It is widely acknowledged that Coventry students care. You only have to look at how many hours they pledged to help others during this year’s volunteering fair to realise that.
However, sometimes our students go above and beyond to help others using their own sense of community and second year business management student, Sumaiya Iftee is a prime example.
When Sumaiya was growing up in Bangladesh, it was originally her wish to pursue a medical career but she decided instead to do business management because it would help her family as her Father was in business and she thought she could use her skills to help him one day.
She had not heard of Coventry but was adamant that she wanted to come and study in the UK, so like most international students, she did her homework and researched on the best places to do a business management course, and Coventry ticked all the boxes:
“I was impressed with the course, the support and also the University rankings as it seemed to be highly thought of by other students, especially from the international community and so I chose to come and study here and I’m so happy I did!”
As the eldest child in her family, it was important for her to do a course that could give her the practical skills she needed so that she could put them to good use when she eventually started to work for the family business:
“This course offered me everything, it wasn’t just the academic knowledge of business management, but there is a great deal of practical experience as well as a summer placement.”
However, Sumaiya felt that she needed to find something that she could do outside her studies that would give her new skills and so one day, she walked into the Myton Hospice shop in the city centre to enquire about becoming a volunteer:
“I had always wanted to do something to help others and a hospice shop is the kind of place that does so much for the charity it supports. From doing my research, I knew what the Myton Hospice was and how it assisted with palliative care for cancer patients and also support for their families.”
To become a volunteer, Sumaiya filled in an application form and spoke to the store manager and other staff to see if she would be a useful asset to them:
“From day one I felt valued and accepted by the other volunteers; so much so, it wasn’t long before I was taking on a lot of responsibility and learning every aspect of running a business.
“I started on the basics like sorting out the donations and putting them into sections. I organised the displays in the shop and learned a great deal from the other volunteers. Most of them were much older than me and I found it fascinating working alongside people who had such interesting stories to tell about their lives and why they liked volunteering at Myton. I got the feeling that we were all there for the same reason, to help others.”
In no time at all, Sumaiya was seen as a major resource for the shop. Her enthusiasm and willingness to muck in with everything was welcomed and she was a very popular volunteer:
“It felt like I had a new family. I know it sounds corny, but when you are thousands of miles away from home, you look for something that gives you a sense of belonging and my Myton family gave me that. I was speaking to and working with people from all walks of life and all cultures. I learned to appreciate my place in the world and how I could make a difference to the lives of others just by giving up a few hours a week of my time.”
Once Sumaiya had mastered using the cash register, she was able to assist behind the counter by selling stuff to the customers and found that she could strike up conversations easily because she has been exposed to so many different people, which would have been out of her comfort zone before she came to Coventry:
“I was particularly fascinated in talking to the older customers as their life stories were truly amazing and all the time, I was gaining practical skills that would be great for my CV.”
However, it wasn’t just about boosting her CV and her experience, it was also about being part of a team that was an important part of a fundraising community.
After a few months, Sumaiya had worked in every aspect of the shop and one day, the manager asked if she could take over for a while and run the shop:
“It seemed so natural and a great feeling to be trusted enough to be put in charge. I’d worked on collections, shop dressing, as a floor assistant and now I was running the whole shop. I could not have asked for better practical experience if I had tried and it made me realise that I was capable of anything!”
Sumaiya hopes to put her volunteering experience to good use and when she graduates, not only will she help out with the family business, but she’d like to set up on her own as well:
“Coventry has an outstanding reputation for helping people set up their own businesses and it is one aspect of being a student here that appealed to me. You get so much help to set up on your own and if you have an idea and can pitch it to the Coventry University Social Enterprise team they point you in the right direction and support you.”
While in Coventry, she has joined the fashion society, is keen to join the water sports society and the business society. As well as this, she is also learning Japanese and Mandarin alongside her studies as it will help her in future business dealings.
She is also making good use of the careers service who help steer her towards events that might be useful in future.
“I am interested in fashion and working in the Myton shop gives me the opportunity of sorting out displays based on what clothes we get in. It makes a difference with selling them if they are displayed in an attractive manner. It is because I have now first-hand experience of running a business that I feel I am well on my way to setting up on my own in future.
“I would like to work in fashion as a supplier to retail outlets. At the moment it is all in my head but without the practical experience that I have gained by volunteering at the Myton Hospice shop, I wouldn’t have thought that I would have had the skills to go it alone and that is one thing I am looking forward to.
“Would I recommend volunteering? Definitely. My confidence has soared, I’ve got better communication skills, I’ve got a sense of purpose and feel that I can now work in a customer-focused industry – and all this because I walked into a shop and filled in a form!”