Wednesday, 6 February 2019

A New Adventure - Corrymeela!

2019 brings a completely new adventure for me, something I have never done before!

Last semester I managed to gain much better control of my Type 1 Diabetes (but definitely not perfect!), and I felt so much better for that. One of the things I want to do when going away to Northern Ireland (where my University placement is) can help me redefine what living with Type 1 Diabetes means to me. In the past year I have quite a negative outlook on it, it has held me back from doing thing, and although it has given me opportunities, I have resented it. This can be a chance to gain a positive outlook on the strength it has given me and the opportunities. I have already noticed that I use the fact that I live with Type 1 Diabetes as conversation starter, a way to connect with people who have been through similar experiences, and that in itself is a strength which I wouldn't have gained without Type 1 Diabetes.

I'm on a placement at an organisation called "Corrymeela", which is based on the North coast of Northern Ireland. I live, eat and work on site, interact with all the groups that come through, help out wherever I can, but one of the main things I am using this experience for is to figure out how to be myself. I am living in a house with around 20 volunteers from all different cultures (There are volunteers from America, Scotland, England, Northern Ireland, Canada, Germany, South Korea currently!) and this will be a test to see whether I can prioritise living with so many other people and taking care of myself.
In front of the beautiful scenery at Corrymeela
Me on the Giants Causeway

Corrymeela brands themselves as a centre for peace and reconciliation, and it has 4 areas of work, which are Sectarianism, Marginalisation, Legacy of Conflict and Public Theology. The groups that come through include school groups, international groups, people who want to learn about the conflict in Ireland and how it relates to them e.g. South Korea, and many many more. The work that Corrymeela do varies so much, but all groups leave with a legacy. They use the phrase "Corrymeela begins when you leave" because Corrymeela sows the seeds for lifelong learning. After being here for less than a month, I have already learned so much, both from the groups and the people volunteers and staff at Corrymeela. I often feel naive, because I didn't know the extent of the problems that Northern Ireland faced and still face, and so it has reminded me that lifelong learning is so important, and that we should never judge anyone else's lives unless we know all the facts.

Some fellow volunteers in front of a mural in Belfast

That being said, being at Corrymeela has been difficult because all the food is served cafeteria style. I give my insulin dose based on how many carbohydrates I eat, and this usually means I can look at the nutritional information on a food packet, or weigh the food I eat and figure it out. I don't have any of that information here, and so I have to guess how much carbohydrates I'm eating. I have gotten it very wrong so far! This means that often my blood sugar is high, making me tired and not be able to concentrate properly, which in turn means that I am not as productive as I hope to be. I think this will be an ongoing challenge for my remaining time at Corrymeela.

Having a day off in the pub
I want to use Corrymeela as a chance to learn skills of self-care, to help with my ongoing mental health. I think the location itself helps massively, just looking outside the window at the outstanding views is so peaceful. Corrymeela also holds something called "Silence in the Croi" every morning, where volunteers living on site can go and reflect on their day, or read a book, or journal, and I have found this an amazing way to start my day. Just sitting there, not having to think about anything and just being present in that moment is such a good feeling and sets my days up perfectly.

Being here, I have already learnt so much, but the main thing I have learned so far is how to be part of a community. Being able to lean on others and have them lean on you is an incredible feeling, and something which I have never truly felt before. If that is all I gain from being at Corrymeela (and I'm sure it won't be!), my time will have been worth it.

I'm looking forward to seeing what else Corrymeela has in store for me and how much I can learn in the short time I am here. I want to be a tourist and learn the culture that Northern Ireland has. I can already tell it's an experience I will cherish.

Until next time,

Alyssa x

Volunteer dream team