Humans of Unicrew: Lucy Prestidge

Welcome back to Humans of Unicrew! Taking inspiration from “Humans of New York” we are trying to catch up with the wonderful people that make this volunteering world go around. One of the beautiful things about this community is that it is ordinary people doing their part to make the uni, the city and the world just a wee bit more awesome. 

Lucy volunteers with the language support program run through the Student Learning Development Centre here at the University. If you’re interested, pop into the office to find out more or check out the website.

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Don’t Blame Society’s Problems on Individuals – Help The Homeless

Don’t Blame Society’s Problems on Individuals – Help The Homeless

As winter continues to hit Dunedin with everything it has, the reality of New Zealand’s housing issue is magnified. Many of us are very fortunate in that we are not constantly plagued by the same chill that others are exposed to on a daily basis, but with that position comes with an obligation: to speak out and force action for those that are.

Far too often one hears that this country is too developed and prosperous to have people living in substandard housing that makes them sick, or even without a ceiling over their head altogether. Despite this, we still have more than 41,000 people living a life on the streets, a figure that has risen 25 percent between 2006 and 2013, as the population only increased by 4.8 percent.

The correlation between homelessness and mental health disorders are stark, as is homelessness with criminality and substance abuse. These factors provide even more problems on top of the existing issues keeping these people pinned into their predicament. In fact, 50 percent of organisations or groups providing homes for homeless people also provide services that help prevent criminal offending, 42 percent for mental health problems, and 40 percent for substance abuse and addiction issues.

If what you have read hasn’t shocked you, then this might: more than half of the 41,000 homeless people are under 25 years old. People like you and me, suffering on streets up and down the bitterly cold islands we call home. It’s easy to ignore this demographic, thinking of them only as being impaired by alcoholism and drug addiction, with just a blanket and a piece of cardboard telling disinterested passers-by how needy they are. In reality, we are the ones who have failed them, and we’re continuing to seek any justification we possibly can to allow ourselves to ignore their plight by placing blame for society’s shortcomings on their individual shoulders.

By Joe Higham, co-editor of Critic, and all-round lovely guy. 

This article was originally published by Critic te Arohi. You can read the article here

Humans of Unicrew: Jesse Aimer

Welcome back to Humans of Unicrew! After a short hiatus (exams and uni break, you know the deal) we are back in action. Taking inspiration from “Humans of New York” we are trying to catch up with the wonderful people that make this volunteering world go around. One of the beautiful things about this community is that it is ordinary people doing their part to make the uni, the city and the world just a wee bit more awesome. 

This week we caught up with Jesse Aimer! He does some great work with the Otago International Friendship Network, the Peer Mediation centre, the Otago International office and the Citizens Advice bureau. In some of his spare minutes, he shared this with us.

20030738_10207529371311710_1375526481_nWhy do you like helping people?

Volunteering for different groups has given me the chance to meet a wide variety of people from across the University and Dunedin communities whom I may not have otherwise crossed paths with.

What would you say your greatest strength is and how does it help you in your volunteer roles?

I would say my greatest strength is being able to relate to people from a wide variety of backgrounds. In my volunteer roles I am fortunate enough to engage with people of all ages from all corners of the globe.

What would you like to see change in the University of Otago community?

I think the University of Otago community has a lot to be proud of. I would like our community to be more vocal – in our pride in the University and Dunedin, but also on the issues that impact us as a community. Building a greater presence will enable us to have a greater say in those issues that affect us on both a local and national scale.

Would you like to be famous? If so, what would you like to be famous for and why?

I would love to do something worthy of fame, but would then hate all the attention that comes with it. So, maybe if I’m rich enough to buy a large estate and hide from all the paps!

The Dunedin Night Shelter: Interview

The Dunedin Night Shelter: Interview

This post marks the first article in a series about the Dunedin Night Shelter and the struggles of the homeless. We’re in the lead-up to the Dunedin Sleep Out and it’s so important to raise awareness of this issue and to support the amazing people in our community making a difference. I was fortunate enough to interview Dave Brown, the chairman of the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust about his work with the Dunedin Night Shelter.

 

Could you tell me a little about what the Dunedin Night Shelter does in the local community?

The Dunedin Night Shelter Trust offers anybody, (men and women), emergency accommodation in Dunedin. Clients receive an evening meal, shower, laundry, bed and breakfast in the morning. We also have available staff who can assist clients in finding accommodation or sourcing the help they require. We also have transitional accommodation for selected ex-prisoners, who can stay in Phoenix Lodge for 6 months, in a controlled and supportive environment, to help them adjust to life outside of prison in a constructive way. We work with PARS (Prisoners Aid and Rehabilitation Society).

What makes you angry or upset about our community?

I found myself so angry and upset about some things in our community that I actually choked up with sadness while singing the National Anthem at an ANZAC day service! Some of the things that upset me are the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor in our economy. Some people earn an amazing amount of money, while those in important jobs (e.g. carers of the elderly) earn so much less. The economic successes in our country seem to benefit a relative few at the top. Trickle down theory does not work.

I took a funeral of a 19 year old girl recently. Both her parents worked, but her dad, thinking of the cost of a funeral said, “We exist from week to week. We do not have savings. How can we afford that?” That is life for many families.

Secondly, I have worked among the vulnerable in our community for many years. Changes in technology, economics (loss of manufacturing jobs) etc. mean that there are a lot more people unable to be employed. There are many who can never keep up with digital technology, who got left behind at school. So while there seems amazing “progress” there are those on the bottom who live with no sense of hope or purpose. Looking down the barrel of living a whole life on the benefit sucks.  

This can lead to bad life choices, addictions and sometimes mental health issues. I feel for these people, and I think their numbers may grow.  While our “progress” in technology and efficiency sounds great, it leaves a lot of people behind. I think people can survive poverty, but the lack of purpose, hope and dignity (no useful place in the community) eats at their soul. In my youth it was different in NZ for such people; there were jobs, they had work mates and something useful to do.

Thirdly, I grew up feeling good about egalitarian New Zealand, with our free education system and our public health system, but these days these benefits have been eroded. In the long run I think the changes cost, economically (we pay in other ways – e.g. mental health system cutbacks lead to justice system increases) but also in terms of human well-being. We have lost a sense of “common-wealth”.

What needs to change in Dunedin?

I would like to see more manufacturing jobs created in Dunedin so that people can find useful work. Secondly, our staff at the Night Shelter struggle to find affordable accommodation for people in Dunedin. Thirdly, unemployed people used to have in Dunedin ASCO (Advisory and Support Centre Otago). ASCO ran a day time drop-in (they cooked a cheap meal), sourced vegetables, bread and other groceries that people could buy cheaply. ASCO also offered support and ran various work projects such as pine cone collections. Its funding was cut by the government and it stopped. If I had the money, time, energy and skills I would want to start a similar thing. Dunedin needs a centre like that.

What were your expectations coming into the Dunedin Night Shelter, and how have they changed?

I was part of the exploratory group who began to explore the need in 2003. It hosted a public gathering, became a steering committee and then a Trust Board. My expectations were that I would be a useful member of the committee until the service began, and then move on. I never expected I would become chairman and be involved for this long. I was a part of the formation of Habitat for Humanity in Dunedin and that consumed my life. I guess I did not want that sort of responsibility again, but if anything it has evolved into an almost full-time commitment and consumes many hours every week.

We spend around $120,000 per year – I would never have thought it would have got to such a big budget and responsibility. I guess too I have found it more complex than I thought. We have to consider staff and client Health and Safety protocols. When do you refuse entry? How generous should you be? When does support become support for people’s addictions or bad lifestyle? My original thoughts were just have a house and a few volunteers rostered. But it is so much more complex trying to shuffle so many aspects to it.

What keeps you motivated?

I guess from my spirituality I feel a certain solidarity with those in need. The homeless are my brothers and sisters. I also see it as a way of sharing resources more evenly – resources of money, of time, of skills, education etc. Secondly – the support we have received from the community makes me feel we are not alone on this journey.

What has surprised you the most during your volunteer activity/role/responsibilities?

I guess the support we have received along the journey. When we first began our street appeal people asked, “Why do we need a Night Shelter in Dunedin?” These days we are almost embarrassed by the support and generosity of people. We raised $600,000 to purchase our premises. In 2004, when we were exploring there was a building we looked at going for $600,000. We did not pursue it because we saw that as an impossible pipe dream. But we got better buildings for the same amount in 2015 through Dunedin’s generosity.

How can interested students help out?

We would be very grateful for assistance with our street appeal between 24th July and 29th. If students could give an hour to assist with that would be great.

For this and any other offers (cooking a meal to go into the freezer, giving excess bedding to give to clients etc) phone Carol Frost, our Operations Director at the Shelter on 4770546 or carolfrostpl@gmail.com.

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Image: Dave Brown, the chairman of the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust, building a garden shed with Dr Dave McMorran from the University of Otago’s Chemistry Department.

Humans of UniCrew: Aliyah Ali

Humans of UniCrew: Aliyah Ali

Today we have for you another superhuman volunteer! Meet Aliyah, a real volunteer battler. We quiz her about how she gets her kicks from getting out in Dunedin communities and encouraging change through various volunteer projects.

Hi Aliyah, Why are you passionate about volunteering?

I always say that volunteering is a selfish passion of mine. It simply allows me to do what I love, while also helping others. What I think people don’t understand about volunteering is that you are not only helping other people, but you are helping yourself too. Volunteering provides you with an invigorating experience. I love the whole package — the first enthusiasm you have towards helping a cause, through the problem-solving journey, and seeing changes coming from your efforts. Helping create change makes me feel like I am part of something larger than myself. I have become invested in the lives of many of the amazing people I have met along the way. At a certain point I began to feel I wasn’t just volunteering, but living a way of life.

What are volunteering project are you excited about at the moment?

There are honestly so many projects, just check out the UniCrew Database (yes, that was some shameless advertising). However, in my role as a Community Relations Representative, I have had the opportunity to work on two of my own projects. This has been super exciting for me, right from the get go, as they have been my babies and have finally come to life. The first project is Sidey Lunch where every Thursday we hold a lunch for the Caversham community. The Sidey crew help prepare the lunch and set up, then join everyone to eat. Obviously, the soup is too delicious to pass up. A combination of meeting lovely people and yummy food makes this a perfect opportunity for us to unwind from student life.

Brain Gains is the second project, which is a homework club held at Corstorphine Community Hub. If I could use any word to describe this community it would be ‘whanau’. Everyone welcomes you with open arms and is incredibly supportive of each other. The kids are hilariously cheeky, so you definitely don’t have a dull moment with them, and teaching them certainly keeps you on your feet. These two communities are vastly different, but the one thing they both possess is strength and support. I couldn’t be a happier volunteer and I am excited to see how we can keep expanding on these projects, hopefully with more volunteers 😉

What volunteering opportunity would you love to explore in the future?

Well, I once was a Pippin in the GirlGuides. Having the opportunity to work with GirlGuides to connect previous GirlGuides within the university would be a great project. I would also like to explore more communities that have little projects and are in need of our fun UniCrew volunteers. Our communities are what make up Dunedin, so helping the locals to improve their neighbourhoods would be something I would love to further explore.

 Which 4 people, dead or alive would you invite to a dinner party?

Ahhh only 4! This is so difficult. I would first and foremost have to go with Kate Sheppard, only because I have written every social studies project on her since I was in year 3. Queen Elizabeth I because she was a fierce ruler and I am kinda obsessed after having watched so many documentaries on her. D.H Lawrence, because he was a controversial literary artist that decided to resist the norms and continued writing regardless of negative reaction to his work. The last one would probably have to be a toss up between Christopher Nolan because I have to know more about his obsession with flawed heroes, or Sigmund Freud. They are both individuals with very intricate understandings of the human mind. Hmmm… I can only imagine how interesting this dinner would turn out to be.

Want to join Aliyah in supporting our local communities? There are plenty of options on the UniCrew Volunteer Database to choose from!

Disposable Syringes and Drug Addiction

Disposable Syringes and Drug Addiction

This article was originally published on the SciBlogs network on 16/6/2017. It is reproduced here with permission. 

The nurse steadied my arm as she gently positioned the syringe barrel in place. “You can look away if you need to,” she said, “it will soon be over.” I squirmed in my seat, but kept my eyes fixed on the needle as it gently slid beneath my skin. I was six years old, and photographs of children suffering from measles, mumps and rubella kept me awake at night. I would toss and turn, imagining that every tickle from my flannelette sheets was the first bump of an angry measles rash. This cold, silver needle gliding into my vein represented freedom from this anxiety. It stung, and it made me feel queasy, but any childhood fear of contracting some horrifically virulent disease was alleviated.

Colin Murdoch

Disposable syringes made of plastic are commonplace today. We don’t blink twice upon seeing a hollow needle made of metal, a barrel and a plunger made of plastic. Indeed, sixteen billion of them are used the world over every year. However, it has been only 55 years since the plastic syringe was invented, replacing the glass and metal syringes that had been used since the 17th century. The plastic disposable syringe was invented by a New Zealander, the pharmacist and veterinarian Colin Albert Murdoch. Born in Christchurch on the 6th of February, 1929, the young Murdoch was a precocious and intelligent child. At the age of ten, instead of playing with mud pies, he was already mixing nitrates with sulphuric acid to make gunpowder, building himself a firearm with a wick and a small asbestos-filled hammer. Despite suffering from dyslexia, Murdoch had an avid interest in chemistry and began studying at the College of Pharmacy in Wellington. At the age of 25, he opened a pharmacy in Timaru.

Murdoch was a remarkably compassionate and thoughtful man. At the age of 13, he saved a man from drowning in the New Brighton estuary and was awarded the Royal Humane Society Medal. Murdoch’s empathy extended not only to humans, but also animals. Later in his life, Murdoch studied veterinary medicine and turned his hand at treating animals and livestock. He was well aware of the risks in reusing syringes; the glass syringes in use at the time were designed for multiple use and were sterilised each time. Infection caused by the transmission of dangerous pathogens from animal to animal or person to person still occurred, despite careful sterilisation practices. This was because crystalline antibiotic deposits on the inside walls of the syringes had made bacteria resistant. Murdoch thus set out to design the disposable hypodermic syringe, a plastic version of its glass predecessors.  According to legend, the eureka moment hit Murdoch as he was playing with his fountain pen. Perhaps all those kids playing with their fidget spinners are onto something.

Murdoch immediately presented his design to the New Zealand Department of Health, but his idea was dismissed as being too “abstruse” and “futuristic”. Development of the syringe was delayed for several years due to a lack of funding and support. Thankfully, Murdoch’s design was finally implemented, and became incredibly successful. As articulated in the book Kiwi Ingenuity – A Book of New Zealand Ideas and Inventions, published in 1993, “It is impossible to comprehend the catastrophic consequences of this situation if such practices were still occurring today. Diseases of such ultimate incurability and virulence as the HIV and AIDS virus, hepatitis A, B, C and most recently a new D form… and TB to name just a few. Instead of now having to care for, and contain, the several million infected people throughout the world who have AIDS, the numbers could well be 30 or 40 percent of the entire population.”

Colin Murdoch was a prolific inventor and went on to design many different variations of the disposable syringe, such as prepared ampoule-type moulded plastic syringe darts, disposable automatic vaccinator syringes, disposable sterile pre-filled hypodermic syringes, sterile self-filling syringes for blood samples, variable dose vaccinator syringes and wet and dry disposable syringes. Despite owning the patents to over 40 inventions, Murdoch did not profit greatly from his designs. In 1995, he told the Timaru Herald, “Patents give you the right to sue, they don’t give you the money to sue. It just costs too much.”

Clean Needle Exchanges

As well as facilitating countless vaccinations and saving the lives of diabetics the world over, the disposable syringe has also revolutionised the lives of people with drug addictions. The value of clean needle exchanges has been proven time and time again. A comprehensive 2004 study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) found a “compelling case that NSPs substantially and cost effectively reduce the spread of HIV among IDUs and do so without evidence of exacerbating injecting drug use at either the individual or societal level.” At these clean needle exchanges, injecting drugs users may obtain hypodermic needles at little or no cost.

Based on the philosophy of harm reduction that attempts to reduce the risk factors for diseases such as HIV/AIDs, clean needle exchanges offer equipment free of charge, and often require service users to return used syringes to receive an equal number of new syringes. These exchanges and the disposable, single-use needles they offer, decrease the spread of HIV and hepatitis without creating new drug users. Moreover, the vast majority of clean needle exchanges aren’t just clean, clinical offices where drug users can shuffle in to pick up equipment. Instead, these programs host support clubs, HIV and STI testing, health and counselling service referrals, the provision of up-to-date information about safe injecting practices, and access to contraception and sexual health service. They can also serve as safe spaces for individuals to learn about their rights and recover their dignity.

GirlGuides: Much Sweeter Than Just Cookies

GirlGuides: Much Sweeter Than Just Cookies

When I think of GirlGuides, I think of Cookies. However, Amy Telfer Chiles chatted to UniCrew and enlightened me about some other pretty sweet stuff the organisation has going on. Empowering and supporting girls and young women from ages 5 to 17, GirlGuides is busy sating hunger for life for Guides and volunteers alike.

GirlGuides has close ties to the volunteer community because not only does the organisation run on the steam of its patrol leaders but encourages the next generation of enthusiastic volunteers, the GirlGuides themselves. Part of the Guide Promise which members make upon joining is to “take action for a better world”. Amy stresses the importance of the girls involved becoming confident and responsible members of their community. However, this does not come at the expense of their individuality, as the organisation helps them find their strengths by providing novel activities that encourage the girls to confront their comfort zones. Girl Guiding puts a focus on getting outside and in touch with the natural world. With increasing numbers of children spending countless hours in front of screens, Girl Guides provides social interaction, leadership opportunities and outdoor time sorely missing in some modern childhoods. Individuals come into their own through activities such as camping, community action projects and cultural awareness activities. The adventures they embark on are ripe with opportunities to develop and hone leadership skills. These leadership skills, Amy says, are transferrable into many life settings, helping the girls “immensely benefit their schools and communities”.

You are more than likely a little too old to join GirlGuides as a Guide, so what is the role of a volunteer in the organisation? Well, Amy hopes that increasing the numbers of Dunedin volunteers would allow more girls to participate. There are a variety of roles, from high commitment to one-offs. Some volunteers are Leaders, assigned a group to guide then support this patrol group through activities from geocaching to budgeting to water safety. Others make a cameo appearance to share particular experiences or knowledge with guides. Volunteers with special skills, especially novel outdoor abilities, are sought-after, as these can be enjoyable and educational to pass down to the girls. Amy herself thought that volunteering was going to just be girls “earning badges and having fun”. It wasn’t until she was assigned a group that she realised how much of a difference that guiding could have on everyone involved, and the crucial role she was playing in shaping girls into strong young women. Connecting to the world around them really prepared her group of girls to lead in the face of challenges posed to them. Having followed her patrol for a while now, at first Amy expected to move on from guiding as her charges will, but she now anticipates staying with the organisation. She was surprised to gain satisfaction and friends in equal measure with the girls in her troop. “Guiding does not just provide the girls transferable skills” says Amy “it also provides the leaders transferable skills and with lots of optional training opportunities to develop further.”

Interested students can get involved through sharing their skills and time with GirlGuides girls and leaders, this is flexible to fit with studies and other time commitments.  More information on volunteering with GirlGuides can be found on the GirlGuiding New Zealand website- https://www.girlguidingnz.org.nz/join-us/leaders-volunteers