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					Islington Volunteering Association Volunteering Experience

Hi everyone my name is Bilen Ainealem, I am 19 years old and currently on my Gap Year. I was asked to come today to talk to you about my volunteering experiences, especially my involvement with the Russell Commission now of course it’s called V. But I will talk about that a bit more later on.

I thought it would be good to give you a background on my volunteering experiences and show you how I have developed most of the core skills that I have. I started volunteering from quite an early age, I think I was 14…… but to be honest I don’t think it is early at all however at the time I was probably amongst the minority from my year that took the initiative to do volunteering during the summer and then some days after school. Westminster Play Association in Pimlico was the organization which I had my first taste of volunteering. As most things in my life I just really stumbled into the centre, I was walking with my friend who also wanted to occupy herself for the summer. We simply asked the manager if he needed extra hands, luckily he did. At WPA I learnt my first communication skills lesson although we were just trying to entertain the children; a lot of planning went into our daily activities for them. We also had to deal with the parents who always had lots of questions for us and so we had to quickly learn to interact well with them.

After that I felt I should expand my horizon and go to another organisation, like most people I joined my local Oxfam shop. I didn’t stay long there simply because the expectation I had was completely different to the tasks I was given.

I was then introduced to the Millennium Volunteers scheme, to sign on I either had to find my own placement or I would have to join their existing placements. Again through a friend I was able to find my own placement in an organisation called Migrants Resource Centre. At the time I was working on their information project where you would refer and offer information to migrants, refugees and

asylum seekers. This was a very exciting prospect as I had just completed my GCSE’s and most of my friends were worrying about where they would spend their holidays whereas I already had my summer planned gaining work experience, which ultimately would enhance my CV. I think at that age and time my volunteer placement did single me out from the rest of the crowd simply because I was gaining practical and vital skills that would enable me to find other jobs in the future as well as generally raising my awareness in issues I would not necessarily know about. I completed 100 hrs and 200 hrs for the Millennium Volunteers scheme, which was a bonus. My time at the Migrants Resource Centre was so beneficial and rewarding that I kept in touch with them throughout the years and decided to work with them again during my Gap Year, two days a week with the advice team and I am also part of the media group.

The experiences I have been talking about so far were not part of the school or sixth form college I went to. However whilst doing my A levels I was part of Envision I am sure most of you have heard of them, they are an organisation that help students run their own projects at school. We had two mentors assigned one from the civil service and the other worked in a bank, they were volunteers. We met weekly and planned an event where we would raise money for charity. By the end of the year we were able to organise a whole week of activities for the lower years in the school, this included eating competitions to non-uniform day. And as a result we raised £450 for the Cardinal Hume Centre for homeless people. This was quite an achievement because the initial group started off with about 15 people and at the end it only consisted 4 of us.

After my A levels I decided to take a Gap Year, to mainly have a break from studying but to also volunteer and gain work experience. As I have been volunteering for a while I knew the benefits but I was also quick to point out that volunteer work is the same as work placements. But for some reason they have different meanings. If I say I am spending my time doing work experience people take me more seriously and ask more questions about my career aspirations.

Whereas if I say I am volunteering people wonder why I am wasting my time and ask whether I am planning to also do work experience. I am not entirely sure where this comes from but I reckon it has something to do with the negative perception, mostly amongst young people, towards the word volunteering.

I was fortunate enough to volunteer for Amnesty International in their community fundraising department. My task was simple and basic, mostly updated the database and wrote letters to contributors but the experience really opened my eyes to the general issues surrounding Human Rights around the world. One thing I was surprised about was the amount of parties they had for an organisation that deals with really heavy issues. Particularly when they launched one of their big campaigns ‘Protect the Human’ where they had big party, celebrities, famous bands and a live broadcast to Guatemala; it was very exciting! Actually, at the moment I am raising money to do a parachute jump for one of their campaigns called ‘Individuals at risk’. I don’t quite remember how or when I agreed to do this but I am hoping it will be an amazing experience!

This leads me on to V, as you have heard/will hear more from Aruba the initial work started in 2004 with Ian Russell leading the commission, which eventually included 6000 young people to be part of the consultation. As a result key recommendations were published for the new charity to work with.

Similar to my first volunteering experience at WPA I stumbled to the opportunity, this time surfing the net. I came across a website called Kikass who work with young people in creative ways. Through their website I was able to get in touch with them and they advised me to apply for the chance to be part of a Youth Advisory Board with an exciting new charity that was going to be youth-led. This was very different to anything I had done before. I chose to apply for the Leadership team which we now call ourselves the Glu team, because we felt the Youth Advisory board is about working together rather than a team leading the rest. And also because I felt I needed to gain some experience in leadership. This was what was so great about the concept; you didn’t need to have

experience to apply for the position. In fact they encouraged and preferred people with none. After a day of interviews in London, a week later I was offered a place on the board. One our first meeting we elected trustees and chairs. I was chosen to be the chair of my team but our role within the board is to be facilitators, managing the other team’s sprit and organising events for V20.

My experience so far has been great; I have met so many people, made 20 more friends as well as be part of something that will revolutionise youth volunteering in this country. I really would recommend any organisation that is planning to work with young people or is working with young people to really consider young people’s input as integral to the long term success of their project. Even though all 20 of us are part of our own teams, when we have to make key decisions we come together and vote of try to establish general consensus. As a board we are given the opportunity to make decisions that affect us and the organisation which is why we feel a certain amount of ownership and ultimately why it is really youth led.

As a youth Advisory board we have big ambitions for youth volunteering in this country. Although there is a negative stigma attached to ‘volunteering’ we hope to change the meaning behind the word rather than the word itself. Young people may not have been attracted to volunteering in the past but with the creation of new youth orientated opportunities and improvement of existing opportunities we feel that we will achieve our target of involving 1 million more young people in the next five years.

Volunteering is reason why I am talking to you here today and I intend to do it for as long as I can.


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