Portsmouth disabled man heads overseas to support disadvantaged children
6 September 2017
A Portsmouth man has become the first disabled volunteer to be sent overseas by leading charity Leonard Cheshire Disability – after he headed to Slovenia to support children from deprived backgrounds.
The experience of Reece Drennan, 21, is unusual. Though the UK is advanced for inclusive volunteering, it can be challenging to find inclusive volunteering opportunities for young people overseas, due to individual support requirements, and accessibility issues, as well as different countries’ approaches towards inclusivity.
Leonard Cheshire Disability worked with Erasmus, the EU organisation for youth volunteering opportunities – to offer Reece an unforgettable two months over the summer working at the Zavod Manipura, a children’s charity.
It was Reece’s first time travelling overseas on his own. He joined other volunteers in running activities for the children – including games, football, arts and crafts and cooking.
He also had a chance to develop self-confidence and skills transferable to paid work, such as taking part in building maintenance and improvements.
Placements offer the chance for individuals to learn to manage their disability away from home and family, which is the first step towards independent living.
'My favourite activity was laying new laminate flooring in the workshop area, because I learned new skills.
'I had my 21st birthday while I was out there, and as a surprise I was taken out for bowling. The hardest bit of the placement was missing home.
'While I was there, I didn’t face challenges travelling with a disability. I used the buses loads; it was easy after I did it a couple of times with support my local mentor and supervisor in Slovenia.'
Reece’s friends and family were all very proud of his going to Slovenia.
'My mum Karen was really supportive; she knew it was the right challenge for me. My friends thought it was amazing too, they were jealous when I sent photos! They also thought I returned fitter than when I went out there.'
Leonard Cheshire Disability head of volunteering Jan Balzanella said:
'Although not without its challenges, going overseas provides volunteers with the opportunity to learn about different cultures, meet people of different nationalities and to develop their independence. For most they will not have stayed away from home and family before.
'As a charity, we’ve learnt a huge amount from Reece’s placement. Suitable opportunities are hard to find and a lot of time and thought has to be given to the appropriate support package required.'
Leonard Cheshire Disability picked Reece for this exciting opportunity as he was already part of the charity’s Can Do scheme, which helps disabled people aged 16-35 volunteer in their local community. The opportunity in Slovenia was funded through Erasmus.
Senior programme coordinator Ellenor Gray said Reece was 'a natural choice' and the charity worked closely with his family to make sure he was prepared for the new experience.
Now back in the UK, Reece is keen to learn about fencing and flooring. Once he has recovered from an upcoming operation, he is hoping to get a paid job. In the meantime is looking for volunteering he can do while in a wheelchair and will be conducting access surveys for Can Do.
Reece also made a friend in Slovenia, Mikko from Finland, who will be visiting Reece soon and having a tour of Portsmouth.
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