresses for various companies.

As today was a really sunny day in Cardiff, the members of the international wing and I headed out for a picnic in Cathys park. This was a really fun way to get to know a bit more about the rest of the people working in the building, while also having the chance to taste the delicious food they shared with the group!

Once we arrived back at the Temple of Peace, I sat down to begin researching another topic to possibly write an article on. Susie, Chris, Manon (a volunteer) and I were all working in the office, and discussions soon began on a huge range of topics from migration to data protection. Although I mostly sat and listened, I found these extremely interesting as they not only broadened my knowledge but got me thinking about topics in a different way that I hadn’t before.

After this, I began reading an article on food security that made some really valid points about the challenges we’re facing. I liked the point that was made on poverty leading to hunger, but poverty also leading to population growth (probably due to factors such as a high infant mortality rate meaning women had more children so there was a higher chance of more making it to adulthood, or to have more children to look after them in their old age with the lack of social services), which then further leads to hunger.

So, ultimately the point is that reducing poverty would reduce the levels of hunger. There were again many shocking facts and figures in this report, such as 850 million out of 870 million hungry people in the world coming from developing countries, and that in the last five years, UK food prices have risen by 30%. I was surprised at the huge range of influencing factors there are on our food prices; crop supply, climate change, population growth, oil prices and global trade to name just a few.

I’ve really enjoyed today at the WCIA and found that it has broadened by knowledge on a vast range of topics!

Alicia Cooke is a student and volunteer at the WCIA

Day 3 – Work experience with the WCIA

I started this morning off by queuing up the series of Facebook posts and tweets that I created on Monday. I was able to learn how to use Hootsuite, a new and extremely useful website that I didn’t know about before today. After finishing that off, and meeting even more members of the organisation who hadn’t been in on my first two days, I joined with Hazel as we began to plan for an event she has in mind.

Booking a place in the Vale of Glamorgan show, Hazel is aiming to have a stand to promote the UNA and the fact that this year is the UN’s International Year of Family Farming. So really, it’s the perfect place to advertise. We discussed several ideas of things we could do and I sat down to work on several projects.

The first was working on displays to let the visitors to the event know what the stand was advertising, and a bit more about family farming. I found many of the statistics on the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations’ website extremely interesting. For example, over 500 million out of 570 million farms in the world are family owned, and they generate at least of 56% of agricultural production. The point that was made about them preserving the world agro-biodiversity by producing traditional foods was also a really valid argument.

I also worked on creating quizzes to get people at the event thinking. For the adults, I created a quiz on the United Nations with questions ranging from simple to obscure, to see how much they knew. This was a great way to also develop their knowledge into some of the facts about the UN. For the children, I really enjoyed creating a quiz, linking farm animals to places around the world. For example, one question asks where the Fayoumi chicken comes from, giving them the clue that it originates from the same place as the pyramids. It was interesting to create these quizzes as a way of seeing the vast range of ways in which there are to promote the organisation.

Today was an extremely fun day of promoting the organisation and its important aims, and got me thinking about what sort of methods of presentation would get people involved from a range of ages.

Alicia Cooke is a student and volunteer at the WCIA