Why volunteer? You may think that’s an easy question. We’re told all the time – being part of the community, boosting your CV, giving back. Yes, these are all perfectly valid answers, but they’re a little too generic for me. These are the sort of answer I would give on a day when I’m feeling rushed, or really can’t be bothered (a bit like people asking you what your plans are for after third year – JUST STOP OK!!). But when I sit down and really think about it, there’s so much more to it than that..
Yes, CV boosting is great, but better than just writing about all the skills you now have is when you actually use them. We are constantly hearing about the importance of being able to problem solve and lead a team, but how are we meant to gain these skills when most jobs won’t allow us the position to do so?
When I started volunteering, I was happy to sit in the back and follow everyone else’s lead - I wouldn’t have dreamt of doing anything else. But now I’m a Volunteer Leader and responsible for a team, becoming someone others can follow. What happened?
The beauty of volunteering is that it gives you a safe space to mess up. You’re not being paid, and are part of a team. You are free to dip your toe in the terrifying water of acting on your own initiative, whether that be in talking to a stranger, or trying to problem solve, in a non-judgemental zone where your fellow volunteers will be grateful for all that you do. Nine times out of ten, you won’t mess up, but will make positive contributions to the projects and communities you work within, as well as your confidence growing. Without realising, dipping your toe becomes striding out on your own, fearless, settling an example for others who are still toe dippers.
"Giving back to the community" is another tired phrase I often hear banded about. Rather than the vague "community", I think of the amazing feeling volunteering can give you with the knowledge that you have made an actual change to at least one person’s life, if not more. I don’t think many of us expect to have the whole of Tower Hamlets praising us for our efforts, but through my time with QMSU volunteering myself and other volunteers can think of many individuals who have been genuinely appreciative of our work, as it’s made their life that little bit easier. This can be as simple as smiling when you serve them breakfast at the Whitechapel Mission, helping them pick out food items at Bow Foodbank, or cheering them on as they pass mile 19 of the London Marathon and are ready to drop to the ground. Really simple stuff which gives a happiness much better than the vague smugness of "giving back".
Most importantly, everyone forgets about what volunteering can give you. Firstly, it’s free, and we are so lucky to have a service at QMSU that allows us to be part of so many amazing opportunities in our city playground. I’ve been up close at the Marathon when the elite athletes have raced past, and know volunteers who were mascots in Chinatown’s New Year celebrations. Secondly, 99.9% of volunteers are the kindest, sweetest people I have met at university, and some of my greatest friends. Turning up at a one-day event where no one knows each other is a great way to meet students from other disciplines that you would otherwise never meet, and make friends without the fear of everyone already knowing each other.
I could go on, but I’ve either probably succeeded or failing in convincing you by now. What I will say is that volunteering has been an amazing part of my experience at QM, and I know we have a volunteering service that outdoes many other unis. You’d be robbing yourself if you didn’t at least consider trying it out once.
Written by Catherine Bailey