Volunteering is good for you, and it’s great for others

10 September 2020

UCL students give more than 65,000 hours collectively each year to help charities in the local area. Volunteering is good for you, and it’s great for others. Find out what volunteering has meant to Nashwa…

Students talking at the SU

Nashwa Naushad is studying for a MSc in Sustainable Urbanism at the Bartlett School of Planning. She’s been spending her time helping at one-off events as well as ongoing placements - read her story to find out why she loves volunteering!

Tell us a little about your volunteering.

I’ve had a very rich volunteering experience during my time here at UCL. I was volunteering full-time as a mentor at Westminster Befriend a Family (WBAF) and reading volunteer at Bookmark Reading Charity, dedicating 1-2 hours a week before COVID-19. 

I have also volunteered with other organisations like Yes FuturesAge UK Kensington and Chelsea and Holborn Community Association on one-off opportunities. I assisted coaches in managing and guiding the children at Yes Futures’ annual 3-day camp; I played a similar role at the Holborn Fun Palace, a one-day event organised by Holborn Community Association. I also helped out at the Valentine’s Day celebration/concert for older people, conducted by Age UK.

How did you find out about the roles?

The UCL Volunteering Directory has been my go-to place any time I’ve wanted to volunteer and that is where I have discovered every role I’ve taken up this year.

Why did you want to become a volunteer?

Back in my home country, India, I was an active volunteer with an organisation called Bhumi that works for the betterment of education for underprivileged children. Beyond the satisfaction of contributing time towards a cause I hold dear to my heart, volunteering at Bhumi gave me the opportunity to constantly meet new people, including some of my closest friends today. I wanted that experience to continue here in the UK.  

What difference do you feel you’ve made by volunteering?

The joy of volunteering has always been in the little things. Through my different volunteering roles, I have been able to work with many children, and in each role I’ve had the opportunity to impact a little mind in some small way.

With Bookmark, I’ve been able to help a child read better, even if I was able to engage only for a few weeks before the pandemic disrupted our sessions. My work at Westminster has been to mentor and inspire a teenager for a great career. The one-off volunteering opportunities gave me the chance to interact with children and older people, helping them with little tasks and bringing a smile to their faces!

What impact has volunteering had on you?

I’ve made many friends and visited quite a few places through these roles. I even got a chance to attend a charity ball organised by Bookmark - something I would have only been able to dream of otherwise. I spent an entire weekend with a large group of excited kids at an outdoor adventure activity centre, where I tried abseiling for the first time. Volunteering has very much helped break my academic routine and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Volunteering has helped me feel more at home in a foreign country! 

What’s the best thing about volunteering?

Volunteering exposes you to different environments and perspectives. It gives you a chance to solve problems in ways you wouldn’t normally think of or be used to. Most volunteering opportunities involve working with or reporting to somebody, which is also good for your team-working skills. Also, if you’re the type of person who loves to meet new people, then it is highly likely that volunteering is your cup of tea!   

And the most challenging? How did you overcome the challenges?

One of the hardest challenges I’ve faced so far has been to connect with my mentee, a shy teenager. Dialogue is critical when it comes to mentoring, so that the mentor can understand the needs and career aspirations of the mentee, in order to build the conversation/plan activities accordingly. With the teenage years being a very sensitive period, this could get quite difficult, especially when the mentee isn’t forthcoming.

After multiple sessions and a joint visit to the zoo where we got to spend more time together, I had managed to break the ice a little. However, just as I was making progress, coronavirus brought our programme to a halt. I may not have overcome this challenge yet, but it has been quite a learning experience.  

Tell us about something memorable that’s happened to you whilst volunteering.

My favourite memory is from my time at the Valentine’s day celebration organised by Age UK Kensington and Chelsea, for older people suffering from isolation and depression, at the beautiful St. Cuthbert’s Church. I was tasked with talking to the guests, helping set the tables and serve everybody with biscuits and tea/coffee before the concert began. Half an hour after I’d started, an older gentleman came up to me, asking if he could be seated at the front because he was hard of hearing. All the tables there were already occupied, so I had to quickly bring one and set it up. I then served him some coffee and biscuits and we were chatting about his home country, his family, etc. A while later when I came back to his table to see if he needed anything else, he said, “Nashwa, you’re my best friend at this church today”! The memory still warms my heart!  

Would you recommend volunteering? If so, why?

Without a doubt, yes! For all the reasons listed above and more - volunteering gives you a deep sense of satisfaction and meaning like no other. I’ve taken a hiatus from volunteering ever since Covid-19 because of difficulty in arranging the sessions but I hope to get back to it soon. 

We hope Nashwa’s love of volunteering has rubbed off on you after reading her story! If so, check out our directory with the latest volunteering opportunities! 

With social distancing measures likely to be in place for a while, many of our community partners aren’t able to run their regular volunteering programmes at the moment.

Some organisations and projects are still recruiting though - especially those with online volunteering roles. You can find these on our COVID-19 volunteering directory.

Make the most of UCL Life team and Nashwa Naushad, MSc in Sustainable Urbanism at the Bartlett School of Planning