Saturday, June 3, 2023

Of Little Trips and Great Learnings

The other day, we (some staff, volunteers and service users of Mary Seacole House, Liverpool) went on a day trip to Llangollen. This wasn't the first time I accompanied them on a day trip. In fact, this must have been the third or fourth time I am going on a trip with the group since February 2022. Whenever I go on a trip with the group, it fills me with endless joy. It is not just the fact that I love travelling, but the fact that these trips give me an opportunity to know the people around me better.  

Group of people

For most service users, these trips are new experiences. Many of them don't get an opportunity to travel out of Liverpool. They spend all the time cooped up in the hotels/hostel after returning from classes/activities organised by MSH. And if someone gets an opportunity, they don't usually have the money or resource to fund their trip. For almost all of them, these trips are avenues of escape from the harsh realities of life. It is something to look forward to and remind them that despite all the difficulties, they are valued and cared for, at least by us.    

For us, as service providers, it is an opportunity to help them improve their mental health and well-being. Although we are mostly cash-strapped and have to depend on small pots of funds/projects, trips like these are ways to offer the service users a much needed respite from the daily gloom. It is a holistic way to provide them with enriching life experiences with positive impacts on mental health.

After getting back from our recent trip to Llangollen, I reflected on it and realised a few things that these trips did: 

Strong community and social connection: All our trips brings the community closer as it fosters better social connection with each other. A vast majority of our service users often feel isolated and lonely. The trips that we take them on gives an opportunity for people to come together, relax and support each other. It helps forge meaningful connection with oneself and others who share similar experiences. As such, a sense of belonging sets in, which goes a long way in boosting self esteem, reducing isolation and promoting overall well-being.

Better physical and emotional well-being: Although the trips are far and few in between, they nevertheless include physical activities and outdoor adventures. It offers an excellent opportunity for service users to engage in exercise and explore the great British outdoors. As we all know, physical activity has a positive impact on mental health as it releases endorphins and reduces stress levels. Furthermore, time spent in nature has a calming effect on both body and mind, which in turn help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. So, the trips are not just us ticking a few boxes, but a truly powerful therapeutic tool that promotes well-being and better mental health.

Build skills and resilience: Trips are great ways to develop and enhance skills and resilience. This is true for both service providers and users. Engaging in new activities/experiences and stepping out of the comfort zone can feel like an intimidating task. However, being in the company of people you know & trust, while trying out new experiences in a supportive environment can work wonders for all. Learning new skills and successfully navigating unfamiliar situations can boost self esteem, confidence and mental health. People feel empowered and resilient as a result of better mental health. 

Break from the routine and chance for personal growth: Daily routines can feel repetitive and boring, resulting in a feeling of stagnation and poor mental health. Organising trips helps the service providers to break free from the daily routines (which, in our case,  isn't monotonous). For the service users, it is a chance to understand the cultures and places of the country better. Trips often stimulate curiosity, broaden the horizons and facilitate personal growth. Often people find a change in their perspectives, discover hidden talents and find a renewed purpose and excitement in life. 

Emotional connect: Often, trips offer opportunities for people to open up and build emotional connection with one another. Journeys are opportunities for an open and accepting atmosphere where individuals can discuss their experiences, challenges, and triumphs. It is a chance for people to reflect and renew themselves by drawing on the positive experiences from the trip. It also helps in creating a sense of collective understanding, empathy, and support among all those travel together.

There is more to each trips that we go on with our service users. We travel together, we eat together, we see and explore new places together, we know and understand each other better. Invariably, on our way back to Liverpool, we sing songs together and have loads of fun. As I listened to the lovely vocals in Hindi, Urdu, Spanish, Persian and Arabic being rendered that evening, I realised that just like in music, Mary Seacole House too speaks the universal language of love. What better message can we rely to the world in these troubled times? 

Thursday, May 18, 2023

How Volunteering Improved My Mental Health

A year and a half ago, I was pretty content with my writing gigs, sketching & drawing, and doing things I thought made me happy. As the world returned to normalcy, I slowly emerged from the stress and misery I felt during the pandemic. Although my work and hobbies had kept me going through those dark days of social isolation and loneliness, a strange feeling of void continued to nag me all the while.

Each day found me struggling to find any sense or purpose to what I did – life was becoming more and more mechanical. Even the things I enjoyed the most in the past, drawing and writing, started to feel more like a boring task I had to complete. No matter what I did, I found myself getting frustrated and unhappy.

A lonely woman

At that time, I was living in a self-imposed bubble, and had minimal contact with people outside my family as I didn't feel like talking to or meeting with friends or socializing in any way. Of course, I enjoyed the trips with my family, and perhaps that was the only thing in life that made some sense to me then. Everything else felt like pre-programmed activities I had to do, whether I enjoyed them or not.

Then, one day, I reconnected with a friend when she phoned me out of the blue. We hardly spoke to each other since the pandemic started. I was happy to hear from her, and among other things, she asked if I would like to volunteer with the organization she works for. My first instinct was to say no. But then, I didn't want to disappoint her and so I said: 'let me see'.

I was in two minds – I did want a change, but I wasn't sure if I was cut out for volunteering. I like to help people whenever I can, but I haven't volunteered with an organization before. So, I gave my friend a half-hearted yes that day thinking I'll find some excuse for not going.

I had made up my mind not to go. I had tons of excuses lined up – my work, my hobbies, the nasty weather, the distance – the list was quite exhaustive. Luckily, on the day I was supposed to start volunteering, my friend messaged saying that the event/activity scheduled for the day was canceled due to bad weather. I was relieved and happy.

But my relief was short-lived as she called me a couple of days later and asked me to visit the organization and see things for myself at least once. Perhaps, on that day I had no energy to say no to her or I couldn't find a plausible excuse, or just because it was meant to be, I decided I would go.

So, on a cold, windy, and gloomy day in February, I went to volunteer with Mary Seacole House, Liverpool. I didn't know what to expect or what to do when I got there. But the moment I stepped inside Kuumba Imani Millennium Centre, where all the activities of MSH take place, I felt something different. And how that decision changed my life!!!
An image saying volunteer

I was drawn into the buzz – several activities were happening simultaneously. English class for non-English speakers, peer support group, mental health activities, & whatnot! It seemed like I was transported from a vacuum into a buzzing world of non-stop activities. Contrary to my fears, I wasn't intimidated by it. Despite the chaos around me, I felt strangely at home.

I took it all in, and before I knew it, I started working as a volunteer there. I was assigned the task of helping a group of people to learn English. Some didn't even know the English alphabet, while others could understand the language reasonably well. Most of them couldn't speak well, so I had to help them speak and learn English. Thus started my volunteering journey.

That day, I went to Mary Seacole House just to see what it was all about, and I ended up agreeing to volunteer three days a week. I was assigned to help run women's and men's peer support group, through which MSH run several mental health and well-being programs for women, men, and families.

Several of the service users were migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. They all needed help to learn English. ESOL was one of the significant needs, so we offered all the help we could so they could learn English to improve their life in this foreign land. I also met several people who had been living in the country for years but had very limited or nil social interaction until they started coming to Mary Seacole House.
Art depicting diverse people

MSH aims to help all these people as they all suffer from social isolation and hence, some kind of mental health problems. What makes things worse for them is that even talking about mental health is still taboo in most communities.

Anyway, I soon became a part of the MSH family, helping with everything in any way I could. Looking back, I am happy that I didn't say no to volunteering that day because it made a real difference in my life. Volunteering gave me a meaningful purpose in my life. I thought I would be offering my skills to improve other people's lives, whereas, in reality, the experience has enriched me. I discovered the transformative power of volunteering and its positive impact on my mental health.

I am writing this blog to share my experience and the valuable lessons I learned as a volunteer. There are several benefits to volunteering. Allow me to list a few for you.

It Gives A Sense of Purpose

pic of handsPersonally, the most significant benefit of volunteering is the sense of purpose it provides. Engaging in meaningful activities that contributed to the well-being of others gave me a renewed sense of purpose. Before volunteering, I often felt adrift and disconnected from the world. But as I started devoting my time and energy to a cause I cared about, I found a deep sense of fulfillment and purpose, which I didn't know I was lacking.

It Connects You with the Community:

Volunteering opened doors to new relationships and connections. It allowed me to meet like-minded individuals who shared my passion for making a difference. I volunteered with a group of people who genuinely cared about the causes and worked for the well-being of the service users. It was an opportunity for me to forge new friendships and connections that helped me overcome feelings of loneliness and isolation I felt throughout the pandemic. Being part of a supportive network boosted my self-esteem and provided a sense of belonging. Through volunteering, I got a family away from home…

Gives a New Perspective and Instils a Sense of Gratitude

Volunteering exposed me to different perspectives and life experiences. It was a humbling reminder of the challenges others face and has helped foster empathy and gratitude within me. Witnessing the resilience and determination of those less fortunate made me appreciate the privileges I often took for granted. This shift in perspective helped me develop gratitude for the blessings in my own life, and it significantly improved my overall outlook.

It is a Stress Relief

MeditationEngaging in volunteering activities has been a healthy distraction from personal stressors. When I immersed myself in volunteer work, I found that my worries and anxieties took a back seat. Although I was never a habitual worrier, I slowly became one. However, focusing on helping others allowed me to break free from the clutches of worries and unnecessary stress. Moreover, it allowed me to gain a fresh perspective. I had read about studies showing that acts of kindness and altruism can trigger the release of endorphins, promoting feelings of happiness and reducing stress. Volunteering helped me experience that.

It Facilitates Personal Growth and Skill Development

Volunteering gave me a unique opportunity for personal growth and skill development. By stepping outside of my comfort zones, I have acquired new skills, gained valuable experiences, and even discovered some hidden talents. Through volunteer work, I further developed leadership skills, improved my communication abilities, overcame my reluctance to socialize, and learned to adapt to diverse situations. These newfound skills boosted my self-confidence and proved valuable in various aspects of my life.

Apart from that, I also attended several formal training in health and safety, food safety and hygiene, TEFL, PTLLS, and more. Learning is a never-ending adventure, so I grabbed every opportunity to learn new skills and brush up on my abilities during my stint as a volunteer.

Last but not least, volunteering has incredibly impacted my mental health journey. It made me realize how miserable and lost I was – perhaps I would've gone into depression or suffered from anxiety and stress if I hadn't taken up volunteering. Often, when people appreciate me for my work, I remind myself that I have received more than I gave, which makes me feel blessed and humble.

To all of you reading this, consider volunteering if you're feeling lost or missing a sense of purpose. Find a cause that resonates with you and dedicate time to making a difference. The benefits you'll experience may surprise you. Remember, by helping others, you're also helping yourself.

So, why not embark on a journey of transformation and self-discovery through volunteering? Your mental health will thank you for it.

Click here to know more about Mary Seacole House, Liverpool.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Driving from Edinburgh to Isle of Skye through scenic roads- Amazing Scotland

In this episode of Amazing Scotland series, we invite you to join us on this scenic drive to Isle Skye from Edinburgh. There are several routes to Isle of Syke from Edinburgh. We have travelled through some of those highlands roads during our previous visits. This time, we decided to take the most scenic routes of them all which will take us through Cairngorms National Park and Snow Road. You can see the video of our trip here (if you liked what you saw, please subscribe the channel and show your support)

The 90 mile stretch of Snow Road is said to be an amazing sight in the winter. We read that it is no less beautiful during the summer as well. As we are never tired of beautiful sights, we jumped at the opportunity to see new sights and explore new routes.

You'll see that our decision was right. As we left Edinburgh behind, we were treated with some amazing scenery - it was literally feast for our eyes and soul. We couldn't have asked for more (except, perhaps a better weather :) ) On the way, we passed through some lovely towns and villages. Stopped a couple of times to enjoy the views of Cairngorms National Park. Breathing in that fresh crispy air felt heavenly. The heart was filled with joy.

We drove on through the valleys, enjoying the sights of small rivers and rivulets flowing by, clouds kissing the mountains, rains making it all disappear and sunshine bringing rainbows. It was a rollercoaster ride of a different kind. Nature can be such a good entertainer... We stopped near Balmoral Castle gates and enjoyed some views befitting the royals. We knew we couldn't get a view of the Queen's private residence even from afar. We would've loved to get a glimpse of it at least from far. But her majesty was in residence there at that time and so there was no way we could have managed that.
Spending some time by the side of River Dee was refreshing. It felt really nice to be able to see and feel nature up close. It was both a poignant and relaxing moment at the same time.

We then went on to the next item on our itinerary for the day - a distillery tour. You can catch the details of that visit next week. Stay tuned...

Friday, October 2, 2020

Royal Mile Walk Part -2|| Edinburgh || Amazing Scotland

If someone asks us 'what to see in Edinburgh Scotland', we would say 'Royal Mile without any hesitation. Well, you want to know why, check out the earlier blog here.

Here is the second part of the Vlog where you can enjoy these sights on our YouTube Channel Wanderscapes. Don't forget to subscribe and show your support while you are there.

In this second part, we continue from where we left off last week- we bring sights from the Edinburgh Castle ( Although we didn't go inside this time due to the pandemic situation, we had been inside a couple of times and so we know what's inside.

Edinburgh Castle

If you are in Edinburgh and go in, make sure your time your visit to see the daily gun shot which happens precisely at 1 PM. This happens daily, except on Sundays, Christmas and Easter.
The other attractions include the Scottish Crown Jewels - the crown, sceptre and sword used during the coronation of Mary Queen of Scots. There are several towers, museums and a small chapel. A detailed visit will take 3-4 hours. The view is fabulous from the top - a rewarding sight once you climb up the small hills.

Once you've seen everything the castle has to offer, it is time to walk back. As you go down Castlehill, you may try the Scotch Whiskey Experience ( to understand how whiskey is made. Enjoy the tasting session and you can even buy some whiskey if you liked what you tasted.

The Harry Potter connection
As you walk down the castle hill, you will see and hear the bagpiper stationed at the bottom of Castlehill playing the bagpipe. Listen to him and enjoy the Scottish music to your heart's fill. At Lawnmarket, take a diversion towards the George IV bridge for some unique views of the city. marvel at the architecture of this elevated street. It is really awe inspiring to see the buildings on the so called bridge, including the Scottish National Library. And as you walk past the Scottish National Library, you'll find a small cafe painted in red. Harry Potter fans, that's elephant house ( for you - J K Rowling spent many a days writing Harry Potter in this small cafe. If you go in, don't forget to visit the toilet - the graffiti on walls by Harry Potter fans are said to be very interesting.
If you walk further on towards the candle makers row, you will see the Greyfrairs Bobby. Somewhere in the vicinity is the graveyard from where J K Rowling is said to have got inspiration for the names used in Harry Potter series.
Adam Smith's Grave 
Walk to the opposite direction, towards the Princes Garden. There, a tall structure would attract your immediate attention. That's Scott Monument, dedicated to Sir Walter Scott. This 200-feet tall structure is said to be world's second largest monument dedicated to a writer. ( Back on Royal Mile, pause to look at the Heart of Midlothian. It was the site of a prison in the old days and so don't be surprised if the locals look at it with disgust. One you look around the place again, enjoy the stroll back to Canongate - this might be a good time to remember all those famous Scots - Alexander Fleming, Alexander Graham Bell, James Watt, Arthur Conan Doyle, R L Stevenson, Adam Smith, Sir Walter Scott and others.

At Canongate church, you can visit the grave of Adam Smith. Further down the road is the house he lived in.

Queens Gallery
Soon we will be back at Holyrood after experiencing the unique sights and sounds of Edinburgh. There is more to see in this beautiful city. We shall leave those for some other time, shall we?

#wanderscapes #amazingscotland #royalmilewalkmalayalam

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Royall Mile Walk Part #1 - Edinburgh - Amazing Scotland

Royall Mile Walk Part #1 - Edinburgh - Amazing Scotland 

Ok, so before anything, let me lay down the cards - this is a travelogue based on our trip to Scotland. We are making a vlog series of it. So, if you would rather watch it than read it here, click here to watch on our YouTube channel, Wanderscapes (and while you are there, consider subscribing to the channel too) 

Royal Mile

Now, this is the second episode of our Amazing Scotland Series. We have just reached Edinburgh. In this blog, I tell you about some of the must see sights of Edinburgh. In the video, you'll get a glimpse of Holyrood Palace and Scottish Parliament before we go on one of the amazing walks through the city. Since this blog is about Royal Mile, I don't intend to go into the details of the palace and parliament. 

Holyrood Palace - Front View

Royal Mile is a one mile stretch of road extending from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace.
It is a collection of five streets - Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, Canongate and Abbey Stand. Royal mile is the busiest and most favoured destination of the tourists. Royal Mile walk is a favorite activity of tourists visiting Edinburgh.

This walk is like no other. Here we can see an amazing blend of the old with the new. As we walk along the clobbered street after a quick look at the symbols of both monarchy and democracy, we are ushered into a magical world - truly one of its kind.

Inside the Scottish Parliament 
First, we see the 'close's and 'wynd's and learn the reason behind the strange names. Close was closed to the public - as it led to private, gated properties which could not be accessed without permission. Wynd was a thoroughfare used freely by the public. As we descend thorough the closes and wynds we will be astonished to find unexpected sights - it is like discovering a world within a world. For, beyond the steep descend, sometimes through steps, we will find homes, streets, offices, garden, park and what not. Climb down the unsuspecting flight of stairs to land in a completely different set up. You'll feel you left Royal Mile and entered another world altogether.

'Wynd'ing down 
Once you have explored enough closes and wynds that they cease to be a novelty (although the temptation to walk down a close is too strong to ignore), proceed along the royal mile to enjoy some window shopping. There are dozens of shops selling curios, mementos, gifts and other little (and big) things you would love to take home as a reminder of your visit to this amazing city.

 What a view!
A road to somewhere
If you feel you need something to energise you, pop in to one of the numerous eateries along the way. Better still, pop in to one of the pub or tavern to enjoy a drink or two along with some fascinating stories of its origin. Some, like Old Tolbooth Tavern are rumoured to be haunted - look up the stories and enjoy some good old tales.

Not into myths and tales? No worries - there are numerous museums to quench your thirst of knowledge and facts. Visit Museum of Edinburgh to know more about this fascinating city or pop in to Museum of Childhood - first of its kind in the whole world- to satisfy your urge to know more. Writers museum, People's museum and if you don't mind wandering off a bit from Royal Mile, The Dynamic Earth and the National Museum of Scotland is worth a visit - say hi to Dolly the sheep from us if you happen to visit the national museum :)

Nether bow Wellhead with a view of Royal Mile at the backdrop

Are you looking for some traditional clothing? well, there are so many shops specialising in kilts and tartans that you will have trouble choosing. You can buy some tweeds, cashmere and more from some of these iconic and long standing establishments. If you are low on energy, head to fudge house and enjoy some of their delicious fudges - they have a wide range of flavours from traditional to some innovative. If you are a chocolate lover, the milk chocolate one is a must - our chocolate loving son couldn't have enough of it!

Hey, don't rush off - that's not just a random collection of stone in front of you - it is the oldest surviving well head. People used to line up here to collect water for their daily needs. If you were rich enough, you could pay the urchins to collect water on your behalf - that way you don't have to wake up in the middle of the night to collect precious water.

The mouth that quenched the thirst?
Moubray house is the oldest residential building and John Knox house is not so new either. Both have stood the test of time. So make sure your pause and take a good look at them.

John Knox House
It is never too early to do Christmas shopping when you are at the Nutcracker Christmas shop. Tardis, you said? Nah, that old police box is the ticket counter of Edinburgh City Tours. Not a cheap box though - someone paid more than 100000 pounds for that! Can you believe that?

St Giles Cathedral
Stop at the St Giles Cathedral to admire the building - the inside is even more pretty. Don't forget to see Adam Smith's statue near by. Explore the premise and you'll find more interesting stuff here.
Camera Obscura

Adam Smith

Ok Ok, time to walk ahead - no that's not a church. It is the Hub. Yes, it is the highest point in central Edinburgh. Yes, Camera Obscura is a must visit. At least have fun looking at those installations outside... And finally, go on and enjoy the awesome sight of Edinburgh castle perched upon the hill. Worthy of royalty, isn't it? #wanderscapes #royalmilewalk #edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Books I read in 2020 #8

Update on Weeks 8, 9,10

As it is obvious from the lack of posts here, not much reading happened during these weeks. All I read was a bit from Ivory Throne, which is progressing painfully slow. So, there is not much to write about on the reading front.

I had been busy with other things like my Vlog (Wanderscapes), which turned one recently, my drawing pursuits, writing and more. Sadly, reading has taken a back seat in all this. But I hope to bounce back in a week or so.

Until then, keep reading and discovering joy of letters... Cheers! 

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Books I read in 2020 #7

This week also saw me reading less than I had wanted to. A lot was happening around me and the week was one wherein I couldn't do everything I set out to... 

However, the good news is that I finished reading Heads You Win and did speed reading of another book too. Here's a quick round-up:

Heads You Win – Jeffrey Archer

So, this was a typical story by Archer - the underdog making it big in life against all odds. If I remember correctly, all his protagonists are ordinary people who rise above others and become extraordinary.

What makes Heads You Win is the parallel narrative, which he seems to handle quite easily. The same character with different lives in two different countries. After reading Archer's short stories, which by the way I rate higher than his novels, I am not surprised he can tell the two stories convincingly. If he had to come up with a few more versions, I am sure he would have done that with much elan.

It was nice to follow Alex and Sasha to their different destinations - while they wonder what would have happened if they had climbed into the other crate, the readers don't wonder about it. The writer lays down the two different lives that leave no room for asking what if...

I guessed the identity of the childhood friend and it was oddly satisfying to know my guess was correct. 

Although this cant be termed as the best of his works, Archer definitely keeps the readers engaged and amused. A good read, to say the least.

Do it Today - Darius Foroux 

This was kind of reading in bits and pieces for me. I read this book in between my chores and other free times I managed during the week. This is not a book I would have read from cover to cover at one go.

It was good to read - I am a procrastinator when it comes to some tasks and it was interesting to read about the reason for such behaviour. I should say the author is right. Will it help me overcome procrastination? I am not sure.

There are few other insights that I received from this book and I think overall it made a nice read. I love to read personal development books and this one has its merits. The language is easy and understandable - no jargon or wordplays. That for me made this a good choice for some light reading.

And thus ended another week of not so much of reading. I have not been able to catch up with the Ivory Throne this week because I didn't feel I had it in me to invest time and attention for serious reading - so probably I will come back to it at a later date.

I hope all of you had a good time reading what you love. Keep reading and enjoy the world of letters.. until next time, bye...

Of Little Trips and Great Learnings

The other day, we (some staff, volunteers and service users of Mary Seacole House, Liverpool) went on a day trip to Llangollen. This wasn&#...