For Glasgow student Kim Wood, a love of volunteering was first sparked by a school work experience initiative. Then living in a small village outside of Peterborough, Kim undertook two weeks’ placement with her local zoo. The role was well suited to her love of zoology and conservation, and she remained on as a weekend volunteer for the next several years.
Now studying towards a PhD in Isotope Ecology, Kim embarked upon something new when she signed on as a fundraiser with Childreach International. In recent years, Kim had grown invested in human rights, and wanted her volunteering to pursue this passion.
“Childreach empower children to create positive change through community-based solutions; ensuring that they have improved access to education, protection and healthcare. An example of one of their current projects is ‘Taught, Not Trafficked’. After the 2015 earthquakes in Nepal, child trafficking increased by 300%. The best way to prevent trafficking is by keeping children in school, so Childreach are working to rebuild the schools that were destroyed.”
Balancing study and volunteering doesn’t come without challenges, as Kim can testify: “It’s definitely not easy! In addition to my team leader role with Childreach, I also volunteer as head of copy editing for The GIST (Glasgow’s science magazine), so I can’t say I always get enough sleep, but they’re things I love doing so it’s definitely worth the occasional sleepless night.”
Despite its challenges, Kim is grateful for the experience she has gained, and knows her skills in leadership, communication and teamwork will prove invaluable on her CV. As a team leader, Kim has been able to see her volunteers grow more confident and passionate under her guidance, and finds her reward in the satisfaction of watching her fundraising events come together.
When asked what advice she would give to any student considering volunteering, Kim had this to say: “Do it. Even if it’s not something that is relevant to your degree or your planned career path, even if it’s just something you have an interest in, you’ll gain valuable experience and develop a whole host of skills that will make you more employable.”
Blair is an 18 year-old, first year Law student. He tells me about the particularly stressful essay deadline he had struggled to meet, detail some events of the night before, and offers his apologies for his hungover state. As we sit down, I explain in more detail why I wanted to meet with him. For all the time I have known him, Blair has been a dedicated fundraiser for Mary’s Meals, and I wanted to find out how he manages to balance his charity work and his University workload.
Blair’s fundraising career began with the Kilsyth Boy’s Brigade, where he became involved with his first project for Mary’s Meals in 2014 – a Backpack Project. This was Blair’s first encounter with the charity, and describes how he quickly fell in love with their aim to provide chronically hungry children one meal every school day. Shortly after this, he became an ambassador for Mary’s Meals in his local area, and expresses his wish that more young people would become involved in the charity: “There are a few other ambassador’s for Kilsyth, but a lot of them are older, so they can only hold bake sales or bingo nights. It doesn’t really give the charity a young image… There are two other [ambassadors] who are my age and we’re more able to do active fundraisers and use social media to promote the charity.”
When asked how many event’s he has participated in since becoming an ambassador, he gives quite a lengthy list: “I always help out with bake sales and movie nights that are organised, and they happen quite often… we try and organise at least one fundraiser a month as a team. In 2015 and 2016, I trained for about 6 months each year to run half marathons”. He wagers that he has raised over £1000 in each marathon, and struggled to estimate the thousands raised by team activities. Over the past 3 years, Blair has also travelled to Malawi twice to work at Katete School. There, he has helped to build classrooms, churches, and to improve kitchen and bathroom facilities: “Malawi’s my favourite place in the world. I absolutely love it. When you go over there it forces you to see the extent of the problem… I always want to go back, I actually am this summer with the some of the [Glasgow University] Charity Committee.”
This led me back to my first question: has studying at University stopped you from fundraising? Blair replies instantly “not at all” and explains that “… once I started here, I knew I might not be able to be as involved as a Kilsyth ambassador, so I started at the [university] Charity Committee. I guess it’s because we’re all students we know when deadlines are coming up and when we can’t hold events, so we use those busy times to plan fundraisers for the quiet times”. I ask what types of activities the committee have held this year, and about their future plans. “We did a Porridge Week in October and that was honestly the most disgusting thing ever. You really don’t know how much you love flavour until you’re eating something with absolutely none. That raised over £1000”. He goes onto to tell me that the Committee are also holding a Mary’s Meals day on 9 March 2017 (in the McIntyre Building) to fundraise their SKIP project, which aims to provide healthcare to women and support young people who are starting their own businesses.
It is an all-too-familiar complaint from students that we lack the time to balance a job and University, without attempting to add charity-work. But when I offer this conundrum to Blair he makes a very good point, “It’s only one hour on a Monday night to come to the Charity Committee, even if you just want to help organise an event – that’s still helping”.
A difference is a difference, no matter how small. Could you spare an hour?