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My volunteering journey

Why volunteer?

When I started writing this blog, I had no idea why I volunteer. Is it because there is something beneficial for me, a good experience, perhaps? Is it because of the warm fuzzy feeling that I sometimes get when the people that I was helping say nice things about my work? Or is it something more complicated? I am still not certain, but I think it must have something to do with the volunteering journey that I had since high school, and the reflections that I had along the way.

First time I volunteered

I volunteered as the peer mentor for my high school, which involved teaching my peers a subject of my choice. That was when I started to become interested in education, as I really enjoyed the process of making seemingly obscure concepts accessible to my peers. There were opportunities to get paid for tutoring other students available, but I preferred volunteering in the school because it felt like I was doing the right thing and “making a difference”, no matter how small it is. It was really rewarding to see my students’ progress, and that was when I first found the joy in volunteering.

Keenan House Afterschool Homework Club

When I came to Durham all the way from China, things seemed to be quite overwhelming. I was trying to catch up with my studies, trying to make friends and did not really think much about volunteering. I only started volunteering in second year, which is quite late compared to some other students. I signed up to the volunteering newsletter at the freshers’ fair and found out about the Keenan House Afterschool Homework Club through the weekly email. I mainly looked after primary school children in the afterschool homework club, helping them with their homework and organising craft and game sessions after homework.

Here is the link to sign up to the weekly newsletter:

President of Durham University Student Volunteering and Outreach

I enjoyed volunteering so much that I decided to take it further and run for the president of DUSVO in the elections. The then student volunteering coordinator encouraged me to run and one of my friends was also running for vice president, and the process was pretty straightforward. Of course, I was nervous on the stage when I was delivering my speech, but I think I managed okay. I just tried to recall the time when I was doing volunteering work, because I did not really feel nervous when I was volunteering. On the contrary, I felt very relaxed and often consider volunteering work, even when it is seemingly boring administrative work like filling in the session logs.

DUSVO is an award-winning student-led organisation that has over 50 volunteering projects.

My reflections on the benefits of volunteering

Most employers really value extracurricular activities including sports, music, theatre and volunteering, so I would recommend you get involved with that as much as you can especially in your first year to find what you are interested in, then take on a leadership position in your second and third year.

I personally want to work in the third sector, as I really enjoyed volunteering when I am in university and want to continue that in areas that I am interested in! My dissertation is on autism and educational justice, and I want to explore this area further in my career, especially in a researcher or outreach related role. Volunteering is perfect for me because I can get to know the sector and decided whether this kind of work is the right one for me. Even if I eventually decide to go into a different sector, the contacts and experience that volunteering has brought is more than enough rewards in itself!

I went to a talk by Dame Julia Cleverdon this year, who is an established social justice campaigner. One of the things that she kept emphasising was how important it is to do frontline volunteering in the beginning of your career, even if it might seem trivial and some people might prefer doing volunteering behind the scenes. I reflected on what she said and thought that frontline volunteering is especially important because you can have direct contact with the service user, or the local community that volunteers are trying to help. This means charities are not isolated from the people we are trying to help, sitting in an armchair in a dark room to impose what they think are good solutions on the so-called intended beneficiaries, but instead directly talk to them and hear their thoughts on what they want. It is quite obvious that being condescending is never going to help anyone.

My tips for getting involved

Even if the reason that I volunteer might still be more complicated that I thought, I hope at least you are not scared away by what I said about volunteering, seeing as you have read this far. Then why not get involved yourself? There is no better way to find out whether volunteering is for you, is there?

It is never too early or too late to start volunteering. No matter which year you are in, there is something for you. If you are in your first year, volunteering will help you make more friends and get to know your own interests. If you are in second year, you can use volunteering to gain experience in the work that you wish to do, for instance, volunteering to tutor is great for anyone wishing to teach in the future. If you are in your final year, you can use flexible volunteering to enrich your experience here at Durham and to relax during your busy studies. You can also apply for a project leader or student executive position, no matter which year you are in. As long as you are passionate about the project and/or interested in starting your own project that we don’t currently cover, please get in touch, no matter when you are reading this blog!

Find out more

About volunteering opportunities by visiting Durham University Student Volunteering and Outreach.

Lijie Dong

I am a third year Philosophy and Politics student passionate about education. I am the president of Durham University Student Volunteering and Outreach, so feel free to ask me anything related to community volunteering. Also a big fan of cooking Chinese food and having bubble tea.

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