2. Let your beliefs be challenged / let yourself be challenged (can’t make my mind up, you choose!)
On a summer day in my second year in law school I had lunch with Sallie Grayson, co-founder of people and places. Under the summer sun, and the loud crickets singing, I was determined to talk to Sallie about volunteering. I was studying to become a child protection lawyer, I was strongly feminist and pretty on the ball, or was I? Sallie told me about just how harmful orphanage volunteering was – I went red in the face, just as I did while reading Noughts and Crosses when I was ten – I had never questioned the wellbeing of the child. I had never questioned the way in which volunteering is carried out, I had never questioned it because “if they are giving their time for free, then it must be positive”. Sallie asked me if I thought it would be okay for me to go into a nursery in the UK and spend time with the children – I obviously said I didn’t think it would be okay. That’s the thing, if it’s not okay to do at home, why should it be okay to do abroad?
The fact that Sallie challenged me allowed me to truly think about volunteering. It was a great lesson to learn that one’s belief system is ever changing. I now make a point of always challenging myself, and never being too stubborn to listen to others, to take into account other points of view. It is okay to be wrong. It is okay to make mistakes. It is okay to change your mind. It is okay to be challenged, and to challenge others!
3. Discuss everything
In the final year of my undergraduate degree, I went for a drink with a boy who was left wing, vegan and passionate about recycling. Whilst drinking our coffees at an independent and quirky coffee shop, he decided to tell me about the volunteering he did in Peru – he helped build an orphanage in Peru. We started talking about the ethics behind orphanage tourism – the financial exploitation of the children who were institutionalised, the fact that 80% of children could actually be in family based care, and the psychological effects that the coming and goings of volunteers has on children. He got very, very defensive of his actions – he had given his time for free, he hadn’t hurt any children, he hadn’t posted any selfies on instagram. So the coffee didn’t go very well, but at least we talked. We didn’t meet up for coffee again, but I have a feeling that our conversation made him think. It certainly made me think!
I have had countless discussions with fellow students, friends, family about volunteering. It has been a real privilege to be able to hear about their experiences, about their views – but also to share with them the negative effects. Today I am not advocating against volunteering – I am advocating for responsible and ethical volunteering. I have been running people and places’ campaigns for the last year, and the reason I am able to do this is because I have been in constant communication with our people and places’ team, with other professionals and with anyone who wants to talk about volunteering. Communication is the key to sustaining ideas – and I am all for it!
4. Educate yourself
I chose to pursue a Masters of Law specialising in EU Law – I wrote my dissertation on the evolution of children’s rights in the European Union. I focused on children’s rights and more specifically child disability rights. I came to the conclusion that through the protection of human rights in general, the EU had inadvertently protected children’s rights. I won’t go into the details of my dissertation here, but it is my opinion that it is always important to look at history to understand the present. Through my extensive research I was able to have a well rounded view of the progress made in the last century – it also gave me the ability to give a more structured opinion on children’s rights today.
There are many ways of educating ourselves – this comes through reading the press, attending talks, reading academic writings and literature. In today’s world activism is an extremely positive word – the idea that campaigning can bring about political or social change. We have such amazing resources at our fingertips with social media – communities in which we can share ideas and rally together for change.
5. Put your words into actions
Whilst at university in Cardiff I decided to take action against period poverty. I co-founded Periods In Poverty with my good friend Fiona Munnelly. A Cardiff based charity which put in place collection points through out Cardiff for sanitary products, that we would then relay to local charities. We were determined to truly support the people who were menstruating without access to sanitary products.
I have volunteered with people and places for over a year. I feel passionately about child protection, children’s rights and the implementation of responsible and ethical volunteering. I gladly use my time creating campaigns on these topics.
There are so many ways of turning the best of intentions into actions – volunteering, supporting others, sharing opinions. You can make a difference. You need to be responsible.