The first Durham changed my view on a place I’m familiar with. And now, moving on to the other Durham, I can’t wait for the new adventures.
The second half of the program is certainly more challenging but also more exciting than the first six weeks. When we were in Durham NC, everything was so familiar — the place we lived, the food we ate and the transportation we used. Although I’ve only spent one week in England so far, I’ve found myself in interesting situations multiple times and created a lot of memories.
Durham, UK, and Durham, NC, are similar in many ways. Durham, UK, is also a small and peaceful city, just like the other Durham. Shops, pubs, the train station, the bus station and the theaters are all located in the downtown area. The University of Durham brought thousands of young people to the city, but other than that, Durham is quite old, in terms of history and population. The mining industry, similar to the tobacco industry in NC used to be the foundation of the city. Most people who lived here used to be related to mining to some extent. After the last mine shut down in the 1980s, people no longer work in mines but the communities stay. The annual Miner’s Gala is still the most important event in the year where people gather together and celebrate the mining history.
In England, I am working with Changing Lives, a nonprofit organization that provides transitional housing for people in need. Changing Lives is different from CEF, the community partner I worked with in NC. But they are also connected in some ways. At Changing Lives, we work with the residents here to help them find permanent housing, apply for employment opportunities and get back into the community. A lot of the residents here were involved in drug and alcohol abuse or violence. Therefore, Changing Lives also help them stay away from these influences and put their life together. They actually do a lot more than just providing housing. Changing Lives empowers people to achieve their goals and gives them the resources to move on to the next stage, which is very similar to what we did at CEF. The first day at Changing Lives was a little overwhelming for me — I’ve never worked in an environment with 45 homeless males, some with addiction issues. But soon I realized they are all very friendly, approachable and a lot of them are actively making efforts to make up for their mistakes and changing their own lives. This also inspired me and my coworker Grace Mok to create a success board to celebrate residents’ achievements and motivate other people. With the limited amount of time here, we hope that this can create a lasting impact on the residents here and help them find motivation through their journey.
The staff at Changing Lives are very flexible and we have the freedom to decide what we want to do. This gives us a chance to reflect on how we could best help the organization and what we want to get out of the experience.