Life is hectic and busy, especially as a student, so giving time to others is not always at the top of our priorities. However, volunteering can really benefit you and the cause you choose to support. As it’s Student Volunteering Week, I’m going to try and convince you to give it a go.
I’m a huge advocate of charity work and other forms of volunteering: so far I’ve volunteered at two charity shops, helped my local Riding for the Disabled group for 3 years, taken part in conservation work, and taught D of E participants as a young leader. This might sound like me saying “am I not so good and benevolent?”, but it’s not. It’s me saying “I wouldn’t have done so much if it wasn’t incredibly rewarding”. Volunteering can be hard work, and obviously there’s no financial benefit, but let me explain why I think it’s worth doing:
1. Feel good
This is one of the biggest reasons for volunteering, in my opinion. If you’ve seen the news at all ever, you’ll know that the world is not the kindest place. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of rubbish going on, but by giving your time to help – no matter what you’re doing or on what scale – you can go to bed with the knowledge that you’ve made the world a bit better. We need kindness and passion more than ever now.
It’s also a great way to feel better on a personal level. I volunteered at RDA while I was at school – a time when I had no idea where my life was going and thought I was a bit useless – and seeing the children smile as they brushed and rode the ponies never failed to make me feel happy, and like I was achieving something worthwhile.
2. Meet new people
This is twofold: you get to make friends with other volunteers who share your passion, and if you’re working on a people-based project you’ll speak to and learn from the people you help. These could be people with disabilities, people from different countries, older people, children, or people with a completely different way of life to you. Spending time with them will teach you a huge amount and you’ll leave with a better understanding of what their lives are like. Many of these people are incredibly inspiring and strong, and it can really change how you look at yourself and your own life.
Of course, if you’re working with an animal charity you’ll probably get to make new animal friends, and who doesn’t want that?
3. New skills
Because there’s such a huge range of volunteering opportunities out there and lots of challenging work to be done, helping out with a cause or charity offers a great chance to learn new skills. You could develop your leadership and communication, or learn new practical skills like animal management and conservation. However you choose to give your time, you’re likely to grow in confidence and realise just what you’re capable of.
Personally, I am now much better at dealing with teenagers who think they are hilarious and know everything, and I’m generally less likely to flap about in stressful situations.
There are brilliant ways to volunteer closer to home, but there are also projects that will give you a chance to go abroad and make a difference in another country – and you don’t have to be on your ‘gap yah’ to do it! This could be conservation work and research in a rainforest, teaching women to read or building a school. While you need to be careful that the charity and the work are genuine and not a sneaky profit-making initiative, you could see the world as more than just a tourist and use your privileged position as someone able to go to university to lend a hand to people without the opportunities we take for granted.
Dedicating your time to something physical or outdoors could have big benefits for your health. From walking dogs to training as part of a lifeboat crew, from digging up invasive plants to taking children on nature trips, it’s all fresh air and movement. If you’re working on something you really care about it won’t feel so much like exercise, and you’ll be motivated to keep going by the other volunteers and the goal you’re working towards.
6. Boost your CV
This is definitely something you’ll have heard before, but that’s because it’s true. Volunteering can be a great way to improve your CV, It demonstrates not only that you’ve developed useful skills, but also that you’re willing to dedicate time and effort to a project.
It’s especially useful if you’ve never had a job, or if you want to get relevant experience for your future career but can’t yet get a job in that area. In an application or interview, you’ll be able to pick out anything relevant that you’ve learned and apply it to the position you’re going for. Whatever you’ve done, you’ll have acquired ‘transferable skills’ like communication, time management and teamwork.
The great thing about volunteering is that – because it’s not a job – you can choose what and how much you do. You can dedicate months at a time to a charity, or you can help put on a cake sale – anything at all makes a difference. So have a look at what you can do to get involved, then get out there and try it!