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.