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When volunteering feels like an impossible task

Posted on 25 Feb 2016

Today we're hearing about education-related volunteering opportunities and student volunteers who are using their time and unique skills to tackle education issues. One of those students is Aisling Sweeney, a student at the London School of Economics. Here's her story about the importance of perseverance when you start volunteering…

I’m now in my second year at university, and, after taking the entirety of first year to ‘settle in’ I decided that this would be the year I start getting things done. So, in September, I applied to numerous volunteering placements and internships in a bid to broaden my horizons, and give my (ample) spare time to a good cause. I was called for an interview at the Wonder Foundation, a small, global charity that aims to empower vulnerable communities worldwide through education, and works mostly with women and children.

I was uncharacteristically nervous on my way to the interview, and during it, I desperately tried to seem like the perfect candidate. But, when I was asked what I wanted to get out of the internship, I didn’t really know, and to avoid looking unprepared, I said that I wished to gain experience of working with women and girls. Since Wonder supports partner organisations who work ‘in the field’, the internship would be mostly in the office, doing ‘behind the scenes’ work, so the job seemingly wasn’t for me.

My interviewer put me in touch with one of their partner organisations, The Baytree Centre, which works with local women and girls to support their integration in the community. Because I didn’t really know how this stuff worked, I thought that they would let me know if any opportunities came up. I waited, got busy with other things, and, for a while, forgot about my volunteering vow.

In December, I received an email from Baytree with their ‘new year volunteering opportunities’. I looked over them and responded to say I would like to apply for a mentoring position. I was told to come to the induction evening the following week, but when the time came I was ill and couldn’t make it. I emailed to let them know, and to ask whether I could come in another day. By the beginning of January I hadn’t heard back, and was getting exasperated with how hard it seemed to get a volunteering opportunity, so I emailed again. I also threw convention to the wind and emailed Wonder, asking if they would reconsider my application.

Firstly, I found out that Baytree hadn’t even received my last email, and they asked me to come in the next week for an induction. Wonder gave me a trial shift for the first week back at university. Two emails had rectified all that stress. A couple of months on, I feel so settled at both Wonder and Baytree, I’ve got to know loads of great people, my mentee at Baytree is amazing, and working with her is the best part of my Saturdays.

I learned two big lessons from my application ordeal. Firstly, communication is key. If you’re saying something just so you seem prepared, don’t say it. If you aren’t sure someone’s received your email, send another one. Don’t just leave things to sort themselves out- people aren’t mind readers. Secondly, just do it. Dedicating time to looking for volunteering opportunities, drafting applications, sending emails, etc. can seem like a lot of effort. But, once you set aside some time and make yourself do it, you’ll begin to reap the many rewards that come from volunteering.

Overall, my second year has been infinitely busier than my first year, but in the best way possible. My parents call it burning the candle at both ends; I call it becoming a well-rounded citizen, and I wouldn’t go back to being a slovenly first year for all the hangover fry-ups in the world.

Women and children with Baytree Centre volunteers

Aisling Sweeney

Aisling is a student at the London School of Economics and an Education Intern at The Wonder Foundation and a mentor at The Baytree Centre. She specialises in Gender Studies, and when she graduates she wishes to do a Masters in Human Rights, then work for a women’s charity.

Categories: Charities, What volunteering means to me