Category: Volunteer


Meet RuBot

The date was 1974. The place? Budapest, Hungary. Erno Rubik, a passionate lecturer and admirer of geometry and 3D forms creates the world’s most addictive and perfect puzzle – the Rubik’s cube. It’s now thirty-seven years later and it’s still the best selling puzzle in the Universe.

There is even an annual World Rubik’s Cube Championship tournament, seriously, there is…check this out… http://www.speedcubing.com/

The first world champion was an American high school student who took the Budapest World Championship in 1982 by solving the puzzle in just 22.95 seconds! The latest record winner (2003) was Dan Knights of San Francisco who used the ‘Fridrich’ system to beat the cube in just 20 seconds.

There are 43 quintillion possible combinations with your Rubik’s cube. That’s 43 million million millions. There are about 30 million seconds in a year. You would need over a thousand million years assuming you could look at a thousand patterns every second just to see all the possible combinations.

Well recently I Volunteered to help out at the Discover Science Big Day Out. It was all about introducing the public, particularly children, to science and maths in a fun, engaging way. One of our main draws was this guy:

His name is RuBot II, his nickname; The Cubinator. Developed by Irish roboticist and inventor Peter Redmond. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, he is the world’s fastest Rubik’s cube solving robot.

And when he’s not solving puzzles, he’s on facebook, add him as a friend 🙂

http://www.facebook.com/pages/RuBot-II-The-Cubinator/80046476255?sk=wall#!/pages/RuBot-II-The-Cubinator/80046476255?sk=wall

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Throughout the academic year, I partook in the SUAS Sport Ed Mentoring Programme. Organised by SUAS and DCU SUAS Society, it saw local children attend DCU for 3 hours a week.

It is my expressed opinion that my volunteer participation with Suas has led to me heightening, not only my Global and Societal Awareness but crucially, has prompted significant personal development by making me an active citizen.

Initiatives such as these foster leadership skills and a volunteering culture.  I have gained almost as much as the children whom attended the program, increasing and fine tuning a whole raft of my personal competencies. I envision that a longer-term effect is that I will continue my voluntary engagement with social issues. In so doing, this program is succeeding in building a generation of socially committed leaders of the future.

Suas and Suas Societies in universities work in partnership with local community organizations to run mentoring projects for children and adults from under-resourced communities and marginalized groups. The mentoring program works with three groups:

  • Children from designated disadvantaged schools
  • Refugees and Asylum Seekers
  • Members of the Traveller Community

Mentoring projects such as the one I volunteered in are active across Dublin, Cork and Galway, and take the form of homework clubs, one-to-one English language tuition sessions, paired-reading classes, back-to-work projects and on campus multi-activity clubs, all of which are organized to correspond with the college year and the school year.

It is an aim to prevent early school leaving as well as benefitting the community and advancement of education. It also seeks to address educational disadvantage and promote social inclusion.  It offers a cost-effective, scalable model, complementary to the current education system to improve the educational outcome of the disadvantaged and improve their future life and career expectations. It is the all about promoting social inclusion through education.

Suas Educational Development’s main focus then, is in supporting quality education in under resourced communities. According to their promotional material, they seek to Educate, Engage and Inspire.

Educate:  Aims to offer education support to over 1,000 children a year (within Ireland) from marginalised communities. They aim to achieve this via enhancement of their education results, raising their confidence levels as well as encouraging positive attitudes towards learning. Another aim is in the encouragement of progression into third level education.

Engage: They seek to engage over four hundred young adults a year, particularly through Service Learning opportunities. This can be achieved via mentoring initiatives, teaching assistants roles and also Society members. The aim here is in aggressively targeting educational disadvantage in communities.

Inspire: Here they successfully inform over seven thousand young people a year, particularly regarding relevant issues upon which face our society. Such issues mat relate to a local and/or global level and are administered via courses, campaigns, events and exhibitions. The aim is in not only raising their Global and Societal Awareness but to inspire such individuals to not only be aware, but to take action.

The Suas mentoring program is a partnership between Suas Educational Development, the Suas college societies and Alumni network, local community organizations and schools.

Suas Sport Ed Mentoring Programme supports the education of this group by:

  • Being more learner centered
  • Establishing peer-to-peer informal relationship between mentor and mentee
  • Providing a practical homework support group for students from the Aisling Project.
  • Providing an opportunity for these students to participate in team sports.
  • Improving access to and attitudes towards third level education.

Out-of-school-activities including homework clubs and sports clubs, especially for participants from disadvantaged communities has been shown to benefit participants through:

Improvements in school work and a positive impact on literacy

Improvements in motivation and behaviour

Increased enthusiasm for learning and personal confidence

  • Raising formal education outcomes.
  • Increasing student confidence and presenting third level education as a real, attractive and viable opportunity after school.
  • Developing team-work skills – children learn to work as a team through the sports component.
  • Teaching students new sports skills, exposing students to a variety of sports.
  • Enhancing interpersonal skills – the ability to form successful relationships and improved behaviour and coping skills.

I volunteered at the DCU Sports education Programme each Monday.  The visit lasted approximately 3 hours.

Essentially the programme is broken down into three sessions.

  1. Students and Volunteers have lunch together in the canteen. I would wait alongside other DCU students, in the DCU restaurant, for the children to arrive. Once they arrived, it became a very informal mentoring session. At times it was wild in so far as many of the children reminded me of myself as a child, full of energy and hyperactive.  I would eat with the children and share life-experiences, all the while trying to become a positive role-model.
  2. Next we would go to the Henry Gratton Building and help the children in, what was called the homework club. I tried to support the students here and tried not to do the work for them.
  3. Finally, we would walk over to the DCU Sports Hall. I actually partook in most of the sports activities and could witness the children learn teamwork skills. This learning through sport concept is well designed, and something I would have enjoyed as a child.

At the end of the programme, a graduation event took place.  Here each child received a certificate for participating in the programme. Parents, teachers and all mentors all attended and celebrated the children’s achievements in completing the project. At this event, a video was shown highlighting the progression of the children throughout the programme, this is viewable at http://vimeo.com/22397999.

DCU Sports Ed Programme Graduation 2011 from Suas Educational Development on Vimeo.

After filling out the necessary application forms and nominating two sponsors (references) I attended the training session. At this stage I began participating in the DCU Sports Ed program. This saw approximately 60 primary school children from the Ballymun area, who are identified as in need of additional educational support, visit DCU. I, as a volunteer mentor, engaged with them in in a 3 part project involving dinner, homework and team sports.

Key Responsibilities:

  • Attend all sessions and sign in each week
  • Ensure a safe environment for the students
  • Lead by example and act as a positive role model
  • Give support, guidance and advice on the project
  • Provide motivation, enthusiasm and inspiration
  • Help develop skills and qualities of the students – for example; technical skills, confidence, teamwork
  • Build up a good relationship with the students – comprising of trust and respect

In my bid to become a positive role model for the participating students, I tried always to act with a high degree of integrity and responsibility at all times. I sought to continuously act in the students best interests whilst showcasing a dedicated service orientation.

My life experiences as well as my education has led to me becoming someone who is caring, has a high level of empathy and also a relatively high Global and Societal Awareness.

I have volunteered on many, many occasions prior to this and will continue to do so in the future. If I am being completely honest though, had it not been for a recommendation by a friend, I most likely would have passed this particular opportunity up. The programme ran simultaneously with a time in my life which was especially difficult for me, on a personal level. Combined with this, I was finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with the mountains of college work which was adding to my stress. This, I thought, would be the final elimination of any spare time for me.

But, my god, I am delighted that I did it. I was shocked by the deeply profound effect it had on me, even after day one. I joked and quipped that it felt great to finally communicate with people of my own maturity level.  And it was a joke, but really I enjoyed the children’s fun and games. I find that often in my course, there seems to be a ban on having fun. Serious is better. I don’t buy it. Yes we are older now, growing into a new stage of our lives. That doesn’t mean we have to leave behind what worked so well for us when we were younger, I refuse to let go of this outlook on life, no matter how many newspaper journalists tell me I should be distraught about this crises or that scandal. No, I won’t do it.

The more time I spent with the children, the more time I began to respect them. The student I normally mentored was Nathan. Nathan is someone whom I found incredibly admirable. Some of the stories he relayed to me where well and truly beyond his years and not only did he show a high level of maturity but he also showed his strength of character. If I had half of this strength of character I would be a much stronger person then I am now.

What I saw in Nathan was someone who was misunderstood. And, as is the case with someone of his years, he likely was finding it difficult to understand himself. I also saw a lot of my youth in him. Yet, let it be said that, Nathan, aka “NateDogg” as he preferred to be called, was faced with a lot more hurdles in his life then I have been.

Nathan’s best friend was Cillian. Cillian too is a likeable character, not so much of a gentle soul as Nathan, but always with a smile and only rarely did he get angry. He was a likeable rogue and somewhat of a class clown. What I began to notice though was that despite Nathan’s efforts to not misbehave, he seemed to get in as much, if not more trouble than Cillian. Where Cillian acted out in a bid to stand out and look for attention, Nathan would follow suit, to fit in with his circle of friends.

This took me back to my school days, I did the same thing as Nathan. And just like Nathan, I never knew how to “play the game”. When it came to someone getting in trouble, I was always in the firing line. Even to this day, I sometimes have a complicated relationship with authoritative figures, perhaps evidence of my childhood experiences permeating into my adult life.  What I notice is where a strict authority figure exists, especially with a dogmatic communication style, I often have to work especially hard on communicating with such individuals.

It would violate the trust I practised with the Suas children to discuss any of our stories here. What I will say is that some of the things I was told shocked me, and most certainly prompted me to reassess my own life. Nathan, it is fair to say, has a harder life then most kids. He doesn’t have the standard, traditional Irish family, if such an entity actually exists. What he does have, still, is an astounding level of resolve and character.

I tried to tell Nathan about my experiences in school and offer guidance in terms of doing well and staying out of trouble. Because it was obvious to me that he was trying. I felt rewarded by him taking my advice on board. I felt delighted that I was becoming a good role model, and equally delighted to be told that I’m “alright, nah, you’re sound”.

What I found with a lot of these kids was that many of them have a hard shell. Often there is a tough exterior bravado. Maybe, this is a result of their upbringing, maybe it’s a protective layer, in other cases it may be a cry for attention. I don’t know, I’m not a psychologist and would not like to unknowingly cast a judgement on someone’s character. What I do know is that the tough exterior tends to melt away once you gain their trust by communicating on their level, and showing them respect. This was as good an experience for me, in terms of developing my emotional intelligence, as any seminar I have attended.

My reaction to this experience was profound. I felt saddened by some of the children’s hardships but equally enlightened and even refreshed in many ways.  What I took from it was a sense of giving something back, I genuinely feel I have made some contribution to these children’s lives. Another thing I have taken from this, is a reappraisal of misfortune in my life.

As mentioned, at the time I was actually experiencing some personal trauma of my own. I was also finding it difficult to reach the levels I set myself in college. I felt momentarily down and almost deflated. Looking at the struggles which these kids have endured, and do endure, still sporting warm and amiable smiles, prompted me to reassess. It’s not all doom and gloom. My life was not all that bad. By the end of the program I was back to saying, life is peachy and I’m a very, very lucky person. Back to normal.

The reason I attended initially, was due to a recommendation of a friend. The reason I came back every week was because it had a profound effect on me. I felt I was making a difference to these children’s lives and I felt reenergized by doing so.

I cannot overstate the effect this program has had on my own personal development. What I found was that I accepted them, but in return, you had to work for the children’s acceptance. I have a genuine interest in communication skills. I’m an avid reader in the area and practise by attending Toastmaster network events, yet it still remains a prominent part of my own personal development plan.

One may think it is easy to become a leader of kids. It’s not. These kids were cute, they are shrewd and often cynical. I could feel them trying to suss out what each mentor was all about. I have an interest in sales, yet any career path I take, will rely upon my people skills. Business, after all, is about people. I approached this program as a challenge. I realised that if I could communicate with these kids, I could communicate with anyone. This was a tricky concept. Appear too authoritative and you lose them to rebellious disobedience. Appear too soft and you lose their respect. I decided to set aside all my preconceived notions of how to run a classroom. The autocratic approaches I had experienced never worked, why call upon them. Instead I spoke to the kids on their level. I showed them respect. I acknowledged the tests they put in front of you and never lost my cool. The message was “I’m alright”, “you’re alright”, “we’re alright”.

One day Nathan told me, his maths sums where impossible. Knowing that he was a big football fan I called upon the famous Adidas Slogan; “Impossible is Nothing”. We then talked a little about football, he just got new boots he told me. After a couple of minutes of chat, feeling better about himself, he was ready to try again. I was becoming a better communicator, and a better leader amongst men, or in this case; kids.

I found a certain element of barter was brought to the fore where Nathan would momentarily lose motivation to complete his maths homework. My previous offer of playing on his team in the sports, became dependent upon his effort in the homework class. I didn’t require it all to be completed, just for an effort. It worked. In fact it worked so well that one day instead of saying “I can’t do it” or “I won’t do it” he instead communicated to me that he had a bad that in school and that he is trying but finding it difficult. That was alright by me, the communication gates were open and communication was free flowing.

My goal in life is to be happy. That’s a cliché. It doesn’t have to be. As seen in my personal assessments, I attain happiness by making others happy. This is an ongoing practise of mine. Furthermore, my career path will likely rely on my sales skills. Not necessarily working in a sales department (although highly likely) but I will always have at least one thing to sell, and that is my own worth. What I find to be cliché is this notion of being yourself.  The point here is this; when approaching a new contact, I am who I say I am. The person they meet (me) is whomever I act like. I have a huge part in painting their perception of who Dara Boland is. There are many clichés about being yourself and such sorts. I personally approach things differently. I often see business contact meetings as a drama. The career division of my life is very different to the personal division of my life. So, yes where possible act “yourself”, but where I can put my best foot forward, I will. This is because I don’t fully agree with this concept of acting “yourself”. This concept draws from a lifetime of learned experiences which have crafted the individual. As such many of these learned experiences may have led to say shyness or even an aversion to socializing. I would rather make a new “yourself”, the one which you like best, because when you like yourself, you become infectious and people, network contacts, or here school kids, embrace you. The next stage is then to convey the feeling back, when you are warm, open and sympathetic. A key component of leadership is that of emotional intelligence and empathy. I thus strive to work on such complimentary assets.

In light of the current deterioration of the Irish economy it is vital that those who have benefitted least from the Irish Education system in the ‘boom’ years do not see a further fall in their educational attainment and are supported now, more than ever to release their potential.

856,685 attended primary and secondary schools in Ireland in 09/10. Approx 16% (137,070) were recognised as educationally disadvantaged with 311 primary schools and 203 secondary schools designated as disadvantaged schools by the Department of Education. 35% of these are located in urban areas.

The challenges facing children (9-14 years old) in urban DEIS schools:

  •   Low Literacy Levels: Up to 50% of children in disadvantaged primary schools have literacy problems
  •   Absenteeism: 1 in 4 pupils is absent for more than 20 days or more per annum
  •   Early School Leaving: 1,000 children per annum do not transfer from primary level into secondary level while 1 in 25 children leave school before the Junior Certificate

There is a need for additional cost-effective, scalable interventions, complementary of the current system to ensure that these children are encouraged to remain in school, complete their education, and where appropriate, aspire to enter into third level education.

Ballymun has a long history of social and economic disadvantage. Since 1997 Ballymun has been in a process of regeneration under the stewardship of Ballymun Regeneration Limited.

According to recent research, education is very much valued in Ballymun but educational outcomes are very poor with nearly half the Ballymun children leaving school at fifteen years of age or earlier. This compares to 24% nationally. It should also be noted that 27% of children across the various primary school in Ballymun are falling below the tenth percentile on national standardised reading scores (Aisling Report 2007).

Although previously unaware of this particular program I personally, had been involved in other charitable work and believe the merits of the Suas-DCU programme are indisputable.

Both my parents are from Ballymun, and in fact they actually met in a similar charitable volunteer programme.

One thing I have noticed, and recently read about in the David McWilliams book; The Popes Children, is the effect the celtic tiger had on the class system. McWilliams referred to it as a “Wonderbra Effect” whereby the majority of the Irish population would be represented by Middle class status. What Ireland has observed then is more and more people moving from the lower classes to Middle class.

This said,  research still suggests a significant gap between the elite and those from specific disadvantaged areas, in terms of third level education numbers.

This is a Societal issue, in so far as the more financially well off families may invest funds towards their offsprings University attendance, where as the less money rich families are less likely to do so.

Inequality in education is, in essence, a Global issue, which spreads far across countries and cultures.

Suas also operate initiatives outside of Ireland, mostly in developing countries. It is said that  “the education of children in developing countries is crucial for future economic growth”, particularly in ensuring stability and quality standards of living (Odit, Dookhan and Fauzel, 2010 p. 141). The same is true in Ireland, a developed country. Government should continue Investing in education in a bid to reenergize and in the long term sustain economic growth. Hu (2010) discusses how investment into human capital is an essential ingredient in terms of national and regional growth. The implication then is that less developed communities (e.g. Ballymun) should be subject to such investment.

An excellent opportunity exists here in terms of sponsoring such Suas events. In this regard, I am talking about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. Similarly, DCU benefit from being associated as a leader and championing such initiatives.

Archie B Carroll presents the CSR Pyramid in the article “The Pyramid of Corporate Social Responsibility: Toward the Moral Management of Organizational Stakeholders.” He discusses four kinds of social responsibilities which constitute total CSR: economic, legal, ethical and philanthropic.

CSR as described by the European Commission as “a concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interaction with their stakeholder on a voluntary basis, as they are increasingly aware that responsible behaviour leads to sustainable business success” (Commissions of the European Communities, 2002 cited in Dahlsrud 2008 p.9). Corporate reputation can be defined in terms of a number of attributes that form a buyer’s perception as to whether a company is well known, good or bad, reliable, trustworthy, reputable and believable (Levitt, 1965.)  Corporate social responsibility can be defined as the deliberate inclusion of societal interesting into an organisation which is said to impact on the triple bottom line; people, planet & profit (Berthelot, 2003).

One of the main aims for taking a corporate marketing orientation is a value creation which goes beyond profit maximization and includes long-term business survival alongside the meeting of societal needs (Podnar and Golob, 2007). So although a CSR campaign may even be difficult to align with marketing strategy, it may limit, for example, future government or lobby group intervention and therefore help ensure “long-term business survival.”

I have thus highlighted local business such as Musgraves, Lidl and IKEA whom may offer the Suas programme support.

As discussed throughout, the experience gained, was inherently a positive one. I learned a lot, heightened my Societal Awareness whilst also bolstering my personal competencies. Of course, there also existed some sad points. The sad reality is that, some of these children may be victims of child abuse, whether that is physical, sexual or emotional.

It is difficult to be critical of the program, as I have much admiration for all those involved. As I come from a background I would say that they may market the program better. I had not previously heard of the program, and I am someone who has been studying and partaking in clubs and societies here in DCU, for five full years. Of the volunteers, the vast majority where hailing from DCU. I fear then that should this change, perhaps the programme would become vulnerable.

CSR is an element of sustainability marketing and by engaging voluntarily in Social Responsibility initiatives; companies can gain positive views from the public as well as begin their journey of becoming sustainable (Belz and Peattie 2010). I feel that Suas could seek out corporate sponsorship from local companies. Perhaps nearby companies such as LIDL, IKEA or Musgraves may add to their Corporate Social Responsibility portfolios by investing in Suas.

In my introduction, I stated that this volunteer participation with Suas has led to me heightening, not only my Global and Societal Awareness but crucially, has prompted significant personal development by making me an active citizen.

My passion for volunteer work has be reignited and upon completion of my most imminent requirements (exams) I will resume such work. I am also fully committed to helping out on the Suas program next year, providing I can work my career around it.

Initially I never included my Volunteer work on my CV, however during such testing times in the job market, there is less room for modesty, I will thus include such undertakings in a new section of my CV.

As an individual, I no longer think solely in terms of my own existence and prosperity, but I understand that what I possess could have a Global impact. In this case, it related to school children less well off than me. A result of this could be seen where I attended the India NGM trip, I researched how I could help improve the lives of those in developing countries. I have since made a conscious decision to work with Camara, an organisation that deploys technology to improve education in Africa. (I encountered the founder of Camera, Mr. Gary McDarby at an eSoc event. A Biomedical Engineer and Neuroscientist by trade, he is a serial social-entrepreneur). Volunteer work, which calls upon my technical knowledge, will thus feature as a prominent part of my career path. (I have since applied for an Online Executive/Social Media position within the charity Barnardos.)


Going forward, the Suas Sports Ed Programme has entered into phase three of what is seen as a three phase growth model detailed in the table below. The first three years of Suas mentoring initiatives were characterized by rapid and organic growth with moderate support from Suas core body. While the programmes showed potential, there were challenges to sustainability.

Over the past year the Suas Office has begun to address these issues and increase its support level, focusing on high potential mentoring programmes such as one I was involved in; DCU Sport Education Programme. To ensure the long-term sustainability of the programme, Suas must, I feel, seek to form strong links with professional bodies and organisations within DCU.

2006 – 2008Phase 1: Start Up  Organic Growth – less focus  Low level of support from Suas Office.  Informal monitoring & evaluation  Short term focus => unsustainable in medium – long term 2009 – 2011Phase 2: Foundations for Growth  Build on lessons of phase 1  Focus on increasing quality & impact of programme  Development of content and training  Systemization of monitoring & evaluation

Increased support level from Suas Office

Partnership with college bodies

Longer term focus – movement towards a sustainable programme

 

2011 – 2013Phase 3:  Developing the Model Moving Towards Sustainable and Systemic Change  Build on lessons of phase 2  High quality packaged programme & training  Full time programme support team  Increase number / quality of programmes running in DCU

Programmes sustainable in long term

Increased partnership and engagement within college

Movement towards deeper engagement within communities & focus on policy changes