As an Ancient History graduate, the histories of Egypt and Asia have always fascinated me. This fascination led me to Durham University’s Oriental Museum – the only museum in the North East devoted to exhibiting objects from North Africa and Asia.
Having such a unique museum in my home-city of Durham feels like an enormous privilege, and it’s something I’ve taken full advantage of since returning home from University. Having spent countless hours admiring the collections, I decided to begin volunteering there. I’m so glad I did because I’ve had an overwhelmingly positive experience. Since I’ve had such a great time, I’d like to share a few of my experiences in hope that it’ll encourage other students to visit the museum, and perhaps even inspire them to volunteer.
Celebrating Buddha’s Birthday
One thing that motivated me to volunteer was the opportunity to help run the impressive variety of public cultural-events, which range from the Hindu festivals of Holi and Diwali, to Japanese Noh mask carving demonstrations. Excited to get involved, my first opportunity arrived at Buddha’s Birthday Celebration, an Asian holiday traditionally celebrated in Buddhism to commemorate the birth of the Prince Siddhartha Gautama, later the Gautama Buddha and founder of Buddhism. To celebrate the occasion there were a variety of activities, such as yoga, meditation, crafts, Buddha-bathing, and traditional story-telling.
On the day, I helped run the craft sessions for visitors to the museum. We made paper lotus flowers, decorated Buddhist prayer flags, and coloured in mandala designs.There was a great sense of curiosity about the meanings of the different Buddhist symbols, and using arts and crafts to explore these meanings was fun and engaging for children and adults alike.
It was brilliant to see families come together to learn about another culture while exploring the museum. The event really highlighted how versatile museum spaces can be, and how they can serve as valuable hubs of culture for the surrounding community.
Leading activity sessions
The Oriental Museum also organises weekly craft activities, and these activities, like the larger cultural events, are brilliantly diverse. I’ve helped make Chinese lanterns, crescent moon hanging decorations for Eid, and Japanese weather dolls to ward off rain. I enjoy the activities because they offer the chance to learn about another culture, while allowing me to get creative! Also, as well as being fun, these sessions have been personally beneficial. Each week I’m entrusted to lead these sessions, and although it was initially intimidating, the experience has encouraged me to leave my comfort zone and boosted my confidence.
Durham’s Hidden Gem
So overall, I’m proud to volunteer for a museum that serves Durham so well. It really is a hidden gem that deserves more recognition. There are loads of great events to attend, and plenty of opportunities for students and other volunteers to get involved. So, if culture and history interests you, and you don’t mind getting arty, I whole-heartedly recommend you get involved- you won’t regret it!
Find out more about the Oriental Museum
I’m Rebecca Rothnie – I graduated last year in Greek and Roman Studies from the University of Exeter, and now live in Durham. While studying, I was the Vice President of the Japanese Society and the Game of Thrones Society. My interests include history, culture, and art. Now I spend my time working at the Durham Cathedral, Palace Green Library, and the Oriental Museum.