My Durham Story - Naomi Green (Liberal Arts, St Cuthbert’s Society, 2017-20)
‘Working with children and teenagers, I’ve seen first-hand the difference some directed individual attention can make to their learning and overall well-being, but I know that even before the pandemic this was something out of reach for most through private tutoring and greatly lacking in an underfunded and overwhelmed school system. At universities like Durham, students from working class backgrounds remain drastically underrepresented, and in schools the attainment gap between pupils from higher and lower income backgrounds began growing even wider in 2020 for the first time in a decade. Fighting this attainment gap, and barriers to education access globally are two things I feel very passionately about, and it made sense to me to bring them together and create something to advocate education for all.’
I studied Politics, History and Spanish as part of a Liberal Arts course at Durham. The course was fascinating - and I had an amazing time in my third year in Argentina - but it was my experience outside of studying with the student volunteering programme that really shaped my future!
I had had a keen interest in volunteering from my teens, so from my first year at university I joined the CATSS programme (Children Achieving Through Student Support) and spent time working with socially at-risk children in the surrounding area. CATSS volunteers take the children out for day trips and residential visits to provide respite care and new opportunities. The aim was for the children to have fun, try new things and meet new people. It was through this programme that I really began to appreciate the difference that can be made to a child simply by talking to them and listening to their opinions. It was amazing to see them grow in confidence and enjoy trying activities like holding a snake for the first time!
I was fortunate enough to spend my third year in Argentina, where I gained some great experience volunteering with Delicias de Alicia, a social enterprise based in Buenos Aires, that teaches children the value of nutrition and a healthy diet through nutrition workshops. The workshops are funded by a vegetarian restaurant and catering service – this was my introduction to the concept of social enterprise, and that concept, teamed with my observations of the impact that one to one contact had on young people on the CATSS scheme, inspired me to create Learning by Heart.
Learning by Heart is an online tutoring service staffed by volunteer tutors. Instead of offering free tutoring or charging at the going rate of around £30 an hour, Learning by Heart asks for a pay-as-you-feel donation to a supported charity. Initially, I chose to use the donations to support CAMFED (the Campaign for Female Education), an international non-governmental, non-profit organisation founded in 1993 whose mission is to eradicate poverty in Africa through the education of girls and the empowerment of young women. I chose this particular organisation after reading the alarming UN statistic that two thirds of the world’s illiterate population were women.
In September 2021, we held a vote amongst our volunteers and trustees on a second charity to support. As a result, we now donate 50% of our proceeds to ECW (Education Cannot Wait). ECW is the United Nations’ global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, working to improve speed of response in affected areas, and then to connect short term relief with longer term solutions.
With the challenges for parents having to home-school during the pandemic lockdown, we saw a rapid increase in demand for Learning by Heart. In reality, without support from schools, lots of parents really struggled to bridge the gap in their children’s education, they were often lacking time, ability or resource, and Learning by Heart became a lifeline. Donations are collected monthly and can range from a few pounds to hundreds – all gratefully received, and all passed on to the two charities to help continue their work.
Learning by Heart has continued to thrive following lockdown, with parents referring to it as ‘a godsend’. Our tutors are definitely our most valuable asset; by donating their valuable time, they are supporting our own community and the attainment of our children, whilst also raising valuable funds for great work overseas.
For further information about Learning by Heart or about becoming a volunteer tutor, visit our website or email us on email@example.com.