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

You never know where volunteering can take you! – Natalie’s Story

Some people think of volunteering and they immediately think of unpaid work and it puts them off. Yet they don’t realise how rewarding it is to volunteer. Let alone how many new skills you learn and old ones you get to utilise for the sake of  helping others and really giving back to the community.

That’s why I volunteered. I had a little of bit of time to spare and was bored of doing nothing with the time I had. I wanted to do something useful, learn new skills and give something back. At the time I wasn’t working and was not ready to go back to work. I had a bout of illness which meant I couldn’t go back to work straight away.

I felt quite frustrated and eager to do something for someone else instead of just feeling sorry for myself. But I really wanted to learn some new skills. Being a writer I knew I wanted to use my writing as well.

I contacted Age concern and decided to find out what volunteer opportunities they had. I told them about my writing and they asked me if I could do some volunteering with them to help them write their monthly newsletter. This really excited me.

I used desktop publisher and it was mainly a lot of editing and a bit of writing.  I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was the first time I was using desk top publisher but with help I quickly got the grasp of it. I was importing pictures into the newsletter layout also and making small decisions with the team about how the newsletter should look.

After completing the newsletter another voluntary position arose within age concern. This was the role of a receptionist. I had always wanted to work as a receptionist but had no skills in reception and I had no idea what it felt like to do a reception job and whether I would enjoy it. This was my opportunity to find out. The receptionist opportunity was offered to me so I took it straight away. It came with full training.

I learnt how to answer the phone, take messages and record them in the message and appointment book. I learnt how to direct phone call messages to different departments and meet and greet people at the reception desk. I thoroughly enjoyed this position and it gave me real insight into what it felt like to work as a receptionist in a receptionist role.

That is one great thing about volunteer work, if you are unsure of a paid employment role you would like to pursue, you can always try out voluntary work in that same role to gain some experience, learn some new skills and at the same time give something back by supporting an organization.

Age concern is a charity so not only was I gaining some real valuable employable skills that would look amazing on my CV,  I was also supporting a charity and giving up my own spare time to really help out and support and give something back to those who needed it.

Age concern is a charity that supports and offer services for senior citizens who are usually housebound due to old age. I had to answer many phone calls and queries from older people and their relatives who were taking care of them. It was never a dull day as there was always challenging queries and problem solving.

I also volunteered at my local hospital on hospital radio. I made a lot of new friends and learnt how to do radio presenting and producing. I learnt some invaluable skills. I had to visit sick patients on the hospital wards and record their song request to be played later on in the show.

After being in hospital myself once I knew what it felt like to be unwell and away from home and family and to feel lonely. I was doing something really rewarding by doing a show for patients in hospital and really cheering them up with the radio show since they were so poorly. If felt good to be able to help someone else who was in the position I had once been in.

I would recommend volunteering to anyone because it can be so exciting, varied and rewarding and there is something to suit anyone. I hope to now travel to Morocco or Kenya to volunteer with young children in nurseries and schools. Volunteering can take you to so many places. I hope my volunteer experience has helped you want to volunteer too.

Natalie Reuben

A decision that I will never regret – Sucheta’s Story

A few months before my 25th birthday, I quit my job. I decided that in order to find out what I really want to do with my life, or perhaps discover what I could do best and then pursue that in a paid capacity, I needed to volunteer. This may seem strange to some, as most people volunteer for more altruistic reasons. I knew I had a lot to offer. But I also knew that I had a lot to learn.

After saving up some money, and arranging to live at home with my parents rent-free, I followed through with this decision. Looking back, I can say that it is a decision that I will never regret.

Having worked with young people in various educational settings, I wanted to volunteer for charities that served children and families in London. Subsequently, I undertook two voluntary internships, one with a local literacy charity, and another with a national children’s charity.

Two particular instances stand out in my mind. Both remind me of the value of volunteering.

On a field visit, a last-minute change meant that a fellow volunteer would not have a partner. My line manager asked me to be her partner for the day, but also made a very specific request: the volunteer needed help reading with a child. I realised that once volunteers establish routines with service-users, it’s easy for them to settle for interactions which may not reflect the true quality of the service on offer. While taking an interest in the young person’s reading habits was important, in this instance, reading with the child was equally if not more important, because it would improve the child’s literacy and create a shared experience that would build trust and confidence on both sides. All it took was a simple question and a suggestion that my partner do the reading. I was surprised that something so simple and so ordinary could change the dynamic between the volunteer and service-user. Following the visit, our evaluation and discussion was more fruitful.

The second experience is a bit more personal. I took on an administrative internship in a dynamic department, and I was unfamiliar with how to conduct myself in such a setting. My aim was to be amicable and stay on top of the tasks I was set. What my line manager made me realise was that while this was good, it did not give a full picture of what I had to offer. Being a natural observer, I was more likely to be present and distant at the same. I needed to bring – in her words – my “full self” to work. This came as such a shock to me, since I prided myself on the being conscientious and hardworking. It made me realise that there is so much more to volunteering than lending a helping hand and doing a good job. Volunteering teaches you more about yourself too.

My year of volunteering is over. Although I have yet to secure full-time paid employment, my experiences have taught me to value the relationships I build with colleagues and how much of myself I invest in my work. Now, I am ready to take the next step… wherever that may be.

Sucheta

6 Years Later – Angie’s Story

When I first started volunteering at the age of 14, I would have liked to describe how I fully embraced the concept of volunteering straight away. However, this was not the case. I was compelled to undertake 6 months of volunteering as part of a Duke of Edinburgh scheme. I was shy, reserved and feared new situations and was not looking forward to these compulsory 6 months. I volunteered as a shop floor assistant in charity shop called Scope – a charity which supports disabled people in the UK and aims to give them equal opportunities. I found it challenging for the first few weeks as it was so out of my comfort zone – I was in situations where I had to interact and talk to the public.

Nevertheless, over time, my confidence has grown and I have not stopped volunteering! I discovered that the rewards from volunteering were two-fold; both on a personal level and a community level. As an individual, I am now very social and outgoing, and new situations and opportunities excite me rather than make me fearful.  On a community level, the impact made for the charity and those it supports is enormous. One of the most rewarding moments I witnessed during my 4 years volunteering at Scope was when a young man with cerebral palsy cut the rope for the re-opening of the charity shop after a new makeover.

As mentioned, 6 years later, I still actively take part in volunteering activities. During university, I have joined RAG society (Raising and Giving) and Enactus which is a social enterprise group that gives advice to local new businesses. The range of volunteering activities I have taken part in range largely; from acting as a marshal at a marathon to litter picking and weeding a local park. However, the most rewarding volunteering I have been involved in whilst at university was the work I did for Bath Mind – a charity which aims to improve the lives of those suffering from mental illness. A group of other students and I were given the tasks of raising money for renovating a dishevelled summer house which was used by some of the residential people. I got involved in every stage of the process from baking the cakes for the cake sales to getting my hands dirty and painting the summer house! Hearing how happy the residents were with the refurbished summer house was so rewarding.

I hope my volunteering story inspires you to become a volunteer too. The benefits to your personal development and the cause you are helping out are exponential.

Angie Fuller

Stop thinking about it and start doing it! – Rachel’s Story

I signed up for International Citizen Service (ICS) as a recent university graduate looking to do something different, travel abroad, meet new people and contribute to a community in need of a helping hand. I am happy to say that I achieved all of the above during my 10 weeks in Malawi, but my ICS story in Mzuzu, Malawi is so much more than that.

A key part of ICS was the host home where we stayed with our Malawian counterparts for the duration of our placement. My host family was warm and welcoming from the start, with the father’s opening line being: ‘Be free, this is your home now’. Despite the fantastic welcome and wonderful family, settling in was hard, as learning another family’s way of life and getting to know the different personalities, all while adapting to living in a developing country, was pretty stressful! The food was one of the biggest challenges – eating with my hands is something I had never done before and my first attempt at eating nsima (one of Malawi’s staple foods) was what can only be described as pitiful! Thankfully, I came on leaps and bounds in the food department, sampling many a weird and wonderful dish.

For my charity placement, I was allocated to Added Power And Understanding Sex Education, an organisation that goes into schools to teach on the important topics of healthy sexual relationships, STIs and resisting pressure to have sex. Work started off with lesson rehearsals every day, but thankfully after a couple of weeks, we went into schools and delivered the sessions which was a lot of fun as the students interacted enthusiastically with the ICS volunteers and the other APAUSE peers. Work had its issues, as overall it was quite slow-moving, with some organisational miscommunications and clashes in work approaches and ethics amongst the team. These were definitely things I expected to face when working with people from different cultures, but tackling them in the flesh was something that took a lot of time and effort. Willingness to overcome these concerns and a common goal was vital in resolving such problems and overall, we collaborated effectively enough to run some really enjoyable and worthwhile classes.

The trip had incredible highs, like our mid phase review at the stunning Nkhata Bay, a barbeque at a mansion in the hills and a student in one of my favourite classes asking to be my pen pal. There have also been lows like feeling as if there isn’t enough to do, missing home and the shock of adjusting to life in a new country thousands of miles from anything or anyone familiar.

But through it all my team were there. We started as a group of strangers embarking on a crazy adventure together and ten weeks later, they were my second family. We saw each other at our best and worst and the friendships we made are still very strong today. To see genuine, hilarious and kind hearted every single day was truly a privilege.

There are many things I found difficult about volunteering abroad, but with them came some the greatest people and experiences. My advice to anyone thinking of volunteering, whether it would be abroad, in your local community, for a month or for a day, would be to stop thinking about it and start doing it. My ICS placement in Malawi (with Lattitude Global Volunteering) was hard at times, but it’s the most incredible and rewarding thing I have ever done. Returning home to London was enormously bittersweet as the Warm Heart of Africa, as Malawi is known, had truly captured mine.

Smile and the world smiles with you – Zekra’s Story

My name is Zekra and I live by the motto ‘smile and the world smiles with you’. When you are happy it’s contagious enough to make people around you feel the same and I honestly believe the best gift you can give anyone is a smile.

Life is very busy for me between training and work but I realised that it doesn’t always have to be days and weeks to make a difference. One hour can be enough!

I found out about #popupharrow and the volunteering opportunities they have to make small contributions. The best thing of all…my first opportunity gave me the chance to be face to face with people and see the faces turn into smiles!

I joined Harrow Happiness Campaign whose mission is to simply spread happiness and smiles in Harrow. All it required was for me to show up for one hour with a smile on my face. I met some of the other volunteers and I was provided with a giant foam hand. All I did was high five people, smile, talk and get as many faces smiling back as possible. That small difference gave me a buzz I didn’t think I would get! The smiles from people and the high fives made me feel like I was on top of the world. It’s so contagious and addictive.

I also dared to take it a step further and do free hugs!! For me the hug is giving people the chance to express their affection to a fellow human and about trusting in each other. Hugging a stranger means not being afraid to show love, just as easy it is to just walk by without greeting or smiling. Our community needs to represent love and happiness and I cannot tell you how proud I am of taking part of that. It wasn’t at all awkward and people were so friendly (everyone likes free stuff!).

I was so happy every time parents would encourage their kids to come forward and hug and high five us and that just shows how we want our kids to not be afraid to express love!

These small acts of kindness isn’t what people think of when they hear the word volunteering but I can’t even express the happiness and sense of involvement it gives me. For me this was an easy start to get more involved.

I would ask anyone that believes they don’t have the time to just give it an hour to see how the experience will move and open doors to happiness that you didn’t expect. It will make you understand how “We rise by lifting others” and that Small changes are still a change!

Remember to keep smiling!

Zekra