Volunteering: good for others, good for you

10 December 2020

Volunteering can be a very positive experience, benefitting both you and the people you support. UCL student Cristina Fiani shares her experience of volunteering both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, an experience which has been overwhelmingly positive for her wellbeing.

Young people holding hands supportively, helping others

I am hoping that sharing my volunteering experience can help or inspire one of you. Before I share my experience and how it has been helping my wellbeing, especially during this pandemic, I would like to tell you more about why I wanted to volunteer and where I started.

How it began

At the beginning of my third year, I attended various UCL volunteering fairs with the idea of finding an extra-curricular activity completely unrelated to my studies. I wanted to find an escape where I could disconnect from my course and help others outside campus.

I found out about many volunteering opportunities, but Bookmark caught my eye, and I thought it was exactly what I was looking for. Bookmark Reading Charity pairs you up oth a child in school to help them gain confidence in reading. For six weeks, you participate in two sessions of 30 minutes every week to develop this.

I filled in my application, attended the interview and once I became a Bookmark volunteer, I had the choice to book any available programs. It was very flexible as you could choose the days, the times and schools close to you. Before the COVID situation, I therefore joined a six-week program in a school 30 minutes away from UCL.

Volunteering during COVID-19

Bookmark did an incredible job setting up virtual volunteering programs during the summer. While it was already a flexible opportunity, it became even "easier" to volunteer, from the comfort of your home.

During the summer, I also joined Girls Friendly Society as a content creator, where I created different online activities for girls in a wide range of topics going from body confidence, organisation, goals and planning to recycling topics. It was great to use my creativity skills and think of how I could make these not only interesting for them to learn but also fun.

I think virtual volunteering has been so helpful and beneficial both for the children I worked with and me during this pandemic.

The benefits of volunteering

As I mentioned, the master's year or any university years can be quite challenging and there are moments where I felt it would be impossible for me to find the time to volunteer. Virtual volunteer has been the perfect compromise; it is easy to find 30 minutes twice a week as I do not have to commute anywhere. Although face-to-face sessions are enriching interaction experiences that cannot be replaced by virtual volunteering, I have been finding these beneficial for my mental health and a great pause from whatever I may be doing on my computer during lockdown.

Spending half an hour helping a child improve in reading, playing games and having some fun have really enhanced my wellbeing and have been positively impacting my everyday life but also work life.

From these experiences, I have gained communication skills and I feel even more focused, and fulfilled after each session. Seeing the child improve and have fun while reading can just make my whole day. The child I have been reading with has gained so much confidence, and it is so rewarding to see. 

I highly recommend that anyone interested in taking on an extra-curricular activity consider volunteering. There are a huge range of projects available and with realistic time commitments. You have so much to gain and nothing to lose. 

Find out about volunteering opportunities through Students' Union UCL. 

Cristina Fiani, MEng Biomedical Engineering