Experience: working with charities in Durham

By Alexandra Fitzgerald

It’s no secret that Durham is a bubble; a small toy town in the North of England, where everyone knows everyone yet the student body remains strangely separated from the outside community. Some love it, some find it immensely claustrophobic. I fall into the latter category and have found becoming involved in local charitable projects to be the solution.

I struggled enormously with the feeling of disconnect from society, coming into contact with many highly privileged people who could not seem to understand that their situation was not the norm. I do believe that a huge divide exists between the university and the local community and found this hugely problematic and troublesome.

The town versus gown mentality that is harboured amongst students is completely counterproductive to the desire to deepen one’s education as it stems, to a certain degree, from an unwillingness to understand and be involved in the lives of the local population. This appears contradictory to the broad concept of a university education, which is to widen your understanding in every way possible and come out the other end a more rounded, educated individual.

This is why I want to actively encourage as many people as possible to become involved in local charitable projects, as it breaks down this division and allows for university students to actually contribute in an incredibly meaningful way to the community in which they have chosen to further their studies. It allows you to break through the bubble and be involved in projects that will broaden your education, all while making a social impact.

A great example of a project that allows you to bridge the gap between student and the local population is the Durham University Halo Project. This has stemmed from the Halo Project, a charity based in Middlesbrough whose aims are to help victims of honour-based violence, forced marriages and FGM by providing appropriate advice and support, as well as doing advocacy work for victims of these crimes based in the North East of England. If not prevented these abuses of human rights can lead to abduction, serial rape and murder in extreme cases.

I had not fully grasped how much of a widespread problem these human rights violations were before becoming involved in the project and it became a truly eye opening experience; there are as many as 12 reported honour killings every year in the UK (the police estimated 12 in 2002) and this does not include the many victims who are taken abroad, as those cases go unreported.

The Durham University Halo Project’s goals are to raise awareness of these taboo subjects amongst the student population. We achieve this through campaigning, holding events and producing media material so as to spread the message consistently and through different forms thus reaching as wide an audience as possible.

The project’s slogan ‘Break the silence’ is incredibly apt due to the issues remaining unspoken about. This is where part of the problem lies because as long as there is no discourse, victims will not know where to find help and the general population will continue to deem it a problem that does not concern the UK population as it ‘only happens abroad’.

The lack of discourse effectively permits the perpetrators to continue committing these heinous crimes and get away with them; the offences remain hidden. The project aims to help reveal them and bring light to them.

Universities are in a unique position in which discourse naturally flows and students tend to want to respond to said dialogues, thus representing the perfect audience. The project consequently has a natural home in which it has been allowed to flourish and take form.

Being involved in this project has been without doubt the most rewarding experience throughout my time at Durham. It has allowed me become involved in an incredibly worthwhile project and as a consequence, my education has been broadened along the way, as I have learnt about these cultural taboo issues.

Moreover, the skills that students acquire at university, such as communicating effectively, can be engaged and used to benefit the local community. Consequently, not only can skills be learnt but previously obtained ones can be used for good.

It is so easy to remain sheltered within the bubble throughout your time at Durham but to break it reaps so many rewards that it would be complacent not to, especially as there are so many opportunities to become involved in projects linked to local charities.

To learn more about the Durham University Halo Project, please contact a.j.fitzgerald@durham.ac.uk and also like our facebook page, The Durham University Student Halo Project, to be kept updated.

Illustration by Sapphire Demirsöz

 

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