Volunteering was something I just kind of fell in to. It sounds ridiculous when I think about it, seeing as I now support student social action for a living at Student Hubs, and have been involved in the organisation of Student Volunteering Week (SVW) for the last 3 years! But, it might just have been the ‘happy coincidence’ that has had the biggest positive impact on my life to date…
When I arrived at Exeter University as a fresh-faced and terrified first year, my main concerns where around the usual things – making friends, working out how to get to campus and back, trying to survive without my Mum etc. I thought volunteering might be something fun to do outside of my studies, so signed up to Exeter’s Community Action Society at the Freshers’ fair and then preceded to ignore all their emails until towards the end of my first year, when an opportunity caught my eye.
I’d always been interested in global issues and, at the time, was suffering from a severe case of itchy travellers feet and so when I read that CA were looking to recruit a team of students to travel to Ghana to volunteer for the summer, I applied immediately. I vividly remember chatting to friends about the unlikelihood of me getting a place, seeing as I’d barely done any volunteering in the past and was only in my first year, but lo and behold, I received an email telling me I was in.
From my first summer in Ghana, back in 2010, I have well and truly been suffering from the volunteering bug. So much so that it became a bit of a running joke in my friendship group at Uni, that I was a full time volunteer that just happened to do a bit of a degree on the side!
My love for volunteering and all things social action developed month by month during University. Getting to work with a team of incredible and inspirational students, on issues I genuinely cared about, as well as passionate and supportive staff members, all had a big impact on me. I felt part of an incredible team, empowered to make an impact in my local community and beyond. To this day, the experiences I had whilst volunteering are some of the most cherished of my life.
Through being involved in a range of projects I was able to meet and work alongside people I would never normally have come in to contact with – I’ve worked in homeless shelters, in youth clubs, done fundraising on the streets of London, even ran an arts and crafts club for local primary school kids. Volunteering helped me to understand the world in a different way, getting the chance to interact with different people, from different cultures and with different life stories. It’s also taught me a whole host of skills, as well as helping me to figure out what my strengths and weaknesses are.
When I started at Exeter I wanted to be a teacher, but the many experiences I was fortunate enough to have with Community Action and KickStart Ghana, led me to pursue a career within the not for profit sector. Because of volunteering, my life has taken a path that I never would have considered and is all the better for it. Now, 2 years out of University and supporting student social action from a staff perspective, I wholeheartedly believe that student volunteers make a difference each and every day, and will continue to do so in the future.
Being involved in the organisation and delivery of SVW and having the chance to hear all about the amazing things students are doing across the country, fills me with hope for the future, as what might seem like ‘just a little bit of volunteering’, I believe, is going to make the next leaders of our country more socially and environmentally aware, passionate about a wide array of issues and in positions to make better decisions, which will bring about real systematic change.
My advice to anyone – whether a volunteer novice, just considering getting involved, or a seasoned pro, that does little else – is to grab opportunities when they arise for you, come at them with an open mind and heart, learn from those you’re working alongside and have the best time of your life!
Make sure this Student Volunteering Week you find an issue you care about, or a project that you would happily donate your time to, and sign up. I can promise you, it’s a decision you won’t regret and you just never know how it might change your life, as well as someone else’s, for the better!
This post originally appeared on the Student Volunteering Week Blog here.