Happiness seems to be what everyone’s end goal in life is, but one thing we fail to realise is that happiness is a journey and there may be a secret to it. When interviewing volunteers, I came across one who said volunteering has helped contribute to her feeling “unapologetically happy”. She said, when she was volunteering nothing could touch her. She often felt pure happiness and thought this is life. This made me think: is the act of helping others what’s coming in our way of having this magical feeling of unapologetic happiness?
Volunteering during the pandemic
Zuzanna and Alexandra-Veronica are one of the many volunteers of Coventry University who have been volunteering since the Covid-19 pandemic. To find out more about their volunteering roles, I asked them a series of questions.
First and foremost, I wanted to simply know what they had been doing. Zuzanna told me she started her pandemic volunteering journey by leading an Instagram account for CUSU Wellbeing - the aim being to support students through some of the challenges posed by the pandemic. She took part in two major campaigns, one where the goal was to share ideas of books, movies, TV shows and songs for the lockdown as a way for students to combat anxiety and reduce stress. Another involved sharing tips for studying online during exam week to support students as they adjusted to the move to online learning and assessments.
Similarly, when the pandemic hit, Alexandra was on the ball. She thought “everything is pretty crazy but how can we get in touch with people?”. She too took part in online sessions where she was involved in running game sessions and other creative activities to help students feel more united and less isolated. She spoke about how it was “daunting, scary and still scary” but how she had created a second family through volunteering. She also worked with food banks to help those affected by the pandemic.
Supporting the community
So, the next big question was: what impact did their work have on the local community? This is what Zuzanna had to say:
“Covid-19 impacted so many students in various ways but by keeping our social media alive, I was trying to engage students and show them that they are not alone. With fake news and negativity coming from other social media, it was important that our Instagram stories could bring some positivity and offer a sense of community. With practical tips to study from home, I was also trying to help students that always chose liberty over studying at home (the change was very rapid and so many students were struggling.)”
Initially, Alexandra never dreamed that her volunteering work would have the impact that it had. She was wowed at how many people from lots of different backgrounds and interests came together. She believed, as a result of the volunteering efforts, the local community was strengthened and the bond they built made some feel closer to home- despite being miles away.
Taking it back to the start of their journey, I wanted to know what inspired them to start volunteering. Both individuals started volunteering from a young age. Some of the reasons Zuzanna specifically joined the CUSU Student Volunteering and Wellbeing team was because she wanted to give back to the community, meet new people and excel her skills. It was also a brilliant opportunity for her to gain useful experience to add to her CV and develop more transferable employability skills.
Alexandra was inspired to start volunteering from year 5 when she joined a club called Impact Hope. It was in this club that she realised you can actually make a difference. At that moment, she knew volunteering was something she wanted to continue doing and since then has made the most of any opportunity that comes her way. For Alexandra, it doesn't matter where in the world she is sharing “I wanna keep doing it until I can't do anything!”
Do you gain anything from volunteering? Zuzanna said volunteering gave her an opportunity to get out of her comfort zone. She also met great people that she still kept in contact with after graduating. Skills wise, she developed a great deal of transferable skills, some of which included communication, teamwork and time management.
Alexandra emphasised that she's gained so much from volunteering. It may seem impossible, it may be a small thing but it's always going to help. She shared that there are a wide array of areas students can volunteer in and how being a part of that give an amazingly rewarding feeling that cannot be matched by anything else. Volunteering has been the best two years of her life allowing her to gain so many experiences and make so many new friends, some close enough to feel like family now.
Balancing other commitments
So, if you have made it this far, you may be thinking 'volunteering sounds amazing, if only I had the time!' That's why we got Alexandra's and Zuzanna's advice on balancing volunteering with other commitments in the life. Zuzanna began by sharing how to her volunteering is a “fun activity, not a chore. It was a moment in my day when I was meeting my friends. I know that balancing uni work, social life and a part-time job can be challenging but volunteering doesn’t have to take long hours. Even one hour per week can make a difference.” She then helpfully added that she recommends a good to-do list and an online calendar for good time management.
Alexandra spared no truth when she said that it’s not easy. However, she discussed why it was so worth it. For those struggling with knowing who you are, volunteering can really help you discover yourself and grow. For those struggling to know what career they want to go into, guess what - volunteering can help with that too. Alexandra emphasised how while you may find it hard to balance university, volunteering and everything in between, volunteering gave her real life experience engaging with all types of people, something no passing of a test could offer.
Last but not least, I ended with asking if they would recommend volunteering to others. Despite reaching the end of the interview, no enthusiasm was missed, with their responses “Definitely! OMG YES! Do it now”. Zuzana spoke about it having “opened so many doors” and how “nothing will ever replace that warm feeling of knowing you have helped somebody.” She also talked about how there is something for everyone and so you can do what you love, have fun and help people all at the same time. Alexandra talked about how volunteering has helped her develop in so many works, whether it be professionally and with skills or personally. She also expressed how volunteering gives you the student experience everyone talks about. To end, she added “spend every second of the day volunteering!”
Whether you have taken anything from this article or not, I know that I have for sure. Interviewing volunteers made me notice their infectious energy which seems to be bubbling out of them, their incredible personality and of course their unapologetic happiness! While volunteering alone may not be the reason for this, I definitely would like to take that chance.
Here is a link if you would like to get involved: http://cusu.org/volunteering