5 fascinating things I learned from being a volunteer

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I’ve volunteered for a few different places now and the main three organisations I've been involved with has been helping out at a youth group, a soup kitchen, and a rape crisis centre. When you’re helping others, each cause has its own reasons why its deserving, and so each opportunity felt worthwhile.

I love working with children, and so the youth group was a great way to give opportunities to those young people in the community who might not have had much chance before.

I believe everyone has the basic, fundamental right to nutrition, no matter their personal circumstances, and so that’s why I’m happy to have helped the homeless and disadvantaged at the soup kitchen.

Finally, I’m a feminist and wanted to do something other than complaining on the Internet, and so I decided to learn how to support survivors of the most abhorrent forms of violation, by supporting female victims of rape, sexual assault and domestic abuse. It should go without saying that just because I chose to dedicate my time to those causes, it does not in any way mean I don’t care about all the other awful things in the world. It’s sad that I have to reiterate that, but sadly, there are some people who get their backs up (particularly about the last one).

1. Volunteering Takes Dedication

Up until I joined the rape crisis centre, volunteering had always seemed pretty casual. You turned up when you could, and people were always pretty grateful. However, with some forms of volunteering, it’s not that simple. When you’re dealing with vulnerable people (including teens), and there are crimes and mental health issues involved, you obviously can’t just walk in on day one expecting to know how to work with these people.

I attended weekend and evening classes whilst working a 40-hour week in my full time job. I learned about the legal system, medical issues, financial, emotional and mental issues that victims of sexual assault will have to deal with. I learned about counselling skills. I watched videos, studied, and did role play sessions. There were pieces of coursework I had to do that were actually longer than my ACTUAL coursework. It was exhausting, but I’m so glad I did it.

2. Volunteering Is A Way To Make Real, Human Connections

Whether it’s the friends you make as your fellow volunteers, or people you help out doing whatever you’re doing, you’ll be constantly reminded about humanity. Sometimes, things people say will break your heart. Other times, you’ll feel pretty positive. Regardless of the outcome, you’ll have conversations that matter!

3. Volunteering Is Really Interesting

Volunteering has presented me with lots of new challenges, and I’ve been introduced to people from all walks of life. It’s also a great way to use your skills and put them to the test. For example, I’ve got social media experience, and so I used my knowledge in this area to help the rape crisis centre. I also got to attend the Rape Crisis England & Wales national conference, which was really eye opening and got me passionate about the political side of things!

4. Volunteering Is A Great Way To Inspire

The conversations I’ve had since volunteering with other people have led me to take a much more empathetic perspective on a range of different issues. With my training and balanced views having had a real insight to different problems in society, I feel that people are often interested in what I have to say. I feel that a lot of people also want to help others, they just needed someone to give them a nudge in the right direction. And, when it comes to the people you’re helping – sometimes you can inspire them, too.

5. Volunteering Is SO Rewarding

You were waiting for this one, weren’t you? Cliché, huh? But it’s true. You’ll feel as though you’ve done something good. For me personally, I beat myself up a lot about things I don’t like about myself or things I’ve said or done that I shouldn’t. When I volunteer, I feel like I’m not too terrible after all. When someone thanks you, it really hammers that message home.

If you’re thinking about volunteering, my only advice is do it! As a student, you have more time than you realise in a lot of cases, and even if not, there are plenty of ‘one-off’ things to can do to make a difference. Speak to your University about opportunities, or be pro-active and go online. It’ll make you feel good, it’ll look good on your CV, and most importantly, it could change a life!

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