Our Volunteering Development Worker, Steve Hendry, recently visited the Creating Better Futures (CBF) to talk to two volunteers, graphic designer Haleh and office manager Helene, about their experiences.
How did you get involved in volunteering?
Haleh – I started volunteering with CBF while I was searching for a job. I signed up with Reading Voluntary Action and I found Creating Better Futures there. After being interviewed and starting my role here, it’s already gone one year I’m still volunteering because what I am learning here are true professional working experiences*.
Helene – I have another job, part-time bookkeeping, and I was looking for something else to do. I was looking for paid work, but I didn’t need it to be paid, and I saw this role via Indeed. I didn’t realise at the time that it wasn’t paid, so I applied and then when they sent me the email to say ‘do you realise it’s voluntary?’; I thought ‘yeah, I’m going to go for it anyway’, because it just sounded like the kind of organisation I wanted to be involved with.
I was really looking for something to do with poverty in Africa. I had other job interviews but this was so convenient ’cause it’s local and because it’s voluntary, there’s not the same pressure of performance and everything. Having worked on my own, working from home in my other job, not having worked in a team, it’s been a really good experience for me as well.
What does the volunteering involve?
Haleh – I’m a graphic designer at the charity and I do most design jobs for, you know, promoting everything about the charity.
Steve – And I’ve seen some examples of the design work that Creating Better Futures has. It’s fantastic.
Haleh – Thank you. Yeah, I think this is the kind of opportunity that charities here provide for people to gain experiences and show their talents and skills and grow in their career, and at the same time helping the cause and being useful to the community. And this is the whole package, I think for me. I got to know the other team members, many wonderful people.
Helene – So my role has really evolved since I’ve been here; I’ve been here since last June , and I think I was taken on as just an administrator (I can’t remember exactly), but Dorothy [Dix (CEO, co-founder)] recognised my capacity and I just kept on getting more and more. My favourite part of the job is as the Child Sponsorship Coordinator. When I took it on, it was really not very well organised, and organisation is my strength; I just organised the whole system and made good contact with all the sponsors and I have tried to keep up a good back-and-forth, so they write to their sponsored child, and make sure they get newsletters and letters from their child and updates. I’ve developed that, which has been really fulfilling for me.
I also seem to be doing a lot of HR stuff and managing the office, doing inventory and ordering in supplies, and just dealing with anything Dorothy can’t manage. I seem to pick up the slack, in all sorts of ways, but that is my strength really; it’s just behind the scenes stuff.
“I don’t like to be out the front, but I like to just pick up what everybody can’t do and get it done.”
Steve – Unusually for the organisations that RVA deals with, there is a distance between the work you are doing here and those who are benefiting from it…
Could you tell us more about what CBF does and how you feel a connection to the outcomes that it’s trying to achieve?
Helene – We are the link between the children, the orphans and vulnerable children in Zimbabwe, and sponsors here in the UK, so we try and raise the profile of Creating Better Futures so people say ‘yes, I would like to sponsor a child’ and then we link them. So children who hadn’t got an opportunity to go to school now can go to school; they’ve got uniforms, school supplies and medical care if they need it, and they’re fed everyday at school during term time twice a day. It’s making a huge, huge difference to their lives, I personally feel like I’m making a huge difference to their lives, because I’m facilitating that very specifically.
One example, so Jo [Flower (Digital Marketing Manager)] does the website; she developed a page where one could see six of the children for someone to go online and choose the child that they want to sponsor just from the first name and the child’s face. We had somebody who emailed to say they wanted to sponsor, so I said ‘just have a look at the page, it’s up, it’s live now, look at the page and choose the child you want’, so they did that and then I had to tell Jo ‘take that one off, put this one on’ just so the website is always showing 6 children who need a sponsor. Then the person went back on and saw the new child and said ‘oh, I’d like to sponsor that one as well’, so we then did it again, sent another picture to Jo so she could put it on the website, and the person went back on and said ‘oh, I’d like to sponsor that one as well’, so within a day we had three new children being sponsored. It was so exciting for Jo who’d just done this page and for me who had been involved in that.
“It was really, really exciting just to see three children whose lives have immediately like that been changed forever. Their potential is now huge, because they can go to school.”
What do you get out of it?
Haleh – What I receive is my experience growing; my experience and my skills. It’s also really helping me to improve my English. When I compare when I started working here, and I couldn’t speak very fluently. It helped me grow in many ways; professionally and knowing the English community better, and language, and everything.
“It’s not a long time that I’ve lived in the UK. I don’t have a big network of friends or colleagues, but at CBF I have my friends; everything, you know, my network started from here.”
Helene – I have had a passion for Africa for ages and wanted to do something for poverty in Africa for maybe seven or eight years before I actually found this role.
“For me it’s a huge fulfilment to finally be doing something where I know I’m making a difference … I really know I’m making a difference, not just to the children in Africa, but to the team here and to Dorothy.“
Haleh – I just forgot to say that when I started this role, my main goals were personal goals and achievements, but when I learned more about the charity and exactly the situation of children in Africa, I really got motivated and inspired to do something for them and say ‘OK, it’s not just about me’ and ‘let’s do whatever I can to help other people’.
What would you say to someone who was thinking about volunteering?
Helene – I have contacted a lot of people who are unemployed, I teach English as a second language to adults and so a lot of them are unemployed because of the language issue, so I’m always telling them volunteering is a great way to make your CV look better. It’s also a great way to learn the language and to make friends. We’ve had so many, just a huge turnover of people in the office, because people come and they get their experience and then they get a job, because they have gained really valuable experience and have shown that they’re committed and they can work in a team. It’s really good experience.
Haleh – I definitely recommend volunteering roles to everyone, not just the people who are coming from other countries or… I think all of us have some spare time that should be used in a good way, because it really changes the way we look at life, our point of view. As I said, we shouldn’t just think personal, and we really have to care about the people that we are living with, so I definitely recommend everyone that have some kind of skill or grow their skills within good cause, because it’s a win-win, I think.
*Since this interview Haleh has successfully found paid employment. She credits the experience gained volunteering with CBF as an important element in acquiring paid work.
Inspired? Take a look at ways you can get involved at our www.rgneeds.me site