By Natalia Foster,
VICTA Young Ambassador (2022)

Hello! My name is Natalia and during my first semester at University, I was presented with the opportunity to volunteer for a charity called CoachBright. CoachBright is a wonderful charity that aims to improve social mobility for children, students and young professionals who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. The charity works closely with the University of Birmingham, and in my case, the job was promoted to psychology undergraduates. During my time with CoachBright I volunteered as an English literature tutor providing additional learning to GCSE students who wished to improve their current grade. We met with the students on a weekly basis, placing the centre of the content covered in each session on the individuals’ personal targets and areas of weakness. Each week my “homework” was to discuss with the student(s) what they wished to focus on and create a session plan for the following week with engaging and beneficial activities. I worked with other university students, and we became a friendly group!

Why do I volunteer?

I guess this is the age-old question, isn’t it? Why give up your precious free time when there is no obvious reward for you? Well, if I’m being completely transparent, I believe there are various rewards that come with volunteering. They may not be as clear cut as a pay cheque. There is the go-to answer that it “makes you feel good” and that you can “change lives”, which, don’t get me wrong, is very true. But that sometimes is hard to appreciate when you don’t get to necessarily see the results. I think there is more to volunteering and its benefits than initially meets the eye.

Something I know draws me to this type of work is the ambition that I must ultimately help people. In this modern-day world we live in, I think it can sometimes feel very demoralising to believe you cannot do anything to help, a feeling I think more than just I experience, especially considering recent world events. Volunteering gives you the ability to make that impact. Even if it isn’t as big as solving world hunger or climate change, you are playing your part, making a difference. I think that is the beauty in volunteering.

Along that same line of thought, volunteering is an empowering step to take in your life. With the line of work I found myself in, I was basically acting as a teacher. I had to create lessons plans, execute said lesson plans and give the students mini homework tasks. I’ve worked with children before but not those only a few years younger than I! A four-year-old is not likely to notice the same slip ups that a 16-year-old will. To add onto that, I haven’t studied English in three years, I felt terrified that I knew nothing and was nowhere near qualified enough. But I learnt very quickly that I had retained far more knowledge than I thought. And funnily enough, I fell back in love with a subject I hadn’t studied for years.

As someone with a visual impairment these situations can be even more scary. You have so much more to think (and worry) about. I didn’t want the children I was teaching to judge me or not think I was as qualified, scared I could not see something and fall over and so much more. But I think then, when you turn around at the end of a shift and say ‘Yeah, I did that.’ The pride feels that little bit sweeter.

Why should you volunteer?

So, I guess that leads me onto why you (yes you, reading this) should volunteer.

It’s a little of a tricky one to answer simply. Everyone has different motives, different jobs, and different amounts of time to spare. People can think about volunteering but be unwilling to give it go and some, just don’t know where to find opportunities.

I think it comes down to finding a cause you are interested in, seeing if they have any vacancies, putting aside a realistic amount of time a week you can dedicate to the charity or organisation and reflecting on a regular basis about the benefits you have personally found. Don’t let something like a visual impairment or disability hold you back. So many places will be delighted to bring more diversity to their team. It looks good for them as well as for you. It gives you an opportunity to demonstrate your independence, will power, resilience and inevitably will give you a few extra good human points!

Not to get existential, but volunteering can also give you a bigger purpose in life. I know a lot of people that do this work to feel needed and thus, acknowledged in this society that moves at alarming speeds.

Volunteering can increase your social and professional network. I now have loads of links to people that work in both education and teaching. Admittedly, I don’t think I would ever have the stamina to be a teacher, but if I wanted to, the connections are there.

You can also find friends! Maybe not lifelong ones, but friends, nonetheless. You will absolutely meet people on similar wavelengths, who enjoy similar things and who feel passionately about the same things as you.

There are bound to be copious reasons as to why you should volunteer. But I think I wanted to stay away from the arguments you hear every time this question is asked. As a visually impaired individual experiences like this can feel overwhelming and a little too daunting. However, it is nothing but rewarding and empowering.