Wednesday, May 07, 2014


On Friday, I went to our residential centre in Buckinghamshire to shadow the centre manager, Martin.  At London Youth, we're given the opportunity every year to take a day and go and shadow someone of our choice.  It's open to everyone and you can shadow anyone from the CEO to an outdoor instructor to the communications team.

I met Martin on our team day.  He is 6'7 and full of jokes.  Our team day consisting of dressing up in the style of the decade you were born in (there were a lot of 70s and 80s themed costumes floating around) and going to various youth clubs around London and helping out.  We gardened, cooked and then spent an hour playing "crab" volleyball, where you crawl around on your feet and hands.  It was a great day, and we even had a speech given by a young person at the end of the day, in keeping with our mission for youth.

So because of that fun day, I decided that Martin would be an interesting person to shadow, as well as learn about his job and how he runs a residential centre with a budget of £1.2 million.

The day started out on the property, showing some people from the council around.  He showed them the recently installed outdoor obstacle course and tunnels, the low ropes, the archery, the paths, the heritage tress and the grotto (from the 17th century! and the legend that goes with it).  We then slowly made our way to the house, where the council people received a full tour and a mention of Prince Philip's past visit.

After the council visit, we grabbed lunch (fish and chips served on Fridays!) and he sat down to chat with the school group that was in.  He asked the kids what their favourite part of the week was (storytelling in the grotto, sweets bought from the tuck shop, the low ropes course!) and what could be better.  Afterwards, he told me that it's essentially the best way of receiving quick and truthful feedback.

Despite leaving math behind in high school, I've always had a bit of an obsession with numbers, so I asked to be taken through the mammoth budget he manages.  It was interesting on what he has control on and what he has absolutely no control over.  For example, the weather: as this winter's been quite mild, he's made an unexpected saving on heating and gas bills.  However, he has had two replace two staff members within a month, which has increased his staff budget, in terms of the handing over and overlapping of existing and new staff.

It was refreshing and fun doing something completely different for the day.  Martin and I both work at the same organisation, but we have very different priorities.  I think many companies would benefit from introducing shadowing days to allow their staff to gain a larger perspective of the organisation.

No wonder I wanted to shadow Martin.  Everyone seems to like him.  He has fantastic social skills - he can communicate to 8-year olds at his centre to outdoor instructors to Prince Philip (our patron).  

This week, I leave London Youth, and man, has it been a ride!  From travelling up to Manchester, hanging out with Welsh families and meeting councillors in Lancashire, I've enjoyed bringing the project around the country.  I will be sad to miss the exuberance and creativity of London Youth!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Déjeuner dans l'herbe

It is truly a pleasure to be in London when it is hot and sunny out.  Suddenly, the overworked, suit-wearing crowd of the City of London break away from their desks and run out of their sleek, glass buildings to enjoy the sun.  During the longer lunch breaks, one can see countless bodies lying on every square inch of grass in London's centre, covering benched areas, church courtyards, and parks.  They are no longer the grim, tight-lipped worker speed walking and weaving their way through the crowd; the sun has made them walk a little slower, smile a little longer and bare a little more leg.  People are more likely to engage in conversation and they just can't help themselves to keep bursting out with: "It's such a lovely day, isn't it?"

On Friday, I had the lucky fortune to have a day off and what a treat it was!  Blazing sun, 23 degrees and let me remind you that I live in the UK, not in Spain or Italy.  After dusting off my sunglasses and packing some water, fruit and books in my bag, I was off on my bicycle to enjoy this glorious day. 

I pedalled into Hyde Park, already happily sweating from the short bike ride, and saw countless people picknicking on the grass, lounging, smoking and just really chilling out.  The English are not the best at being able to relax on a regular basis; they like to binge.  In the City of London, you see people working around the clock, their eyes locked in a workaholic daze on their computer screens, and then on weekends, they are so plastered that they vomit on policemen's shoes (a truly sad anecdote brought to you by Robert's law classmate).

I cycle across Hyde Park and I pass the Rose Gardens where bodies are strewn over the grass in various positions of utter relaxation.  It looks like some people just passed out and fell down on the grass; you can almost see the steam of the long hours of work rise off of them.  
It was around this area that I decided to lock up my bicycle and walk around.  I come across a sign that says "Princess Diana Memorial Fountain" and think that it will be probably be some lame fountain with ageing coins in it.  I walk around the gate and see this great mini-water park and realize that this is indeed Princess Diana's Memorial!  This wonderful, circular fountain, where young children are shrieking and splashing around in the water, is child friendly and perfect on a hot day.

After splashing around in this fountain for a bit, I made my way to Kensington Gardens, where I found my own spot of grass where my head could be in the shade and the rest of me in sun.  I took off my sandals and nestled my feet into the lush grass and couldn't get over as to how good and relaxing this felt.  I am certainly not new to rural life, as that is where I have mainly lived, but I am new to a warm ground in April, as well as beautiful green grass.  The one advantage in living in a damp area is that the colours of the grass, flowers and bushes are outstandingly bright and inviting.  I have never seen blossoms so soft and curly and felt grass so silky and soft. 

I thought of the last time that I had been barefoot and I remembered my time in Northern Quebec last year, where I lived a 15 minute walk from a sandy beach on the river.  Because we were up North, the beach was a skating rink for several months, but because of an unusually warm May (temperatures creeping above 30 in mid-May), this made the water warm enough to swim in very quickly.  When I could find time for myself, generally during the day, in the middle of week when all of the participants were working, I would escape to the river.  I remember digging my feet into the sand and feeling the same kind of relief.  Perhaps that relief was also intertwined with the fact that I was escaping my Project Leader duties just for a moment...

I read for hours in the part shade/part sunshine (and moving every half hour or so when the shade moved) and greatly enjoyed every minute of it.  Having extensive, beautiful parks in a large city makes a world of a difference.  It has made me understand the hype of the English Garden.  Robert has always gone on and on about the loveliness of English gardens and parks, and I never quite understood it because, although gardens can be beautiful, it doesn't beat true wilderness and the refreshing feeling of a crystal clear lake surrounded by a forest.  However, gardens and parks in the middle of a massive, metropolitan city, where you don't have an option of wilderness anyway, change the feeling of the city and gives it a constant hint of freshness.  If only our cities in Canada could improve on their parks, London wouldn't need to feel so smug.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Spreewald Gurken

For those familiar with the film, Goodbye Lenin, I have some exciting news: I bought my first Spreewald Gurken last week! Königs Wusterhausen is very close to the Spreewald and hosts a variety of meats and pickles from that area. At the market today, I replenished my Spreewald Gurken stock (I've taken a liking to the garlic flavoured ones).

I don't think I've ever been quite so excited about pickles before.

In other news, I faxed off my voter's registration form to Elections Canada today, so that I can vote. As soon as they receive my fax, they send me a special ballot to fill out. Once I receive it, I fill it out and send it back. Unfortunately, filling it out is my only option in this so-called democratic country, as eating the ballot would constitute a serious breach of the Canada Elections Act.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Mein deutsches Leben

Welcome, gentle readers, to the latest edition of my blog, entitled:
Deutschland, zweitausendundacht (2008)!

I currently live in the town Königs Wusterhausen, just a half hour train ride South of Berlin. Königs Wusterhausen, or KW as the locals say, is, along with Quillabamba, the largest town I have ever lived in. However, what is the best about my location is how close I am to a most interesting and unique city. Every time I am in Berlin, I have this ball of excitement rolling around my stomach, and even though I have lived in Germany before, Berlin is an entirely different ball game. It's a city bustling with change and sparkling with a most rich and fascinating history. I am such a cold war buff, and this is the absolute best place to be in order to feed my ever-growing interest.

I will also be taking a few courses at Humboldt University, the oldest University in Germany, so before you know it, I will be a the real deal: a Canadian student, who is feelin' pretty cool, attending a Berlin University.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

AYNI Desarrollo

Our Peruvian partner during the Stage - that is, a sort of Peruvian NGO, who has strong links with Quebec, actually Sherbrooke in particular - was called AYNI Desarollo. The first four letters stood for something to do with social and cultural improvements and "desarrollo" means "development".
AYNI is run by four young women between the ages of 19 and 29. Through public relations, demonstrations, and word to word communication, they promote health, being environmentally conscious, recycling, as well as mature cultural and social ideas. Machoism is still very prevalent in Peru, and they are attempting to make Peruvians aware of feminism, as well as squash homophobia, sexism, and racism.
It often feels like Peru is what Canada was fifty years ago, in terms of social improvement. We have elevated the status of women considerably since the fifties, and AYNI Desarrollo is working on doing the same. They give presentations and just generally promote such a wide spectrum of issues: safe sex, not chucking your garbage on the riverbanks, recycling, feminism, hygiene, cleanliness, etc. They are a very forward-thinking organization for Peru. It was such a delight to being able to work so close with them.

AYNI Desarrollo was not only built by students and workers from Sherbrooke, but they also receive all of their financial support from Quebec alone. Albeit many letters have been written and meetings have been held, the Peruvian government has yet to support AYNI, making sure to shove all sorts of bureaucracie and impossible paperwork like a thick wall between them and the organization.

Either way, AYNI is doing extremely well, thanks to the four extraordinary women who run it. They never stop working, organizing things, going to meetings. When they weren't working, they were doing things with us - they even came on the weekend outings with us, in order to maximize our safety. I have never seen such pure and honest dedication in one's work before - I was terribly impressed, even though I did often feel sorry for the girls when they worked such long hours.

AYNI Desarollo, in my opinion, should set an example for many other similar organizations wishing to establish themselves in developing countries. So, the next time I am indulging in Pisco, a Peruvian liquor, I would like to raise a Pisco sour toast to Eliana, Deisy, Betty, and Angela, the four extraordinary women who headed and steered the strength and power of AYNI Desarrollo.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

More photos!

Showing off my tough side on the boat ride to the Pongo.
Crouching in front of Machu Picchu.

Kyla and I enjoying our view of Machu Picchu.

Peru Stage - The Musical!

Now, I must say that I am certainly tempted to write about our trip to Machu Picchu, but really, I would just be repeating many things said before: beautiful, outstanding, breathtaking, etc. I just cannot sum up such an amazing experience via words at the moment. When I return, I will post photos and tell mysterious, Inca-related legends, told to us by a young Peruvian man we met at the top of one of the mountains we climbed. In the meantime, however, I will just say a few things worth noting. First off, I, along with the rest of the group, was shocked at the westernization and cleanliness of Machu Picchu’s town, Aguas Calientes. It did not look like Peru. The buildings did not resemble anything I had seen around here, except maybe in the rich part of Lima. We passed several five-star hotels, and it felt like we had hiked into another country. Not only that, but there were wall-to-wall gringos (Spanish slang for white people). Gringos and gringas were pouring out of every restaurant and store, tons of them yakking loudly in English as they walked along the streets. I categorized them into three groups: retired couples or clean-cut, American families or young backpackers. It was very strange to be surrounded by unknown white people again.
Our hotel was pretty normal by North American standards but was utter luxury for us. Each room had its own bathroom! Not only that, but the bathrooms were equipped with a toilet seat, toilet paper, and even, get this, hot water in the shower! The students could not contain their shrieking. At least half the group took a shower. It is amazing what one can take for granted.
The weekend was fabulous; we were pampered, eating exciting things such as pasta, pizza, and avocado salads in a fancy restaurant (albeit again normal by North American standards). Everything was paid for, even the one free Pisco sour or white wine! I chose the white wine, and after a day of intense hiking, even the half glass made me feel light-hearted (headed).
That being said, we did many hours of hiking. We hiked from a place called Hydro Electrica to Aguas Calientes, which was probably around 12 kilometres but all on flat ground. Once we arrived, we ate (and indulged in that white wine) and an hour or so afterwards, eight of us, decided to climb a nearby mountain. It was a great, yet intense, hike. There were parts were it was so steep to climb that they had installed very long, wooden ladders. After the part with the ladders, it was a steep, rocky climb the rest of the way. Surprising us all, we made it up in exactly one hour, although it was said to take at least an hour and a half. Atop the mountain gave us the most spectacular view of Machu Picchu. The photo I have just posted is the view that Kyla and I, along with the others, witnessed.
It was at the top of this mountain that we met our Peruvian friend. He was dressed in Inca garb, complete with the colourful poncho and hat. Yannick was sure it was a tourist who had been traveling too long. It turned out that he was Peruvian, with excellent English, mind you, who was from a town near Quillabamba. He was our best tour guide, telling us all sorts of myths and legends surrounding the unknown and mystery of Machu Picchu and the Inca trails. Our hike was certainly enriched with his vast amounts of knowledge, and Erika and I both jumped with excitement when he told us that he was part of an emerging NGO that had to do with the protection of the Indigenous and modern cultures. I can’t wait to research more about it when I return home and have the luxury of unlimited internet.

Well, perhaps I said more than just a few things about the weekend, but there is certainly much more to elaborate on.

This will be my last entry from Peru. I hope to write one more blog entry about the Peru Stage upon my return – I want to write about our Peruvian partner, AYNI Desarrollo, headed by four young, incredibly ambitious, and hard-working women.

Hasta luego!