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.
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.
Cristina Fiani, MEng Biomedical Engineering