Teacher CALUM MACKENZIE has life-changing memories of helping some of the world’s most needy children as a volunteer for Global Care. Calum, who is now a father of four himself, says his experiences through the charity have touched countless lives since.
Calum Mackenzie was a student at Birmingham University when he first heard about the work of Global Care. An advert went up in a common room appealing for volunteers willing to help rebuild the lives of children in war-ravaged Kosovo, and Calum was quick to apply.
He says: “For me, it was the perfect opportunity. From the age of 15 or 16, all I had ever wanted to do was travel and to use my interest in drama to help others in some way.
“I spoke to Peter Burnett at Global Care and explained I was studying for a degree in Youth, Community and Play Studies and he basically said ‘How soon can you start?”
Calum went out to Kosovo for six weeks in the summer of 1999, at a time when Global Care was committed to helping rehabilitate families and communities as the war came to an end.
Volunteers were working to rebuild and re-open schools which had been damaged during the conflict, enabling children who weren’t currently attending lessons to re-start their education.
Calum recalls: “There were basically hundreds of children without proper school facilities and with no-one to teach them. I went in as an all-singing, all-dancing youth worker and encouraged them to take part in drama and singing lessons, kick-start their learning again and basically to have fun.
“I can remember one grandmother in Kosovo telling me that it was the first time anyone in the village had heard their children laughing and singing in months.
“That was the moment I realised I could use the things I was good at – basically music, drama and acting the fool! – to improve people’s lives. I knew then I had those talents for a reason and that realisation had a profound effect on me.”
Calum was so sorry when his six-week stint in Kosovo came to an end, that the following summer he contacted Peter Burnett again. Soon afterwards, he arrived in Mozambique where Global Care was helping to rebuild communities badly affected by heavy flooding.
Calum joined a team building a stone pathway to a church which had been left stranded by the flooding. Global Care volunteers were also working in a large orphanage just outside the capital, Maputo, where Calum met one little boy in particular who touched his life during the six weeks he was there.
He says: “This particular little boy had severe learning difficulties and developmental delay. We learned that when he was younger, his sister had been told to go outside and kill him with a rock but thankfully, she had told him to run away instead.”
Although the boy had found his way to the orphanage, the staff had little idea how to communicate with him or care for him. Calum says: “He had been put in a hut on his own with no windows. It was heart-breaking. We did what we could to clean and improve his living conditions, and basically to show him some love and affection..”
Calum’s final stint for Global Care took him to Albania for three months after he graduated. There he worked in a slum area outside the capital, Tirana, helping with various projects including building a community centre, running a homework club and setting up his own youth café for teenage boys.
The community centre Calum helped build became the much-loved EJA (Welcome) Centre, which was for so many years central to the work Global Care is still running in Albania today, now based in a new building, the New Day Centre..
Calum says: “Global Care was a terrific charity to work for. Peter Burnett was brilliant and I always felt well prepared before I went out and confident that support would be there if I needed it.
“In Mozambique and Kosovo in particular, there was a great team spirit. We were a very mixed bag of people but because of the kind of work we were doing, everyone was united towards a common aim.
“Although we heard some truly terrible stories I don’t remember ever dwelling on that. You had to see the glass half full and give 100 per cent of yourself to whatever you were doing.”
Since those days, Calum has trained as a teacher, working in a number of schools across the UK, and is now father to four children aged between three and 12.
He says: “I often talk to my children about their ‘bucket lists’ and all of them will include travel on their list of the things they most want to do. My eight-year-old has also inherited my love of drama and would love to be an actress (as well as to run a sweet shop!).
“Over the years, I have talked to them a great deal about my work for Global Care and they have looked at my photos from time to time and asked me questions like ‘Why are those children surrounded by burnt out houses and cars?’
“Not only that, I have used my experiences through Global Care in all the schools I have worked at, to explain to the students why taking the opportunity to travel and to have an impact on other people’s lives will change their own lives for the good.
“I don’t think it’s ever possible to really know the ripple effect of an organisation like Global Care. All I can say is that the experiences I was fortunate enough to have through the charity changed my life for ever, and have impacted since on the lives of hundreds if not thousands of children I have spoken to over the years.
“It is said that the two most important days in a person’s life are the day they are born and the day they realise why they are born, and it was through Global Care that I learned my own ‘why’.”