The overall rating of a review is different from a simple average of all individual ratings.
Share this review on
Don’t worry – this op isn’t going to be a pile of piffle about what a fantastic person I am because I volunteer, or why you’re all a bunch of lazy lay-abouts because you don’t, so please, read on.
A UCAS form started it all, or rather the dread of an impending one did. In order to have something impressive to write - along with the fabulous grades, dancing accolades and part time jobs since I was 13, naturally ;-) - I came up with the idea that I should be doing some voluntary work. A quick word in the ear of my mother, who was working for a local charity at the time, and lo and behold, ZoŽ the volunteer was born.
Since that day I’ve worked with people of all ages, upbringings and nationalities in a voluntary capacity. I currently work with an organisation called Community Action which is a locally run branch of a much larger concern, Student Volunteering UK. When I’m not studying, working, hanging out with my friends or sweating it out at the gym these days, I’m usually volunteering. SVUK is our “boss”. Or not. They offer training and seminars and help and advice, but the type of projects we run and in what capacity is totally up to us. At present we run schemes looking after / helping young, old, homeless and disabled people in the Greater Manchester area, but the one I’m most involved in is a play scheme for school age children.
What does being a volunteer mean? In my case the work is very similar to childcare for “normal” children, but with a slightly different focus. If you have ever been on our uni's campus early evening on a Wednesday, you might have seen a dozen children racing around the grass outside the maths building, with 3 teenage students puffing along after them. You might have heard them laughing on our bouncy castle while we supervised from the grass (not our choice, I might add, but we’re too old to have a go). You might have seen a different group making crayon rubbings of bins and paths and walls and trees in the area opposite. You might have seen yet another group making balled up tissue paper fish for a huge aquarium project we had on last week. From a distance, you might not have realised that this was anything other than an afterschool club for nice, well behaved, middle class children, run by kind, caring, paid students. But it was.
This op is about being a volunteer in general, but includes certain references to working in an organiser capacity, since I’ve also had experience in this area. To start with (even though I’m already over 400 words into this thing, so it’s a bit late to be “starting”), let’s have a look at the difference between what I do on a Wednesday evening, and what someone running a normal after school does:
~~ APPLICATION PROCESS ~~
To start volunteering with our group, there’s not all that much red tape. You fill in a form and provide details of references. Our manager (who is a paid adult, as apposed to a volunteer student) chases up these, and deals with the police checks, and assuming you pass, you’re in. Technically we probably could have too many volunteers, but so far it’s never happened. If we have more workers we can take more kids, if one semester we only have 4 or 5 volunteers, we have to take fewer. We don’t demand previous experience with kids although it is preferred. Most people who have never babysat etc before, either pick it up quickly or drop out, so it’s generally not a problem.
Easy enough, we don’t get any. Zilch. Nada. That’s the whole “voluntary” aspect of it – we volunteer our time for no monetary return. In contrast, I’d expect someone doing this for a job to be earning, say, £5 per hour. That means that even only doing a few hours a week, I’m already down £20 or so. Which, in ZoŽ terms, is about 10 magazines, 6 books, 13 trips to the gym, 60 bars of chocolate or 2 weeks’ grocery shopping. So quite a lot then.
~~ HOURS ~~
Unlike with a regular job, I do not have to turn up each week, although I must let people know. We have set hours that we stick to to make it easier for the parents and kids involved, and when booking rooms and minibuses. I try to go every week, but sometimes something comes up (coursework deadline, exam, holiday) and I can’t make it. It’s not a problem because we usually get enough volunteers anyway, and I’m not losing money if I don’t go, but I do try to turn up as often as possible. It’s the best way to establish a relationship with the kids, and there’s no real point in doing it if you don’t do it regularly. Last year I was more involved in the organising side of things as well, which involved more hours and definitely going each week, but also, in a way, more rewards.
~~ TRAINING ~~
We get a lot of training for the job we do, but although it’s free, we also have to give up our free time to do it. Our organiser this year is very big on training. As well as general first aid info, we have courses on how to deal with disruptive behaviour and bullying, and abuse training with the focus on preventing it but also on spotting the signs and how to deal with it.
~~ SKILLS ~~
Since the jobs are fundamentally the same, the skills needed for paid and unpaid positions are pretty similar. When working with kids you need to be relaxed but responsible, full of common sense but able to take a joke, and most importantly, independent and able to think on your feet. The person organising the thing – our project leader as we call them – needs to be able to work within a very limited budget, and to be able to liase with all types of people – the staff at the centre where our children live, their parents, the other volunteers, our exec committee and so on.
~~ PERKS ~~
This is where my job comes into its own in a way only voluntary work can. We receive donations through out the year, and any which are unsuitable for our clients, or of which we have a never-ending supply, get passed on to us. Over the last year and a half I’ve had Disney Store PJs, chocolate, shampoo, stationary and books among other things. While we’ll never receive cash as a bonus, at least we don’t have to pay tax on the things we do get :-) At certain times of year we’ll also get “appreciation” presents – a small Easter egg or goodie bag to make us feel valued and encourage us to carry on. This may not be the best way to operate, but it’s not my doing and while it continues I’m not going to complain.
The kids can be tough, but there’s always the odd one who makes it worth it. They are often so much more grateful than “normal” kids because someone is, for once, there just to look after them. Play with them. Entertain them. Take them on trips. In a sense, just be there. For them and them alone. Thank you cards decorate our office, and these are always received with a smile and a kinda feeling that, yeah, we helped.
~~ REPUTATION ~~
Ah, the dreaded rep. To some boring, small-minded types, “community work” conjures up sad, pathetic people with no lives, helping those less fortunate because either they have an un-dieing urge to do good, or because they have nothing better to do. Being the organiser is worse still, since this implies (correctly) a greater time commitment and devotion to the cause. They’re wrong. While I enjoy it, I don’t spend all my life volunteering. Like I said at the start, I go out with my friends, I work, I spend hours on this site, I supposedly study. Sure, I devote maybe 10 hours a week to the V word, but that’s not all that much when you sit down and think about it. We have a wide range of volunteers from all social and economic backgrounds, and all races and orientations, studying all manner of subjects. There is no “typical” volunteer – you can be old or young, white, black or skyblue pink with yellow dots on for all we care, so long as you’re dedicated.
~~ DOWNSIDE ~~
There are numerous downsides to the job I do, but none all that major. The lack of funding can, at times, be depressing, when we need new equipment and so on but simply cannot afford it. Some of the kids have a lot of problems which are made evident by their somewhat less than acceptable behaviour at times. The staff at the place they live could also occasionally do with a kick up the backside to get them into order.
So after all that, why don’t I just get myself a paid job doing the same thing? Why do I bother giving up time I could spend relaxing or studying or whatever, in order to work for no wage? It’s a tough question, and one to which I’m not sure I know the answer. I enjoy the work I do with the kids, and I have the time to spare if I organize myself. I’m not going to leave you with some waffle about how I feel that by working with the under-privileged, I can change the world. I’m simply going to say this. Volunteering? It’s fun. It’s varied. It’s tough at times, but it’s also immensely enjoyable. You should try it sometime.
This was originally written last year when I was a 2nd year student at UMIST. As some of you may know, this year I'm spending 12 months working out of the country, well away from CA. I'm not currently volunteering due to a lack of time (full time work + work for uni + trying to "live life" in Germany while I'm here) and lack of opportunity, but I will certainly be back in the CA office on my first day of term in September.