Volunteering Has Changed Me – Sara’s Story

I grew up in a small Albanian city. I was fortunate that my parents could send me to a good private college and provide me with everything I needed as a child.

They also introduced me to volunteering at an early age to keep me grounded, cultivate a sense of helping others and a compassionate person in life.

Life for orphaned children is very difficult in Albania. In my hometown, we had one of the biggest orphan houses in the country, and this is where I first started to volunteer at the age of 15. My family and I would go every few months and bring food, pre-owned clothes, colouring books, and spend a whole evening talking and playing with the children. The staff at the orphan house was very welcoming and very happy when they would hear that we were going.

At the end of that year, we started a donation campaign at my parents’ business, something not very common in Albania at that time. Organising a party promoting the business helped, as my parents had plenty of toys, balloons and banners for children. We put a notice on the windows that we were collecting Christmas presents for the orphaned children. We were surprised by how many presents we collected the first year. We ended up storing part of them in our house! Gifts included school bags, clothes, toys, books, and even an old laptop. The day we brought the gifts to the children is still so fresh in my mind. The smiles on their face and the hope in their eyes, was something that has touched me very profoundly.

We continued to do this every year until I came to study in the UK. However, my parents still go occasionally to bring presents like we have always done. In the meanwhile, I have created ‘Ese dhe Analiza Letrare’, an award-winning educational blog. Its aim is to provide Albanian students free, high-quality additional study materials for the preparation of the final high school exams ( the equivalent of A-levels in the UK). Students from the rural areas and from disadvantaged backgrounds have far less access to supplementary study materials than the urban children. ‘Ese dhe Analiza Letrare’ addresses this gap and operates to make study materials accessible for everyone, regardless of what is in one’s pocket. To date, the blog counts over 2.6 million hits and it is a very active educational hub.

One might think that I have too much free time to engage in volunteering. In fact, I am a part-qualified accountant on the way to becoming an auditor. My working hours are long and I study for my professional qualification exams. However, volunteering is something I do to keep myself fulfilled. At the end of the day I can say that my actions don’t include just sitting in the office testing accounts, but that I am helping a student in my home country Albania, or maybe inspiring someone to volunteer; that can be you.


Volunteering, how it can help you and others – Carminella’s Story

Giving your time to help others is such a wonderful thing, whether it is volunteering your time to give aid to a charity organisation or small acts of kindness every day to those in need, these acts can truly make a huge positive impact not only to others but also to help heal yourself.

In 2011 I was diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder, both quite debilitating mental health conditions, which have caused no end of issues over the years in terms of work, relationships and general day-to-day functioning, casting shadows of doubt over your own abilities. The feeling it leaves you with is one of hopelessness and of uselessness, like your not capable of contributing anything good to the world. This was particularly the case back in 2014, I had been working in retail which had completely taken its toll on my mental health so had to reduce my working hours and was feeling very low about my whole situation but I was left with this feeling like I needed to do something, something which was not focusing on sales for profit, something where I felt like I was contributing to society in a more positive way so this is when I signed up to volunteer at my local museum. Museums are usually at the centre of any community, providing a space for local children to learn or play, areas to encourage local wildlife conservation, local community engagement and of course exhibition space allowing all to visit providing free education of local history and/or natural history.

A lot of these museums offer free entry and only ask for a small donation if you are able to provide it allowing the museum to remain free for the many, also allowing people from all walks of life access to the educational aspects the museum provides, or to be a part of the larger community engagement projects. With volunteering, you get to be one of the people that make this happen, that enables this to continue and allows it to grow. With volunteering, you meet so many interesting people, most of the time just people who want to share their stories, thoughts or feelings because they do not have anyone else to talk to or those who feel they cannot talk to those around them. Not only do you get to help these people in small but totally significant ways you get to develop skills and build belief in yourself again. By helping to heal others you find ways to heal yourself.

Since that time, I have gone on to sign up for volunteering in two London-based museums dedicated to mental health, well-being and the arts. Each day you grow stronger, and each day you help someone new.

Carminella Knight

A route to starting your career – Charlotte’s Story

I first started volunteering for one reason: to gain experience to secure a paid job. But I got so much more from it than that.

I was 15 when I first volunteered, which was for my local Red Cross Charity Shop. In 2009, it had become much harder to get a job that could give a teenager with no work experience some pocket money. I hoped that by volunteering on Saturday mornings in a charity shop, I would get the experience that high street shops were looking for. But I enjoyed the flexibility, the friendliness and feeling of contributing to a great cause more than I thought I could enjoy having a paid job as a shop assistant. As a teenager, my confidence was low and my anxiety high, and in reality I didn’t really want a job on top of the pressure I was already under. At the charity shop, I met people from many different walks of life and it was a refreshing break from the dramas of school. A few years later, just before I started university, I did get a job working at a small shop one day a week. It was nice to have a bit of extra cash and I wouldn’t have got the job without my experience at the Red Cross Shop.

In the summer at the end of my first year at university, I helped out at a day centre for the homeless called Catching Lives. At the time, I didn’t think much of what I was doing – they had a lot of donations and I sold some on eBay for them as a bit of extra fundraising. But this project later became an important experience to mention in job interviews. Often it’s hard to see the skills and experience you’ve gained and how to sell them. But trust me, after some practice, they become obvious.

At university, it was clear how hard it was for graduates to get their careers started and how much job experience some of my peers had. I needed to do something to firstly figure out what area of work I wanted to go into, and then gain some experience and skills towards getting there. I knew I wanted to work in the charity sector, and after some research, I found that policy and campaigns fitted my passion, skills, and degree well. I applied for a volunteer internship at Breast Cancer Campaign to try it out and was successful. I spent a month of my second year summer in this role and loved it. It eased a lot of my worries about full time work and made it clear that I could do it, and do it well.

I continued to volunteer in order to expand my experiences and meet new people. I was a volunteer receptionist at the Student Union Advice Centre in my last year of university. A year later, my first policy job was only part time so I volunteered one day a week at Guide Dogs in campaigns and public affairs. Without both of these experiences and the insights I gained, it’s unlikely that I would be in my current job at Mind as Policy and Campaigns Assistant.

Reflecting on my volunteering, I can see it has been a very significant part of my life. I wouldn’t be where I am today without having volunteered. Although sometimes it felt like extra pressure, really it gave me so many skills and much more understanding of people and what I wanted to do with my life. Getting some experience through volunteering helps you to determine what you like and what you don’t, and where your skills lie. Wherever you are in your life, this is an invaluable process.

Charlotte Furber

Environmental volunteers, why you should think global and act locally? – Patricio’s Story

Today it is not a task for everyone doing volunteering activities, particularly if you are volunteering in the environmental sector. This assumption is because the world is facing the most pressing challenges that society has ever seen. In this regard, nine planet boundaries defined by the Stockholm Resilience Centre, range from stratospheric ozone depletion to climate change. The international political sphere has addressed the latter during the last twenty-three years. However, does climate change need to be addressed by communities from a local perspective? The answer is yes. Climate change must be tackled not only in a political sphere but also in local and community actions.

“Think Global Act Local”

Urban communities are the primary recipients of the effects of climate change. This affects planning of cities and, for example, more than 60% of the world’s population lives in the cities’ coastal areas that are hardest hit by this phenomenon. For a long time has been heard the quote “think global act local” but it has been regarded as a slogan rather than a way to act. It is powerful in itself because it encourages people to act and take responsibility in their communities. In this sense, what does “global” means? It means taking into consideration the global challenges, but thinking solutions and implementing them in a local way. Local actions increase the possibilities of a green impact because they are reaching people who face environmental issues.  Therefore, urban communities can be benefited from concrete measures directed to solve global problems.

The experience of volunteering on environmental issues

Now, I am turning the voice to myself. I have been volunteering since I was fourteen years old when I started research projects on natural restoration in my local community in Argentina. A passion for taking care of the environment was developing inside me, and along the years I continued working on those issues. To me, the notion of “Think global and act local” was taking into account challenges such as climate change, but also the needs of my community and then checking what was happening in the world to find solutions to those problems. After many years of volunteering with different non-governmental organisations, I decided to create my initiative to promote education for sustainable development at schools. With a small group of entrepreneurs, we created communication materials and the materials to develop different workshops at primary and high educational institutions. In this case, the local communities were benefited not because of the educational programmes delivered at schools but also because of the impact that young people made after being empowered with knowledge. In a nutshell, volunteering opened my mind to new ways of seeing the world, to new perspectives of witness what is happening around me. Mostly, volunteering opened my eyes to acknowledge that problems are global, but we must address them locally.

Patricio Roulier Pazos

Helping you learn more about yourself – Jo’s Story

I grew up in Yate; a small, quiet, parish town in Bristol. My volunteering history began in secondary school, back when I was a wallflower who loved to read. For two consecutive terms in 2012, I was a library assistant and spent my Wednesday lunchtimes processing book returns, updating folders and helping Mrs Wren organise library materials.

In November 2013, one of the most devastating cyclones ever recorded hit the Philippines. My family are from the north of the country (an area the typhoon spared), but seeing the aftermath of typhoon Haiyan on the news brought a sense of agony nonetheless. The Philippines received humanitarian response from numerous nations, including the UK. In hopes of boosting morale to the small but tightknit Filipino community in Yate, I organised a series of bake sale at my brother’s primary school, to contribute to the relief efforts.

Throughout 2014, I was a marshal volunteer at all of the 5K fun runs my mum participated in. The events were for Cancer Research, and looking back, it brought a remarkable sense of achievement to play a small part in putting the events together; especially cheering the last group of participants over the finish line.

In April 2015, I visited my mum’s hometown. The most memorable part of our trip was when I joined my mum and aunt (both of whom are nurses) to volunteer in a medical mission on a remote village. The medical mission lasted for one day but it was overwhelming to say the least; the weather was scorching, I hardly spoke the dialect and the presence of persistent bugs made it difficult to focus.  Nevertheless, I remained committed to my role which was to provide administrative assistance to the community health workers. It was a socially enlightening experience; not only did I learn about health care disparities between countries, it also fortified my profound respect and appreciation for healthcare professionals (like mama and auntie).

Upon moving to London towards the end of 2016, I discovered a wide variety of volunteering opportunities. My most recent stint took place last month in Enfield, where I volunteered as a race marshal for London Youth Rowing at a championship event.

As you can see, I have a sporadic volunteering experience in that it is mainly short term and event-based. In spite of the lack of consistency, I most assuredly can attest to this; volunteering can help you learn more about yourself.  Want to give back to your community and gain a new perspective without disrupting your existing commitments? I recommend volunteering at a local event.

Case in point: I’ve wanted to be a part of MSF (also known as Doctors Without Borders) since I returned from the medical mission I took part in. I hope to see this come to fruition soon as I apply for volunteering and internship vacancies at the MSF London office.

Jo Banasen

Big Night Walk, Big Benefits – Natalie’s Story

You know when you see or hear about someone suffering and you really wish you could help, well actually you can! From helping the elderly with internet skills to improving public spaces, with a little bit of research you’ll find the right volunteering position for you.

My heart-pulling moments were seeing people struggling on the streets, a fate no one deserves and one I couldn’t imagine. So I unhesitatingly signed up to volunteer at the Big Issues Big Night Walk. This is an annual event where hundreds of people walk 13 miles in London to raise money to change the lives of street vendors trying to escape homelessness.

At the event I helped set up the starting point and checked people in when they arrived. It was busy with everyone keen to start their challenging walk; this meant I needed to be efficient and assertive to ensure everyone was checked in and all the correct details were shared.  I will just point out the added bonus here; these skills are excellent to develop for your regular job too!

All the volunteers I met at the event came from a variety of backgrounds and lifestyles, so it was interesting to meet them to hear their stories and views as well. This kind of introduction to different life events and values helps you to softly develop an empathetic and considerate attitude that you might not have had before. This can only be a good thing in today’s multicultural and exciting society. I am looking forward to a coffee next week with my new friend Louise who I met at the Big Night Walk.

Overall, the volunteering experience was actually a lot of fun and not a chore at all. The rewarding ‘pat on your back’ feeling was incentive enough so it was pleasing to find so many other benefits to volunteering! So get yourself on the internet searching for volunteering opportunities near you to find out for yourself.

Natalie Barnes

Volunteering Gave Me Confidence – Safiyah’s Story

Before my first year at university I had never experienced a professional or working environment. I was very much an independent individual, somewhat shy and very disposed to working in an insular manner. The idea of working as team and interacting with new people within new tasks and challenges was something I was somewhat apprehensive about. As a language student anticipating a future in translation and interpreting I was very aware of the social and communication skills that are required for such a career and therefore wanted to develop my skills within this area by becoming more outgoing, meeting new people and becoming a part of a team.

Volunteering was something I considered taking on early into my second semester. Over the Christmas period I searched the internet for various different opportunities where I felt I could both grow as a person as well as make a worthwhile contribution. I settled for two weekly positions that I felt I could confidently take on, these being a Shop Assistant for Cancer Research and Project Assistant for St. Luke’s Performing Production. Both of which involved very different working environments and tasks however centrally allowed me to branch out and experience workplace interaction and teamwork.

Working as a volunteer at the Cancer Research shop really brought me confidence as I was constantly meeting new people of all different backgrounds and being able to build my communication skills, gain more confidence and effectively overcome a lot of the shyness which I had initially struggled with. Being given the opportunity and resources to help customers by both answering questions and assisting them on the shop floor was a huge confidence booster. As well as this, being able to work as a team with the other shop assistants and volunteers was a really positive experience which allowed me to build trust and confidence within my colleagues, thus aiding me to feel much more secure within my position and able to seek support within tasks and even offer input and suggestions for improvement.

My role as a Project Assistant with St. Luke’s Performance Production was mainly administration based unlike that of my role at Cancer research which took a much more hands-on and practical form. Despite the central requirement of dealing with paperwork and data, there was also a heavy emphasis on communication across the department. Volunteering at St. Luke’s was a real eye opener at how crucial it is for interconnectivity to take place within a professional environment. I learned a lot about effectively communicating information to my colleagues and carefully considering how effective the method and content of my commutation would be in consideration to the goal that we would, as a team, be working towards.

As someone who is completely new to volunteering, I would without a doubt encourage anyone looking to grow as a person or build upon their employability skills alike to make volunteering a part of their lives.  It is a rewarding feeling be accepted within a team and achieve knowing that you worked together towards a common goal. There is so much variety within the realm of volunteering and both parties benefit, so it’s a win-win situation!

Safiyah Ouaguena

Quit My Job And Started Volunteering – Rocio’s Story

It happened three and a half years ago whilst I was working as a managing director of a company in my hometown of Seville in Spain. It was a good job and offered everything one aspired to, a beautiful flat, weekend trips within Spain and Europe, a nice lifestyle indeed. So why did I quit this kind of life? I didn´t quite know why at that time, I just felt I needed to do it.

I packed my belongings, giving away some of my things to friends and left my comfortable flat in the city centre and off I flew to New Zealand!! Yes, New Zealand! I barely had enough time to think about what I was doing, but it was too late now as I was already there, on the other side of the world without a plan.

My first thought was to enrol in a language school to improve my English. I would find a ‘normal’ job and build a life similar to the one I had left behind. So I followed my plan, and right when everything was starting to pay off, something felt wrong. My gut feeling was telling me not to continue doing what I had been doing. I hadn’t travelled to the other side of the planet to just do the same thing I’d been doing before.  Seize the opportunity. So I listened to my heart and followed my intuition.

I heard about a website where you could create a profile as a volunteer and help people who needed you in remote areas. I owed it to myself to at least try it out, so I packed some of my things into a small rucksack and travelled to my first destination, a cow and sheep farm.

It was hard to begin with, but a great experience. I become a farmer and helped a family with their daily farming duties from herding sheep, to feeding cows, and building fences. After a few weeks I felt like part of the family. We cooked and ate together, sharing stories after a long hard days work. I even taught the younger children some Spanish. It felt fantastic contributing some of my time to make their time easier.

After my first volunteering assignment I moved to Paradise Trust, one of the most beautiful locations I have ever seen. This small trust in South Island, New Zealand, is working hard to preserve what remains of a small community of settlers from Europe who emigrated in the late 1800s. There are still some small cottages dating back to that time, with no electricity and limited facilities where visitors can go to enjoy a simpler more contemplative life.

This assignment was very inspiring for me. I felt extremely fortunate, to be able to live in a similar fashion as people did in the late 1800s. Assisting with conservation of the environment and caring for the local animals and plants gave me a sense of fulfillment. I felt as though I’d been given great natural gifts just by expending my time HELPING.

Through my volunteering I was able to understand why things felt wrong in the beginning. I learnt the value and  importance in doing things without expecting something in return, just for the pleasure of helping somebody, and I was also fortunate enough to receive a few of life’s  unexpected gifts in return. This experience changed my life, and now I can’t imagine a life spent without dedicating some of my time to others.

Rocio Vazquez

How to be a winner! – Nadja’s Story

When it comes to voluntary work, I’ve always liked combining helping with my passions. So when I heard about the Women’s Run in October 2015, it was clear to me that I had to participate. Not only would it be a great opportunity to challenge myself, but it could also help young girls all around the world to receive an education.

The CRAFT Women’s Run is part of a campaign called “Because I am a girl” and is run by the organization Plan International. This campaign supports millions of women all around the world in getting the education, skill and help they need to move from poverty to a future of education and therefore opportunity.   Although education is considered to be a key human right, at least 1 in 5 girls around the world is denied their right to education due to their circumstances. Various factors like forced marriage, economic insecurity or the burden of domestic work keeps young girls from attending school. Therefore, they miss out on gaining the knowledge they need to achieve independence and security on their own. The Women’s Run makes up an important part of the operation, part of the registration fee goes toward the campaign. However, this is not the only reason why this run is considered to be an important fragment in supporting girls’ rights to education.

Not only does the run contribute to the development of the organization by generating donations, it also draws attention to the problem itself and makes people aware of this defect in our society. The Women’s Run is held in each big city of Germany and contestants can either walk or run a trail of five or ten kilometres. In Munich, my home city, the run takes place in the Olympic Park and offers a great opportunity to enjoy a jog on one of the most beautiful trails in Munich. In total, almost five thousand women of all ages moved their feet in favour of Women’s rights to education and justice.

Being amongst these women made me feel proud and strong and the overall atmosphere and energy that was created during the run was simply incredible. The sheer enjoyment of running in combination with the ultimate goal to make an actual change in someone else’s life definitely created a unique feeling that made the whole event become one of my favourite memories. I really did feel like a champion crossing the finishing line, because not only had I successfully completed the run without stopping, but I also felt like being a part of something greater and contributing to the world becoming a better place.

The overall experience was so addictive that I instantly registered for another run the same year. Only this time, I was running for women fighting breast cancer. I can absolutely recommend participating in events like these, and for anyone who might be scared about not being able to complete the run as fast as others – don’t worry! Participating in a run like this makes everyone a winner, no matter the actual position.

Nadja Seeberg

I’d never thought about volunteering before – Paul’s Story

My volunteering story is about a start of an inspirational journey. The specific role is not the important factor. The job was comparatively small really, but it was the catalyst and the trigger that delivered the first insight into how rewarding spending some hours helping others can be.

I’d never thought about volunteering before, I’d done lots a bits for various charities, run marathons, bike rides and suchlike, all fundraising rather than an investment in my time or skills specifically. Spending time assisting a cause had never really crossed my path before. But one event seemed to change that concept to leave a lasting legacy, and not only me, but many people countrywide. It was the London Olympics and Paralympics Games 2012.

The World was coming to visit, and London had been chosen to host. I answered the adverts that requested volunteer application, filled in the entry forms and eventually had interviews that led to being picked to be a volunteer. That started a lengthy training programme that led up to the start of the Games themselves. It was an exciting time. I remember getting off the tube at Stratford and striding into the Olympic Park, resplendent in the Games Maker purple and red uniform, a cross between sportswear and soldier, complete with shoulder straps, a style touch borrowed from the Grenadier Guards. There were always smiles from the Army personnel conducting the airport style security bag checks, and from then on my journey took a familiar route. I walked past the breathtaking modernist Aquatics centre, and onto the thoroughfare leading to the unmistakable outline in the distance of the Olympic Stadium. The skyline, though, was dominated by the bright red behemoth of the Arcelor Mittal Orbit sculpture, towering over everyone and everything that entered the park.

My role was in an IT Service Desk capacity. I would logon to the PC, browse the jobs and tickets that came up on any given day, and help out any other IT teams when required. Sometimes that would involve going out to the Velodrome to check on a printer fault, or over to the Handball arena to work on the security desk PC’s and suchlike.

It was a real pleasure to be able to assist, and the most enjoyable part was when helping the general public whilst on the way to other jobs. I would regularly be stopped and asked for directions and afterwards the appreciative smile and “Thank you” was always genuine, and showed that the smallest of favours made a difference.

The Olympic experience created a wave of volunteer good will, and spread out to have a vast affect on voluntary activities throughout the UK. The “Join In” group was developed from the email list of all the Olympic Games Maker volunteers and has regular drives and events to help sports clubs and events all over the country and helps to encourage healthy lifestyles through sport, engaging the help of those volunteers.

The ‘Team London’ and ‘Do It’ websites now have swathes of opportunities to choose from, all types of roles and areas, ranging from one or two hours work, going right through the spectrum of regular hours and up to permanent engagements. There is something to suit everyone, to give a little or a lot more in commitment level.

So, that was the start of it all. My roles since, have been diverse and fulfilling. I have been leafleting and promoting ‘Dellow Nights’ a fundraising evening of art, music and food for the homeless charity Providence Row. I volunteered photography skills for ‘Bling Ya Bike’, a youth project encouraging cycling by customising bikes, scooters and skateboards, through artists spray painting the kids favourite colours and personal designs, as part of the Meltdown festival at the South Bank. My writing has been utilised here for the Voluntary Action Harrow group. Future roles that have been booked in my diary include bee keeping and honey extraction for the bee conservation group ‘Bee Collective’, ‘Grand Photography Day’ for Voluntary Action Harrow, and manning a pop up video booth for ‘WORLDwrite’ educational charity event at the Barbican Centre. I am also meeting other like minded friends through my accommodation, the charity DotDotDot Property social enterprise. Many more diverse and interesting roles are envisaged too.

So there you have it, my individual route into volunteering, fun, inspiring, varied and invigorating. What will yours be, why not have a go too?

Paul Johnson