Cathy (Hambridge) Peel
Motivation and first SCI contacts
I attended a Quaker School and I was well used to hearing about overseas voluntary projects, which certainly influenced my thinking.
After school I trained as a Nursery Nurse in 1962/3 and then worked in Great Ormond Street Hospital.
In 1965 I was accepted to become a Long Term Volunteer (LTV) with IVS, and spent a week in Ariege, France with other potential volunteers. Due to the outbreak of hostilities between India and Pakistan in the autumn I experienced 3 workcamps in London whilst waiting to be sent out to India. This was actually good as I gained some experience of IVS/workcamping. Comments made at Ariege by French volunteers were that UK volunteers had no experience of SCI, and its history.
1965–1966 with SCI India
One year working at Hathibari Leprosy Colony, near Sambalpur, Orissa. I was supposed to be sent to Dharamsala project (with Tibetan refugee children) but due to the political unrest it was considered unwise and so I was sent as a replacement for the physiotherapist at this project, and was to oversee the weaving of bandage cloth and teach English in the local school. I lived with other long term volunteers, one English agriculturalist and one Japanese nurse. Other medium term volunteers were assigned to us from time to time. We had a house similar to the better ones at Hathibari, thatched roof, no electricity or running water, no news: radio or newspaper. I assumed the role of ‘housekeeper-shopper’ as well as this meant a day trip into town and I could be more flexible than the other volunteers. A frustrating year as I could not work using my experience and at 21 years old, I had not much of that anyway! We were also too cut off from Indian society to have much effect from an SCI point of view.
For my vacation I spent some time in Bombay (Mumbai) and then joined a workcamp building a school on the sea shore in Mahabalipuram, South India. This was very enjoyable.
After the year in India I was able to continue in Asia, spending 3 months living with the Satos’ at their home and supposedly working in the SCI regional office, Kuala Lumpur. This was a break between projects and countries. I gained cultural and practical knowledge before travelling on to Japan to spend a further year as an LTV there. Being with the Satos was great for me; gave me a good background to SCI in Japan, as well as helping me to make the essential change from very rural India to the modernising Japan.
1967-1968 with SCI Japan
I attended several workcamps in Kimpu project (SCI-Japan’s long-term project with a farmers’ cooperative) and a few others. I worked 3 months as a nursery nurse in a children’s home in Hiroshima (Shinsei Gakuen), and the last 6 months in a Tokyo institution for mentally and physically handicapped children alongside a nurse who was to go to India (Hathibari) as a volunteer.
Shinsei Gakuen was a positive placement for me and I felt my time there was too short. The Principal and his wife were wonderful people to work under, and were immensely kind to me. I liked my co-workers and wanted to do more. I would happily have spent my whole year there. Working with children was what I had wanted and what I had been trained to do. This was also the place that gave me a strong grounding in Japanese language. Total immersion! Negatively, a hazard of the job, I also suffered an attack of measles which rather drained my energy.
Some of the particularly valuable experiences that have influenced my later career and activities:
An association with agriculture both in Hatibari and more particularly in Kimpu resulted in an interest in agriculture and the environment. I studied ‘Rural Studies’ for teaching purposes, but have also married a one time agriculturalist and lecturer. Until a few years ago we were working an agricultural small holding, keeping goats, producing milk, cheese and yoghurt, most of which was used for people with asthma and eczema. Not a grand profitable venture, but we were able to help in the raising of standards of produce in this corner of the industry.
As a result of travel and SCI experiences I could see the value and importance of education. So, after the year in Japan, I trained as a primary school teacher in the UK and then went back to Japan, where I spent 4 years teaching at the American School Kindergarten (Tokyo). I continued contact and activities with SCI Japan and friends made through SCI Japan; I escaped the city frequently to return to Kimpu, sometimes joining in with workcamps and to enjoy again the wonderful environment, discussions and philosophies of both SCI and the Kimpu farmers.
Additionally, here at home, where I now live in Cheshire, UK, as our smallholding work reduced I was able to train as a Blue Badge Tourist Guide for Chester, my local city and a tourist ‘hot-spot’. I have been guiding for some 18 years, largely for Japanese groups, thereby using and developing the Japanese language that I initially picked up as a volunteer and being able to meet Japanese people again. I have revisited Japan for work and pleasure on several occasions in the last 15 years. Chester has civic connections to Japan, and on a number of occasions I have been able to advise the Mayor and Lord Mayors about Japan prior to visiting Japan.
Sometimes I give talks on life in Japan, and have recently been involved in a local school project on Japan, and it is likely this will be on going as the school is currently linking up with a Japanese School. I am also a committee member of the Japan Society North West, which is involved in being an intercultural link between the Japanese living in the north west of England and our English members.
Most importantly of all, it has been the people I have met, their thoughts, their friendships and their cultures, which has been the precious ‘product’ of voluntary service. Have I achieved what I set out to do all those years ago when embarking on this journey? Probably not. It is essential that we should change through our experiences. In the main, the projects with which I was involved did not have a specific ‘role’ for me to take, so it was not a matter of achievement.
Whilst I do not work with SCI/ IVS now, I do still volunteer to work for issues that I value, and as the above shows, my experiences of and in Japan in particular have had a long lasting effect on most of my life.