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Durham University

Welcome to John Snow College


Callum Allison - SCUBA diving qualification

The Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) are arguably the most internationally-recognised SCUBA diving qualification body. From ‘Try SCUBA!’ courses to qualifying as a professional Divemaster – they provide it all. PADI qualifications allow you to dive anywhere in the world.

As a medical student, I have always had a strong interest in human physiology, especially in extreme environments – whether it was the long-term effects of microgravity on the musculoskeletal system of an astronaut, or the impact of reduced atmospheric pressure and hypoxia on a mountaineer 8,611m above sea level on the summit of K2. Despite this, I have never looked into the effects of depth on the human body. In order to learn more about being at depth and to fulfil a life-long ambition, I decided that one of the best ways to do this was to jump into the deep-end (no pun intended!) and learn how to become a SCUBA diver.

The ‘gold-standard’ of entry-level SCUBA diving is the PADI Open Water Diver course. The course consisted of three parts. Firstly, I had a lot of homework to do! Students are required to work their way through the Open Water Diver manual which contains five knowledge reviews (basically, mini-tests) and I had to learn how to plan dives with a recreational dive planner (Fig.1). It is vital to plan a dives depth and time to stop too much Nitrogen building up in your body, leading to Decompression Sickness (DCS). Acquired knowledge was assessed by closed-book examination on the first day of the course.

The second stage of the course involved the confined water dives – SCUBA diving in a swimming pool! (Fig.2). This was a great opportunity to put the theory into practice, by carrying out certain emergency scenarios and even by doing a simulated dive using all the protocol and hand-signals we had learned up to that point. We completed all confined water dives in one day (five in total).

The third, final and most exciting part of the course took place over four dives in two days. In order to qualify as Open Water SCUBA Divers, we had to take part in four open water dives to a maximum depth of 18m. I carried these dives out at Ellerton Park lake in North Yorkshire. Open water dives 1 and 2 consisted of practicing the basic skills I learned in confined water, such as taking my mask off and replacing it at depth, or tracking down a lost regulator! This was a great experience and incredibly enjoyable.

The following weekend consisted of dives 3 and 4 – my qualification dives. Here I had to demonstrate that I could navigate underwater using a compass and a heading which is surprisingly tricky whilst trying to maintain buoyancy! In addition, I had to perform an emergency ascent – a simulated ‘out of air’ scenario! Hopefully one I’ll never have to perform in real life. I found these final dives to be the most challenging, as they were a little more involved than those the week before. It was a great feeling to emerge from the water as a fully-qualified Open Water SCUBA diver having gained skills not only in how to dive, but also communication and planning. Without an appropriate plan, dives can turn dangerous quite rapidly and likewise without ensuring communicating with your buddy is adequate, normal situations can become confusing and adverse.

This course was a great way to refine a broad skillset. I feel as if it has given me a more systematic way of approaching organisational problems, such as ensuring all your dive equipment is fitted together correctly and fully-functional. My ability to communicate professionally and concisely with other people was tested, as was my appreciation for safety and being able to not only look after myself, but keeping an eye open for my buddies. As surprising as it may seem, diving and medicine are similar in the way they provide task-loading and multiple challenges to deal with under-pressure. As a result, as I progress in both my diving and medical careers, I can translate and hence, develop skills between them both.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the staff and JCR at John Snow College, Durham University who gave me this amazing opportunity. Without the John Snow Student Development Fund, I would never have been able to become a diver and experience the sport and skills that come with it. As I receive my Open Water Diver certification in the post, I am already looking forward to progressing towards becoming an Advanced Open Water Diver (Fig. 3).

Sean Whewell - Tanzania

The trip consisted of two main activities: visiting MCODE Nursery, and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

The fund-raising project in Tanzania concerned the construction of a new school, MCODE nursery, in a rural village community 2 hours by bus from Moshi in North Tanzania. Over 40 children between the ages 4 to 8 in the village are already reaping the benefits from improvements in classroom infrastructure and facilities. The new facility as compared to what was previously there, offers a more ordered set up with chairs as oppose to the bench style set up beforehand, which many of the teachers said caused unrest and made it difficult to manage the children. Furthermore, the structural integrity of the new building means the threat of potentially losing the classroom due to severe rains or other weather conditions no longer exists.

All members of the team were tasked with raising £1000 separate from other costs of the trip (travel, food, etc.) to be directly donated towards the building of MCODE Nursery. I raised this money mainly through working as a youth football coach at home during all of Christmas and Easter break, as well as using money I had saved up from jobs done during the previous summer.

The day before beginning the climb we went to visit the classroom and interact with local adults and officials, as well as play games with the school children.

Visiting MCODE Nursery is the most powerful memory I take from the trip, as it completely shattered my previous outlook on life by transforming the way I view the privileges I have, and how previously I had so easily taken them for granted. Just seeing the infectious happiness the locals and children showed, regardless of the daily struggles they face, was inspiring to me and has since changed my attitude towards life.

Climbing Kilimanjaro was also a lifechanging experience, and I would say the most physically challenging yet rewarding thing I have done in my life. Having to reach far beyond my physical limits on summit night (the final push to the top) despite severe altitude sickness showed me the immense value of discomfort as it relates to personal growth. I have applied this lesson here in Durham by trying uncomfortable, sometimes daunting, activities that I know will force personal growth such as improv comedy and Toastmasters public speaking. Furthermore, pushing through what felt like an impossible, insurmountable ordeal on summit night has become a source of strength for me. In times of adversity and difficulty, in whatever facet of my life, I tell myself that if I could get through that most challenging of nights, I can get through this as well.

All £300 I was so fortunate enough to receive from John Snow College went towards returning flight costs from Dar Es Salaam airport back to London Heathrow (see attached DUCK BALANCE), which came out to £721 per person.

Laurence Constable - Rwanda Aid Visit

The purpose of this trip was to provide donations and aid to the people of Rwanda, in a region in the south west of the country around the city of Butare. Our team of six joined in the work of a local convent, the Communaute Serviteurs de Marie du Coeur de Jesus, where we stayed and ate, in helping the local community with food, clothes and supplies.

Our work was varied. The convent ran a nearby school, which catered for the poorest children in the community. We spent much of our time with the children at this school; helping with lessons, engaging with them, and singling out persons in particular medical or financial need. I particularly enjoyed and was challenged by this aspect of our visit, since building relationships with the children ensured that we experienced more of the poverty, need, and yet beauty of the culture. As an example, we brought crayons and colouring books to introduce to the children. Part way through the session, as I was checking how they were faring, I came across a child who was holding the crayon upside down, not understanding how to use it. Children often would not let go of their crayons even when leaving the classroom, as they were not used to having enough of a commodity to go around, and were afraid that they would not get them back. Yet, towards the end of our visit, our team leader and I bought all of the children flour, which was given out with a toy and colouring paper as a farewell gift. Whilst the school was a source of many such experiences, there were also other areas wherein we provided aid.

Particularly pertinent memories came from our house visits, on occasions the team drove into particularly poor areas in order to give out food, and assess persons for whom we could purchase medications. Whilst half of the team would make porridge and find clothes to pass on to a family, the other half of us would organise games for the children who would inevitably flock to us. I participated in both aspects of the visits over the weeks, and found both to be equally eye opening. I have no doubt that every member of the team will remember how desperate and friendly persons could be.

These were just a few of the experiences which I had in Rwanda. They all contributed towards a broadening of my perspective and a greater sympathy and understanding of what poverty can look like. I hope that the visit has made me more compassionate, it is certainly an experience which I will not forget.

Bei Zhang - Merit360 Conference

In this August, I have participated in a conference called Merit360 which aims to encourage young people to tackle the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. I have successfully developed my personal skills through working with a group of 10 people. My role is finding out the problem of education issue in India and come up with the solution of it. My communication skill is further developed by having an interview with an Indian NGO, and it made a massive contribution towards to our group research. Meanwhile, working as a team required strong communication and innovative ideas as well. In the beginning of the group meeting, I was a bit held back myself and felt shy to express my opinions. Later on, my team members and facilitator encouraged me to speak up freely. Gradually, I am able to share my thoughts which helped our work!

In addition, I have improved my networking skill during the networking events. Initially, I was afraid of approaching those speakers who delivered amazing workshops. Somehow, I tried to get out of my comfort zone, talked to speakers and being inspired by their mindsets.

As a result, my SDG team members and I have finalized a project which aims to improve the drop-out rates of secondary school students, so excited!!!

We pitched our project in front of 20 judges and hundreds of participants!

I met those lovely people from all over the world and experienced different cultures.

Finally, I would like to say a huge thank you for John Snow College accepting my application for SDF. I could not have the opportunity to develop my personal skills without my college support!