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Why you should consider volunteering at university

  March 28, 2017   

By Ross Fairgrieve, student at the University of Edinburgh

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) has presented challenges for the majority of my life. However, having OCD, these days, has become the fashionable thing. What the misinformed pseudo-celebrities touting this label fail to understand is the debilitating and crippling nature of this condition. In many ways, having OCD is akin to being consistently terrified; mentally fencing with anxieties that seem trivial to the outside world. It is, therefore, easy to imagine just how isolating this condition can be.

Indeed, for many years, I kept to myself – refusing to indulge in the notion that reaching out to others might very well be just the tonic I needed. As my condition worsened, however, one day, last year, I decided to take the plunge. In April 2016, I attended my first meeting with the East of Scotland and Edinburgh OCD Support Group . Although nervous at first, I soon realised that simply talking with kindred spirits was immeasurably helpful.

As time passed, I continued to attend once a month. Then, in July, the founder announced he was moving to Spain in order to enjoy some well-earned time in the sun. He admitted that someone would need to step up and take over his work. Never the type to refuse a challenge, I immediately offered my assistance.

Along with the support of the new facilitator, I expanded and re-organised the group. I created a voting form which allowed members to democratically select when they wanted to meet, and how often. Moreover, I started organising informal ‘social’ events out with the formal meetings so that we might get to know one another beyond simply having the same condition. None of this, I might add, would have been possible without the effort and conviction of the coordinator; a kind, thoroughly decent chap.

Since we took the reins, the group membership (online) has increased from 43 to 67, and the attendance at meetings has also dramatically improved. Lately, we have also appointed a lovely lady as our “Community Advocate”. Presently, the group is going well and the once monthly formal meeting (organised by the coordinator) compliments well with the social I organise.

Being involved in this group has given me invaluable coping strategies and techniques to assist with the therapy I am receiving. More fundamentally, however, it enabled me to help a small group of very unique individuals, in a small way. That is something for which I will be eternally thankful.


The Important Skills of a Volunteer

Having completed a period of volunteering, I now feel able to reflect on the 4 core qualities which this experience has helped me develop.

Being a good listener

This is a trait which is becoming increasingly rare among my generation. Working closely with another person, or indeed a group, over a sustained period of time can really help an individual’s ability to listen carefully before responding maturely. I, for example, learned the difference between hearing and actually understanding.

Empathy

In many ways, this is of upmost importance. Most people reading this website likely have a long-term health condition themselves, and so will know first-hand just how challenging this can sometimes be. I would, as a pragmatist, observe that being in such a position might enable someone to better understand those seeking help.

Patience

Perhaps the biggest lesson for me! Never the type to like standing in a queue, I was initially quite frustrated when our group’s numbers remained low. Rather than giving up, however, I simply waited, listened and reflected. Within time, I slowly worked out what made some sufferers nervous about such groups and was able to put in appropriate steps to quell their concerns.

A raison d'être

The key to being a good volunteer is simply having the right motivation. Whether it’s to gain some experience before applying for a job, to meet like-minded people, or genuine altruism; any involvement will be welcomed.


How Can I Get Involved?

Key Tip 1: Do your research! Use the internet, local libraries, the phone directory, or specific organisations to striate and simplify your search.

Key Tip 2: Be honest about what you hope to achieve! Even a few hours of your time can be infinitely valuable, to the right person.

Remember not to let volunteering ever get in the way of your personal commitments. Only dedicate the time you feel comfortable doing. I study 3 days a week, and work at the weekend; so two hours a month proved enough for me.

I’d advise anyone thinking of volunteering to do it! If you’re sitting there, reading this, worrying that your condition might limit what you can do – don’t fret! Reach out to volunteer organisations, usually found online. They pride themselves in being all inclusive bastions of equality and strive to ensure any willing participant gets the best placement they can.

In order to find such companies, the best thing to do is: network. Use social media, search engines or the good old-fashioned phone book. Approach organisations like the one I described, or go directly to where you want to volunteer. Ensure that the role and situation is suitable for you.

By its very nature, voluntary work is pro bono – meaning you won’t make money from it. That said, you also shouldn’t lose any either. Ensure you are able to claim back travel expenses from a responsible person within the organisation.

Lastly, and most importantly, remember that, as with anything in life, you’ll reap what you sow. Volunteering really is what you make it.

These stories are tagged with: experience experience Personal Development Personal Development Societies Societies skills skills university life university life volunteer volunteer