I was 15 years old when I volunteered for the first time, and truth be told I was only doing it because I had to. It was one of the criteria to get my bronze Duke of Edinburgh award… which I was only doing to add to my then empty CV. Though my motivations were not pure to start with, by the end of those three months I had learned a lot, and it was a catalyst for me to go out and find other ways to give back to the community that had provided so many opportunities to me.
At the time, community for me meant the place that I lived in. I grew up in South London, in a not so small borough called Croydon. I moved around a lot when I was younger, but it was always in and around the area. I went to school in Croydon, I met some of my best friends in Croydon and I am the person I am today because of everything I experienced whilst growing up in Croydon. So naturally, I wanted to start there.
After the Croydon riots happened, I got involved with Project Change. A group created with the purpose to challenge the negative stereotypes surrounding young people in the area, which was perpetuated by the media at the time. We painted hoardings along the main road, did litter pickings and completed a sponsored walk which raised an incredible amount of money for local charities. I believe it is so important to give back when we can, and help those around us because it creates an environment that is positive and supportive. Which is great for everyone involved.
There are so many different ways to do more within our communities; local charities and youth groups are always looking for volunteers. Are you really good with technology? You can volunteer with Age UK to help older people make the most out of the technology around them. I went to an event years ago with EE to do just that, and it was so amazing to see the joy on Chitra’s face when she set up her very own Skype account so that she could video chat with her friends and family who weren’t nearby. A quick Google search and you’ll easily find out what kind of opportunities are available near you.
As I got older, I started to think bigger in the ways that I could give back. By bigger, I mean the bigger picture. I was aware of a lot of issues that were happening in society, and they didn’t necessarily affect me but I still wanted to help. It was as simple as signing a petition to show my support, joining the organ donation list or donating old clothes instead of throwing them away. They were small actions, but would amount to a greater impact as I was one of many doing them. We lead busy lives, and don’t always have time to go out and volunteer but we can still do our part and raise awareness where we can, and use our voices to advocate for those who don’t have one.
Growing up I was blessed to have met a lot of people who have given me amazing advice, provided opportunities for me to grow and generally helped guide me in a world I didn’t know a lot about. I am immensely grateful to these people, and the various mentorship schemes that introduced me to them. Without them, it would have been more difficult for me to gain the information I needed to get where I wanted to be.
Google searches can only get us so far!
Having a person who was there to help made my goals seem more tangible. If you’re a university graduate, you can join your alumni network and share your expertise and experiences with current students. There are also schemes available in local communities to mentor young people and help them break into spaces they may not see themselves in. Your support could have such a profound impact on a young person’s life. I can tell you from personal experience, I remember every mentor (official and unofficial) who has ever helped me.
As you can see, paying it forward can be done in so many different ways. Get creative with it, even small acts of kindness can create joy.
It feels good to do good.