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Volunteering: live and learn whilst helping others

The Print takes a look at the different types of Volunteering Queen Mary students are involved in, finding out how they make an impact on the community around us and across London
QMSU Volunteering offers students the opportunity to volunteer with charities and non-profit organisations in Tower Hamlets and across the city. Volunteering gives students opportunities for new experiences and to develop skills that make a genuine impact on people’s lives.

There are a variety of ways for students to get involved, which means that there is something for everyone. For those with limited time, students can volunteer with a large group without having to commit on a regular basis – these include the diverse one-day opportunities, which include 130 different placements. For more specific interests, students can also volunteer with others with similar interests or even set up their own projects.  QMSU Volunteering also offers support before, during, and after the experiences as well, so you’re not thrown into the deep end. Not only does volunteering look great on your CV, but it also makes a huge impact on people’s lives. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there is a community outside our campus that can benefit from student volunteers.

Not only is it rewarding in this way, but, by logging your volunteering hours online, QMSU Volunteering will recognise and reward your hard work. These include Bronze, Silver and Gold awards based on the number of hours you have done, and also special rewards for those who go above and beyond expectations. There are plenty of opportunities to get involved throughout the year, especially over Christmas, whether these be one-off opportunities or more regular placements. These can range from cooking breakfast for the homeless, to breaking the world record for the most people dressed as penguins, planting poppies at the Tower of London, to stewarding fun runs and concerts. There is something for everyone to get involved in, and it’s also a great way to meet new people – whether this be like minded students or those from around our local community.

Below are a number of profiles from a variety of students currently volunteering at Queen Mary. They’ve told us about why they began volunteering and why they have continued to do so. They’ve also shared some of the key projects they’ve been involved, which ones were their favourites, and work they’re continuing to do now. Finally they share what the best parts of volunteering really are, and why they find it so rewarding:

Katherine Palmer is a second year Law student who, excluding other volunteering she does at the Legal Advice Centre, did around 55 hours volunteering last year and is already up to around 27 this year. When asked why she got involved, she told us “I just really liked the sound of the events and wanted to make a difference in the community. Often I feel as though QM has its own community yet we don’t mix with anyone from outside so it’s nice to get out!” Events she has participated in include: the Breakfast Challenge Whitechapel Mission – A very early start, cooking breakfast for the homeless, but for a great cause. She has also helped distributing water, giving moral support and marshalling a number of runs including the Sports Relief Mile, The Royal Parks Half Marathon, and the Bupa 10k. The Neon Fun Run was a particular highlight as not only did she raise money for the Royal National Institute of Blind People, but she told us that as an added bonus “we also got the chance to run part of the course so were covered in very bright neon paint by the end of the event”. Katherine has also helped to man the stall at the Volunteering Fair, and took part in the recent poppy planting at the Tower of London. She told us, “It was a very special occasion and my favourite one day event that I have done so far”.

Liz Harris is a third year student studying Biology and Psychology. When QMSU Volunteering recruited groups of students to help out at 45 different community/charity events last year Liz was chose to be a ‘One Day Leader’, supporting and coordinating students at these events. She has also volunteered regularly with Mildmay Hospital, a charitable HIV hospital, as a Patient Befriender. Their patients have some of the most complex and acute conditions associated with HIV seen in the country and its the only centre in Europe dedicated to rehabilitation for people with a complex HIV condition called HAND – HIV Associated Neurocognitive Disorder. We asked Mildmay to comment on how volunteers help them and they said: “A volunteer’s time can literally help to transform a life, and you don’t get a much better feel good factor than that.” They continued, “Sometimes our volunteers may begin by helping out with patients, then expand to include some fundraising. In Liz’s case she took on a personal challenge that helped to raise some vitally needed funds to support our work. Because Liz had direct experience of our work she was also able to share this with others on the trek – spreading the word, talking about what we do and why it is so important is also an invaluable gift to our charity.”

Hazel Woodward is a second year Economics student, another ‘One-Day Leader’ and is also President of the Bow Foodbank Volunteering Group. She’s done a number of activities such as cooking breakfast for the homeless, helping out at Spitalfields Festival of Heat, and the London Moon Walk. She told us “I decided to start volunteering after seeing the stall at Freshers’ Fair. I realised that I didn’t have a hobby and so thought it would be a good way to meet new people whilst at the same time building my CV”. This year Hazel has also set up The Bow Foodbank Volunteering Group within the university, where, she told us, “we organise local food collections and have the chance to go down to the foodbank and help out every week”. When asked why she volunteers, she said “I find volunteering a great chance to have time off from studying. I enjoy meeting new people and discovering different charities and events around the city. It is also very rewarding when you realise that your work is helping so many people”.

Gilman Ahmed is a third year economics student who has been involved with and is now the President of the volunteer group, Aspire, who give primary school children the chance to experience Paralympic sport. When asked why he got interested, he told us: “when I met the president at the time, Kristina Stoli, she really seemed very excited and enthusiastic about leading the project and I instantly felt interested when I heard what the project was about”. Working at the Olympic Park the previous summer, he was sad to hear about the limited knowledge of the Paralympic Games and so Aspire was perfect for him. His work now includes running Paralympic activities at local primary schools and running promotional events on campus. From joining as a general committee member and being promoted over the three years, Gilman is now “proudly leading the group for this academic year”.

Harriette Pearson is one of this year’s elected Volunteering Officers for BLSA and a Medical student. She has set up a Volunteering Group, Project Play, where students regularly visit and provide play activities at A&E and the Children’s Wards in the Royal London Hospital. Recently, Harriette checked in to see how their teen club was going. She told us: “one volunteer was consoling a crying patient, who wanted to carry on painting even though she was in tremendous pain. The volunteer spent the whole hour and half with this girl, without losing patience of enthusiasm. Another volunteer had gone to play cards with a teenager who was bored out of his mind in hospital. Others were just chatting with the teens, helping them to forget about their problems or that they’re in hospital”. She continued, “volunteering with this group reminds me what wonderful students I am lucky enough to study alongside. I am constantly amazed at their commitment, skill and compassion.”

To find out more, visit the QMSU Volunteering homepage to see what’s on offer and how it all works: https://www.qmsu.org/volunteering/

They also have a Twitter page to keep up to date with upcoming events and opportunities: @qmsuvolunteer

Or if you have more questions, the QMSU Volunteering Team can be contacted on su-volunteering@qmul.ac.uk

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