Breaking down cultural barriers: Chester meets Zaragoza

A UNIVERSITY graduate has been rewarded for her efforts in the Chester community.

Isabel Arbones, a recent award winning graduate from the University of Chester, has exceeded expectations both within the university and in the Chester area by volunteering for almost 900 hours, and setting up her own community project involving school children.

Isabel, originally from Zaragoza Spain and a resident in Chester for several years, initially signed up to a school mentoring scheme in her first year of university. She said: ‘‘It got me buzzing about education and I decided to continue to pursue my chances in that area and then in second and third year I looked for further opportunities.’’

She has since set up Project Earth involving school children from Chester and Zaragoza aged 11-12, aiming to get people to think more broadly about the world. Children who participated from Spain were selected based on academic merit, sporting achievements and their contribution to the school.

In April this year, 29 Spanish children stayed in Chester with host families, and since then about 50 per cent have kept in touch. Isabel said: ‘‘English people saw a little bit more than Spain being toros, flamenco and holidays.’’

She added: ‘‘I noticed that what is around us, our community, is extremely important…so I was very keen to enable both the local community and my home community in Spain to mingle together…and enrich each other in whichever ways I could manage.’’

Isabel had a Santander Scholarship Grant to help fund her project, to be able to provide experiences for the children which was her main objective. She said: ‘‘I had to work to the budget that the people in Spain had given me, whilst trying to get as many experiences in Chester as I could afford.’’ She added that language learning was not the main objective; it was more about the experiences, but she said: ‘‘I was hoping one of the outcomes would be for children of the families to be keener to take up languages.’’

The next project will take place in May 2014, involving the same high school she has links with, as well as a primary school to get the children involved in activities with year six. She said the activities will be similar, relating to nature, sites, and community and sporting events, but also a trip to the university will take place to encourage children to aim high. She added that 80 per cent of families that got involved in April want to do the same in 2014, and she will have new families from the primary school participating.

She said: ‘‘It has snowballed into something amazing.

A long term achievement for the community was the idea that two different countries can come together and find more that brings them together than pulls them apart.’’

If you would like to get involved with volunteering in Chester visit http://www.cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk/residents/jobs/volunteering_in_west_cheshire.aspx

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