Our president Patrick Lavery reflects upon the best parts of being RAG president.
Taking on the role of RAG President is, honestly, the best thing I have ever done. I have loved it. At times it has been challenging: you have to juggle the responsibility of managing an executive team of 17 people and a wider committee of 45 - ensuring that everyone is working together well, enjoying their roles and achieving their own goals - along with studying for your degree, working part-time or any other commitments that you may have. But for at least every challenge there is an equally sizable, if not bigger, reward. From celebrating the achievements of your exec, to developing your own skill set in management, teamwork and communication, and being a figurehead for the one of the biggest, probably the craziest and certainly the best society on campus, you will come to appreciate how worthwhile taking on the role is. And the best thing about RAG: you get to make a real difference in improving people's lives through charity, and that’s something powerful that can’t be matched by many other roles.
Marketing Officer, Luke Hardcastle, reflects on his first year with RAG and the experiences it has offered him
It can be pretty daunting deciding what societies to join at the start of first year. Fortunately RAG has so much to offer and are always looking to welcome new people into the RAG family that I’m sure we have something for you! To show just how much we have on offer, check out my account of my first year with RAG.
The first thing I did with RAG was to try out some volunteering with a charity called Fairy Bricks who provide LEGO sets to kids in hospital. I was helping out at an event called BRICK LIVE in Birmingham. We got free entry into the event and spent the weekend helping the public to build a giant LEGO mosaic. It's something I would have never imagined myself doing before I came to university, but despite battling raging hangovers on both days it was an incredibly satisfying experience. The guys who run the charity were incredible and it felt great to be raising money for this awesome cause. I’m definitely going to be volunteering with them again this year. I was also able to get free entry to the massive Kenilworth fireworks by volunteering in term 1 and rounded of the term by volunteering for RAG week.
Over the week I volunteered at evening events, manned stalls across campus, staggered through Leamington tied to my flatmate on a massive bar crawl and helped raise a tonne of cash for the mental health charity MIND. My personal highlight was the charity circle on the Wednesday. You’ll find out about circling soon enough I’m sure, but as well as all the usual stuff charity circle involved people putting themselves forward to take on dares for a large enough donation. These included chest waxing, stripteases and getting pied in the face with shaving cream pies. I finished of my volunteering for the year working with Action Aid at Latitude festival over the summer. It was awesome to get free entry into the festival (a recurring theme when you volunteer) and to get people to engage with the charity by “riding the crimson wave”, we only had to volunteer for 4 hours each day and only during the day so we got to check out everything the festival had to offer.
So I’d joined RAG and done some volunteering, but I still needed to be adopted. Adoptions was the first big social after Freshers and it was crazy. With about 100 students dressed up for Halloween and put into four teams (mine was vampires) we charged between drinking stations around campus before heading into POP! I don’t remember much, but know I did a wheelbarrow pint at one point and had a one of my best nights of term 1. In fact RAG socials never failed to be incredible. From bar crawls through Leamington to circles before POP! and in the infamous Kelsey’s and of course Charity Ball, RAG provides the best social life you will find at Warwick. It’s also a great chance to meet people from other years and halls. And then of course there was tour. A weekend away in a mystery city (it turned out to be Newcastle) with 40 students this weekend was absolutely incredible! Though I don’t think my liver has recovered yet...
Of course I couldn’t join RAG without completing a charity challenge, so in January I signed up to take on the 3 peaks challenge. With a modest fundraising target of £600 the challenge was to climb the highest peaks in England, Scotland and Wales in under 24 hours. But before I could do it I had to focus on raising money for the awesome Meningitis Research Foundation. To do this I went on bucket-collections across the Midlands, shared what I was doing over facebook and ran my very own event; The Donation Games! This involved letting anyone dare to do something in return for a donation. I ended up eating a whole lettuce in under 10 minutes, jumping into a freezing lake and downing tabasco sauce! The challenge itself was much tougher than I thought it would be, I only got two hours sleep the night before and was not ready for the speed at which we started climbing Ben Nevis. Throughout the challenge the views were unbelievable and the company was great and although we got rained off of Snowdon, it was an incredibly satisfying experience.
The last highlight of my year was London Loot, a bucket-collection over easter. With students from all over the country and a massive Warwick contingent we hit up the streets of London to raise a tonne of cash for the Meningitis Research Foundation. On the second day I was collecting in Bank underground station and raised over £960. Over two days I raised over £1100. Warwick proved ourselves as one of the best RAGs around out-raising every other university there by a mile.
So I had a pretty crazy year with RAG. They’ve provided me with so many memories and have given me access to so many awesome experiences that I would recommend that anyone starting at Warwick sign up and check out all we have to offer you!
Day One – Volcán Pacaya
‘Yeah, take a look up there.’
Climbing the steps to the top of our hotel revealed a rooftop terrace where breakfast was served, only it was surrounded by an incredible view that stretched for miles and miles in every direction; sculpted by large ominous volcanoes; an abundance of vibrant green forests and clusters of civilisation. This was to be the first of many notable views, views which became more satisfying with every passing day, and the harder we worked to see them from a summit the more rewarding they became. Safe to say the passage to the top very quickly became more challenging than a hotel staircase…
The first day was only a short trek however. We weren’t to summit Pacaya as it was too active, instead we took a route that allowed us to see it from a distance. The reality that we had finally arrived in Guatemala began to sink in as our Guatemalan guide explained to us that the luscious greenery surrounding our trail was merely five years old, wiped out by an eruption. It had grown again, a product of the fertile lands and volcanic ash. Volcanic rocks were in abundance, deceivingly light and almost porous, they were scattered at the base of the volcano, and in amongst this rock were a few pockets of warmth that were fuelled by the inner heat of the living, breathing volcano. Warm enough for us to roast marshmallows in - the last of the tourist clichés that were ticked off on that day. The real challenge began on day two.
Days Two and Three – Volcán Acatenango
An eerie mist descended as we continued our climb up the volcano, the long, black tentacles stretching and twisting from trees began to drip with moisture – droplets from the cloud that eventually crystallised when the cold grew colder. The wind swept over the forest, sucking out life as it went. No man was meant to live here, not even insects or plants beyond the simplest organisms could fathom a life of any comfort. The only noise was the howling of the wind, a terrifying omen that ripped apart even rocks as it went. Spirits began to drop quickly as the discomforts mounted, but still we climbed.
The tents were pitched on our arrival at the campsite, just short of the summit that could not be seen beyond the thick layer of clouds. The wind was testing their stability, and in some cases succeeded in uprooting them. The warmth in our bodies seeped out as we stopped walking; hence we were quick to bundle into our tents and crawl into our sleeping bags. Dinner came soon enough, a warm plate of spaghetti that was wolfed down with much appreciation.
Yet the enjoyment from that was short lived, as faults in our tent kept appearing. Instead we were left to keep each other amused to stay content. We made jokes about the instability of the tent, laughed off the gaping holes, found amusement in the danger of the wind. ‘La seis amigos’ was the name. The girls’ tent even collapsed in the night, but remarkably the Guatemalan porters managed to fix the snapped pole, and we made some adjustments to our tent and survived the night.
The summit was beckoning the morning after, led by the guide up a twisting, snaking rocky path where visibility was reduced to a ten metre radius, our individual mental strength was truly tested. I’ll admit the final push for the top had me struggling, the scree underfoot meant that my feet slid back six inches every time I stepped forward. This made the climb slower, but still we kept going no matter how long it took. The view wasn’t even worth it from the top! There was nothing to see but cloud, cloud and more cloud. The wind was at its fiercest and rain lashed out our face, but we had done it. And the feeling of achievement was amazing; the fuel that kept us going throughout the challenge.
That night we stayed in a small town, San Jorge, by Lake Atitlan – an incredible stretch of water, the kind that makes it onto postcards and into travel magazines. We were to eat and sleep among a local Guatemalan family for what’s called a ‘homestay’. Suffice to say talking Spanish through dictionaries was an interesting experience, but the family were very hospitable and it allowed us to experience true Guatemalan culture. ‘La cena es muy delicisiosa’ was about as much as I could say!
Day Four – Volcán San Pedro
Fields of grass rolled by as we sailed across the water. Over and under fingers of lands the grass grew – fingers that could only have been sculpted by the gods, an intricate network of beautiful greenery that feasted off the natural fertility of the land and drank from the lake that lapped at its shore. The skies were a rich sapphire blue, decorated with lashings of white clouds that channelled the warm sunlight on to our grateful faces. The lake was beautiful.
The lake was beautiful, but the climb less so. The sun that had been so warming was now our enemy, sweat dripped from our faces and our bodies cried out for water to replace the lost fluids. But the water supply was low, and the muscles in our legs began to strain and hurt and ache and cry. I fell back from the group I was climbing with, and was left to hike up the trail on my own. I had to stop to catch my breath numerous times, and allow a trickle of water to quench my thirst. At least now we had the rainforest to shade us from the sun. I thought back to what I’d been told before, ‘you can’t rush up a mountain, you have to take it slowly… plod,’ and so I did, one foot in front of the other, ignoring the protest from my thighs. Eventually the trees gave way and I stepped out into a clearing that marked the summit and cracked a smile. The lake that had been so beautiful from the bottom was even more stunning from the top, and we laughed and celebrated and relaxed in the sun.
Day Five – Volcán Zunil
This was a long day. The path we took had barely been cut out properly, our guide used his machete to hack away at the vegetation that crept across the ground. ‘A view, this way,’ he said though, and my God was it a view. The land was rippled from east to west, emerald trees snaked over and under hills, crops sprouted from the vast farmlands in the foreground and the silhouettes of threatening volcanoes – kissed by the rolling clouds – stood tall in the background.
The descent was more painstaking than going up; long and winding, over and under trees through the dense forest, at times we were almost crawling, and others we were slipping and sliding down muddy slopes. It honestly felt like the path would never end, and conversations descended into the ‘what would your ideal three course meal be, if it was your last day on earth?’ ones, as if we all felt that the world would end before we finished the trek. At long last voices from the outside world could be heard as we descended the final steps, and we were rewarded with the refreshing pools of natural hot springs that tended to our aching muscles and wrinkled our fingers beyond recognition, and indeed beyond prunes.
Days Six and Seven – Volcán Tajumulco
The tallest in Central America. Volcán Tajumulco. Four thousand, two hundred and twenty metres high. It was to be the most challenging of our summits. But, in truth, it wasn’t so bad. Things were looking bleak at first though, as talk of a wild storm savaging the summit spread through the group, and a decision as to whether we would continue our walk was hanging in the balance. But, after a bit of food, we carried on. And then I guess the weeks’ worth of walking was having a positive effect on us, we got our heads down and broke out into a steady pace. A group of us managed to pick up pace and, as the trees lost their colour and ice began to cover the ground, we reached the camp.
The night was rough however, a lot of us were cold and wet and did not get much sleep; the night felt as if it would never end. I was actually eager to get up at 4am and finish the climb. When the time came to summit, the sky was still black, dotted with flashing stars. In the distance a storm lit up the horizon. We laced our boots, strapped on our rucksacks and donned walking poles for the final ascent.
The path proved challenging, twisting and turning up through rocky formations and over boulders that needed clambering over. There was a dangerous amount of slippery ice underfoot – not to mention the lack of natural light in the sky. We continued to climb. Then somewhere in the distance the first light began to appear, an orange beam forcing its way through the thick layer of dark cloud. The rocky path gave way to the infamous scree, and we began to slip and slide as we trekked up towards the summit. Still the sun rose, and the day grew lighter. As we got higher my breathing became shorter and faster, my legs ached more, and my rucksack felt heavier. Yet in the distance the top of the world loomed. This spurred us all on, the rising sun illuminating the track to the top. Surprisingly, the mountain flattened out towards the summit and in the distance stood a tower of rocks that marked the top. We allowed a few smiles, and picked up the pace. The guide in front turned to us when we finally reached the rocks and grinned. We had done it!
Everybody was beaming with relief and achievement. To the north was a mountain from Mexico and to the west a vast blue expanse of sea, but to the south and east was a layer of cloud, once black and now white as the rays of sunlight crawled over it. It was surreal to be this high above the clouds – they almost looked like the sea, with white surf in the foreground that tapered off the edge of the clouds like a waterfall would over a cliff. Everyone was taking pictures, basking in their personal, deserved, glory. It was moment everyone would remember for ever. As the sun rose into the sky I couldn’t help but throw my arms into the air in celebration.
Thousands of pounds raised for Hope for Children and five volcanoes climbed.