My Main Motivation
When I started university in London, it was quite a shock coming from a small village in Sussex to a big city. You see so many homeless people and you never know how to act. Do you talk to them, ignore them, walk away, give them money? To be honest, I knew nothing about homeless people and they kind of scared me. You hear all these stories that they’re alcoholics, high on drugs and thieves.
A friend was involved in a project with homeless people so I decided to go along one week. Every Sunday evening, a group of students make sandwiches in the student halls and then drive to Holborn to hand them out. Initially, I imagined we’d just go, hand out the food and leave, but we actually stand around for about an hour talking to them and hearing their stories.
The main thing I have realised is that homeless people are real people with amazing experiences. Sometimes you just can’t believe the reasons for them being homeless, but there are good stories, too. There was a guy that kept saying that he had his name on a housing list and that he had a job as a road sweeper. I thought it was all talk and then he came along one week and said: “I’m just coming along to say bye; I’ve got myself a place.” It was amazing and really nice that he remembered us and came back to tell us. It’s very satisfying when good things like that happen.
Getting More Involved
After a year of helping out, they asked me if I wanted to get a bit more involved, so now I organise everything. I make sure there are people to do the shopping, the bus is going to turn up and that we’ve got a driver. Next year I’ll be doing even more when I become the coordinator of the university’s Community Action Group, which incorporates all sorts of volunteering projects. Initially, boosting my CV didn’t even cross my mind; I just wanted to interact with homeless people, but being in charge of the whole thing is going to be a much bigger job.
Working on this project has encouraged me to stay connected with homeless people in the future. I’m training to be a doctor, and I can see myself working in specialist surgeries for homeless people eventually. I’ve seen some doctors freak out when a homeless person comes in to A&E (Accident and Emergency). They don’t know where to start—they would normally ask questions like: “Where do you live?” or “What did you do yesterday?” but how can you converse like this with a homeless person? From that point of view, it has been very useful for me to become comfortable talking to people in all sorts of situations.
Fitting It into My Life
Until someone referred to me as a volunteer, I’d never really thought of myself as one! Young people don’t want to volunteer because it sounds like what old ladies do—that is what I think of volunteering, even though I’m doing it myself. I guess the key is to find something you enjoy that will fit into your life—most people aren’t aware of the different ways you can volunteer in life.
I’d definitely encourage other young people to start volunteering and try to make them realise that it doesn’t have to be an enormous commitment. We’re very adamant that volunteers can come once, twice, every week, whatever suits them. Most people don’t want commitment and at the end of the day we are all pretty selfish, so it has to be flexible.
Getting More than I Bargained For
What’s more, I made a lot of friends during my volunteering. I never imagined when I first took this on that I’d find a group of brilliant friends, but I have discovered that volunteering is a great way to meet people. All of my best friends through university have been made through the project—we all have the same outlook on life and we’re all willing to give two hours a week. It’s not much to give and you get so much out of it personally.