For many years, I loved the idea of volunteering, giving my time to help someone or something. I was much younger but knew it was something I wanted to do and I spent the last 10 years doing just that. At the time of course, I didn’t know how it would be, what would I actually achieve and more importantly would it ever be enough. What I came to realise though is giving something back, dedicating your time, however much it may be, can make the world of difference. No, I didn’t change the world, hell I didn’t even change a city but I did change/impact the lives of many. I continue to volunteer because no matter how much time I give it is never enough. There is always something more that can be done or someone else that could be helped.
I trained, volunteered and worked with several organisations within England and aboard. I wanted to share my experiences because perhaps there is an organisation or an cause that appeals to others out there. Volunteering anywhere is not difficult, it is an enriching, valuable, life changing experience from which you learn and gain a great deal.
1/ Donate blood – I signed up to be a blood donor when I was 18 and have been donating ever since. I can’t encourage people enough to donate blood, it is one pint of blood three times a years. It takes very little time and is relatively painless unless of course you are scared of needles. Regardless of your blood type, your one pint of blood could help save someones life so why not sign up and donate? There are numerous donor centres in London and around England for that matter and you don’t even need to book, you can just walk in.
2/ London Aquarium – One of the first places I signed up to volunteer was the Aquarium, primarily because I thought it would be different and because I could only volunteer over the summer. I met some great people and read a lot about under water sea life. I also learnt how to make badges. All in all though, I realised this wasn’t my cup of tea.
3/ The Digital Media Unit – I heard about this place thanks to my sister, she was a volunteer journalist assistant. She loved this place and went on to write and publish several articles. I met the manager and the young people involved in the project and realised that it wasn’t for me. I knew very little about journalism and my interests really lay elsewhere.
4/ Reachout – I signed up to this whilst studying history at university. This charity has two offices, one in London and one Manchester and the aim was to support children in deprived areas with literacy and mathematics. I along with the other volunteers, was a peer mentor and supported my mentee every week with homework. I mentored a nine year girl for a year and became attached to her and many of the other children. I saw the difference I made and whilst I was sad to leave, this was the beginning not the end.
5/ Ragged School Museum – Given that I studied history and I love museums, I spent 3 months volunteering as a museum assistant whilst at university. I learnt a great deal about the museum but also got to assist members of the public and work with children.
6/ Arbour youth centre – I realised by this stage that I loved working with children so I decided to become a volunteer youth worker whilst at university. I worked with children after school in arts and crafts and we organised local excursions. I was able to do something creative whilst also working with children.
7/ Barnardos – I decided to do something full time for three months in the summer so I applied for a internship with this national, children’s charity. I have never been a huge fan of internships, especially at large multi-national firms but this was an interesting experience. I met many other interns and grew more familiar with projects Barnardos have to offer. In the end, it confirmed that I wanted to work directly with children and not in a office all day.
8/ Crisis – I volunteered here twice a week while studying. I have never worked with homeless people and so wanted to gain some experience. This too is a national charity within London, with many projects and services for homeless people. I felt I should have spent longer, devoted more time as I wasn’t able to work directly with homeless people and consequently didn’t see the impact of my work. I left a little disappointed but my time here confirmed that I would apply to work with homeless people in the future.
9/ Pat Shaw Nursing Home – I never met my grandfather and spent very little time with my grandmother. However, I met and worked with several elderly people and learnt a lot from them. So, I decided to volunteer in a home whilst studying. It was very different to working with children, I enjoyed my time and learnt how valuable it was to simply sit and listen about life, family and friends. I made someones afternoon just by listening to them.
10/ Macmillian Crisis – I looked into volunteering with a charity that supports people with cancer. This is another large national charity in London which helps raise money for people with cancer. I worked in one of the offices in West London, in the funding department. Whilst I understand the need to raise funds for charities, it is not my cup of tea. In fact, it is perhaps the one thing I despise the most, charities competing with other charities for funding for the same cause or to help the same people, I think it’s crazy.
11/ Oxfam – A charity that appeals to me a great deal as it works to overcome poverty and injustice around the world. I applied to volunteer in a Oxfam book shop, I wasn’t able to volunteer full time so this suited me great and I love books so it was a good environment. Whilst I love to read, reading books and working with books are of course two very different things. I learnt whilst I could volunteer, I wanted to work directly with people, so no office or book store.
12/ Age Concern – A charity that works to support elderly people within England. Given that I tried to volunteer in a book store previously, I decided to try and volunteer in a clothes shore. I had no previous retail experience so this was something both new and exciting for me. I found working in a shop was more varied then a book store, sorting through clothes, shoes, jewellery, pricing, shelving and working on the check out. I was learn a lot and left with valuable experience.
13/ Calthorpe Project – I loved working with children so much that I volunteered at this youth centre over the summer. I worked with young people, helped on various projects and excursions. I loved it so much, I told my sister and she volunteered in the ceshe. I net some great people and made some good friends.
14/ Woman’s Trust – I finished my history degree and started my masters in social worker. As part of my degree, I completed a 90 day placement with a non-statutory organisation in my first year. I was assigned a independent domestic violence’s charity which supports women affected by domestic violence. I had never worked with a survivor before, I had never heard a woman’s account of abuse and it was all very overwhelming for me but it was here that I started to grow both personally and professionally. The question asked over and over again, why doesn’t she just leave, was answered and I learnt all about coping mechanisms and the dynamics of power and control exerted on women we worked with. I learnt for the first time, not to jump in and rescue women but to sit and bear the pain. It was difficult but one of the experiences that both changed and shaped my life.
15/ London youth – I wanted to train as a peer mentor again so I volunteered with this organisation over the summer. Here we had various meetings and then we went on a team meeting, residential weekend. It was the first time I had to share my room with people I didn’t know, it was quite the experience, I learnt about the other participants but also myself. I opened up and wasn’t judged, it’s good to expose your true colours sometimes.
16/ Camden Safeguarding Families and Children – As part of my masters, my second placement was a 110 days in a statutory body, Camden Council. I wasn’t keen working for the council, never had been but I did want to be a social worker so it was inevitable. Here I learnt a lot about what social work was really like, how social workers felt and how subsequently families and children felt. I filled in Child in Need applications and made Child Protection reports. I visited families and tried to gain information. I felt I didn’t belong in this role, I disliked all the bureaucracy and essentially the idea I had about social work was very different on the ground. I realised I didn’t want to police families or tell a mother she needed to attend a parenting course. By the end of my placement, it was clear I was never going to become a social worker.
17/ Asian Woman’s project – I graduated with a masters in social work and couldn’t find a job. I knew at this point that I wanted to support women but as I didn’t have enough experience to obtain a front line position. Consequently, I applied for a volunteer support position at this charity. Here I was able to shadow an independent domestic violence advocate and I grew familiar with what services they provide to women. It wasn’t long before I applied here that I was offered a job elsewhere.
18/ Woman’s Trust – I applied for and was offered the post of a independent domestic violence advocate with the same charity I completed my placement with. I was thrilled as this was the beginning of something amazing, I had never known where I wanted to work or what I wanted to do. But when I interviewed for this post, it was clear, I wanted to work for a charity and I wanted to help other people. I became very close to my team and my work essentially became my life. There was no one day I hated and no moment I had to wish time would go faster so the day would end. In fact, we never had a enough time, we worked overtime and during our lunch break and it still wasn’t enough. I dedicated myself to do everything I could and more for my clients and the results were good. I saw the difference I made to the lives of women everyday and I couldn’t have felt happier. Of course, with a post like this, there are frustrations, agencies not supporting our clients, courts and police outcomes and at times our clients weren’t safe and on days like this, you want to just take your client home but you couldn’t. Charities are in constant need of funding to sustain, develop and grow services. As a result, they have a range of fund-raising events and I, along with other advocates, took part in a 5 km run to help raise money.
19/ New Horizon – I supported many young, homeless clients and this in turn motivated me to do something more. So, I applied for a volunteer support worker position with this organisation. This centre offers support to homeless young adults in London. Here they have a support worker, food, a bath, projects and support applying for housing and benefits. I trained with this organisation and was very keen to start volunteering but given I worked full time it was difficult to commit to the required hours. I did nonetheless, refer many of my homeless clients to this organisation.
20/ Youth net – As I was working full time, I essentially needed to volunteer after work or over the weekend but then I found this organisation. This charity supports young people but over the internet so it was ideal for me. I trained up with other volunteers and learnt how we could support youngsters online. I realised whilst this is great on many levels, I missed the direct interaction with young people.
21/ NSPCC – I grew up listening about all the great work this children’s charity does and so was determined to volunteer with them. I applied for and was trained to support children on child line. It was a long but interesting process with a lot of useful training. I am a very good listener and empathetic so this role seemed perfect. The only difficulty with this role was the shifts, given that I was working full time, I couldn’t commit to the necessary hours.
22/ NSPCC – As I was determined to do something for this charity, I signed up and raised money for a sponsored skydive. I love heights, being up in the air and so skydiving suited me perfectly. I managed to raise more than was needed thanks to family and friends. My flatmate, who was also keen to skydive, joined me and so it turned out to be a very fun and memorable day for the both of us.
23/ Sharan Project – Having worked in the field of domestic violence for over two years I was familiar with many of the services and support available to women. I attended a conference celebrating International Women’s Day in East London and it was here that I heard about this Project. I spoke to the director, Polly and obtained more information about the support her project offers to women affected by domestic violence. I later applied and became a volunteer for this project to help women who had left home and needed support. I worked alongside some very strong, inspirational, hard working and dedicated women.
24/ British Cancer Research – Whilst working at Advance, I worked with a very inspiring, strong, positive, enthusiastic women who was a cancer survivor. Now, when I met her, I had no idea, I mean no one would be able to tell but after she joined out team she told us. It was because of her that many of us in the office signed up for and raised money for the Race for Life, a 5 km run for British Cancer Research, in London. This was a good team exercise and given so many of us aren’t signed up to a gym or joggers, it made it all the more fun.
25/ Volunteers for Peace – Saigon, Vietnam – All of the above positions and experiences were great but all of them were in London. It was my dream to volunteer aboard, to do aid work in a foreign country, in particular, to volunteer in a orphanage. Initially I had researched and wanted to volunteer in India, given my heritage and given that I have only been once, I thought it would be a great to volunteer and explore the country more. However, this didn’t happen and instead, I signed up with Inter Cultural Youth Exchange and decided to volunteer for two months in Saigon. It is an amazing city, very different to London and undoubtedly there was a culture shock. I loved volunteering here, the team at the time were great and provided a lot of support. I taught English at all the projects I volunteered at which included, Shelter 8, a boy’s orphanage, Vin Hu School and a women’s project. No two days were the same and it wasn’t long before I built a rapport with the children. We each had a local volunteer which helped immensely and they too became our friends. This was the first time I volunteer aboard, I saw and experienced things I had never done back at home and I can not recommend it enough.
26/ CESHE – Siem Reap, Cambodia – I met many volunteers whilst in Saigon, some of whom I travelled with at a later stage. One friend, is from Belgium, she was due to volunteer for two weeks in Siem Reap, Cambodia and it was thanks to her that I heard about this organisation. This school is run by Rady, 4 km from Siem Reap, he along with other volunteers invested time and money to run several classes for children in this village. I spent one month here, teaching English to children here and making bracelets, which we later sold in the city to raise money for the school. We also held a fundraising party to help raise funds for another school which was being developed. Cambodia is essentially a third world developing country and so the children have very little compared to that of the west. But they all have this ever lasting enthusiasm, positive energy, love, warmth, energy and eagerness to learn which is more than enough. I met some amazing people whilst volunteering here and some great friends.
27/ Jocum Borel – Rio, Brazil – I decided before leaving South East Asia that I wanted to travel to South America. More specifically I decided that I wanted to be in Brazil and volunteer during the World Cup. I researched and emailed various charities whilst in Chile but I had little luck. I decided to book and fly to Rio regardless and well hope for the best. In the end, I heard back from Iko Poran, an umbrella organisation which accepts and allocates volunteers to various projects within Rio. At the time, this was run by two amazing, talented people, Vivian and Zac and they were the ones who did our orientation and gave Portuguese classes. I was allocated Jocum, a project in Borel, Rio. This is a Christian based organisation but they accept volunteers from all backgrounds and are open to people from different cultures. It was here that I taught and worked with women twice a week and then worked in the ceshe for three days of the week. I loved every minute of it, the journey to work, trying to communicate in Portuguese, meeting and interacting with other Brazilians who were also volunteering at Borel and looking after the children. Both the project and living at the volunteer house was the highlight of my trip. I became part of this family of volunteers, we cooked together, went out together, laughed together, shared are dreams, aspirations and fears together. It was amazing, I never thought something so amazing would be possible but it was which is why it was so hard to leave after 10 weeks.
28/ Divino Niño Jesus – Encarnacion, Paraguay – I left Brazil with a heavy heart after 3 months and landed in Paraguay with the intention of exploring the country and leaving after a few weeks. Little did I know that I would stay much longer and volunteer again. I found this children’s home thanks a friend and as a result volunteered here for a month. I spoke very little Spanish and both the staff and the children spoke next to no English so it was a very different and interesting experience. I used my phrasebook a lot, along with a dictionary and again it wasn’t long before I built a rapport with the children. A common language is not always necessary, energy, warmth, love, kindness, body language, eye contact and gestures are more important. I was loved and accepted even though was a foreigner, a traveller, someone who couldn’t communicate in the same language and express an opinion. It was enough for them, me going everyday to help and teach English was enough and appreciated.
29/ Centro Vivo – Encarnacion, Paraguay – I left Paraguay and was back in Brazil for New Years, my plan was to continue travelling but I couldn’t do it. My gut feeling told me to go, to travel but I physically couldn’t do it. And so, I came back to Paraguay, crazy I know. I came back and connected this centre to see if I could volunteer. Sure enough, they let me volunteer so twice a week I teach English. My class went from seven students to twenty. They all turn up, each class, punctual and ready to learn. I see the difference I make to my students and I love it. Sure if there were more resources or if I spoke more Spanish it would be better but what I have is good.
I hadn’t realised that I applied, trained and volunteered with so many different organisations and charities. Some of the organisations were a stepping stone or a new environment to determine whether or not it was for me. It’s safe to say I love working with children, young people and women. I am passionate, dedicated and enthusiastic about helping as many people as possible. I know I may not change the world but changing the live of one person every day is good enough for me. If I can do that then the people I help, in turn, will go on and help others and so it continues, this cycle of giving to others. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what you do or how much you give provided you do something, give something to others. If today you have the time, resources and opportunity to help others then do it because we never know if and when someday we will need to turn for help. For me, it is very simple, I love to help others because I see the difference I make and as a result I’m happy. There is no greater joy then to embark wisdom, to see a child’s face light-up, to receive a hug from a client, to get a thank you card and to see how much someone’s life changed because of all your support. The purpose of my life is to give, to give when and where I can, how much I can, that is my personal legend. And this is what I will pursue everyday for as long as I live.