Bilal Anjum is Volunteering Support Officer with CCAWS (Community Care and Wellbeing Service). He describes how and why he became a volunteer and what he has gained from the experience.
Before Community Care and Wellbeing Service (CCAWS) was set up, I started my volunteering journey at a mental health charity that focused on helping the ethnic minorities in the community.
I was seventeen, looking to gain experience and wanted to try something different which would help me get out of my comfort zone.
Unfortunately, I had limited options due to having no professional connections and zero experience; so I thought I would try my hand at volunteering and I came across an opportunity asking for bilingual advocates, to support the BAME community in the local region.
With hindsight, this was a great decision and it benefitted me greatly, especially on a personal level.
Fulfilling and humbling
Initially, when I started my volunteering, due to my young age and lack of experience I was given tasks to do which wasn’t so interesting to me, for example administrative tasks.
I had to prove myself to get involved with what I wanted to do, even though I could have quit and tried to find something else. Experience of this kind makes you humble and gives you a stronger ‘work ethic’, because if you are able to show commitment and passion for the tasks required, then you gradually become more self-motivated and mature as a person.
Eventually I got to do more interesting tasks, such as providing advocacy support to clients, who might be in serious financial struggle, or refugees who needed help with their asylum cases. This experience allowed me to come across a diverse range of people, from all walks of life, vastly improving my social and communication skills.
The experience and lessons you learn are why I strongly advise younger students to get involved in volunteering for a charity or a non-profit organisation. Pick a field that intrigues you, or that you are passionate about. You won’t find a better sector to help open up your mind and give you a different perspective on life.
Volunteering is very gratifying; being able to see what you have done and how it makes a difference to someone’s life is fulfilling and humbling.
A part of CCAWS
CCAWS originated from the foundations of the previous charity, as a new direction and clearer approach was needed. It was at this point that I saw an opportunity and made myself more actively involved to be part of this exciting project.
Since officially starting up around two years ago, CCAWS has been able to successfully serve the needs of 1500 clients with the help of a cohort of more than 50 volunteers signed up to our organisation.
The success of CCAWS so far and its continued growth has been down to creating a system of values and having a clear goal which everyone agreed to and believes in.
The part I played initially was creating the brand element of CCAWS and fine-tuning the technicalities behind it, such as the working practices.
I used my early volunteering experience, knowledge from opening up two e-commerce sites and elements of my studies to add value as a volunteer until we got funding for paid positions.
After I got the job as volunteer support officer, I continued to build on the work I was doing, but with the added challenge of recruiting volunteers to help run our growing services.
The challenges are difficult; you have to serve the needs of the hundreds of clients that come in, with scarce resources and yet still be effective.
This is where I used the theoretical knowledge from my MBA, to create a system of values and a working culture that ensured that volunteers enjoyed coming to us and were enthusiastic about what they did.
In return, we got high levels of commitment from volunteers and more volunteers coming to us.
This was achieved by not giving out mundane tasks but by giving volunteers one-to-one experiences with clients and adding to their personal and professional development in other ways too.
It was our creative ways of working, thinking outside the box and good people management that helped to create a loyal and effective volunteering base that has now helped hundreds of clients through our different strands of services.
Reap the rewards
The message here is that volunteering helped uncover my potential, even more than my academic studies have done and has taught me valuable lessons which wouldn’t be possible if I had just sought experiences with private sector businesses.
To conclude, if you are a student looking to gain some work experience, please go out and volunteer for a cause that you’re interested in and in return, I can assure you, you will reap the many benefits that will come of it.
Read more about volunteers at Community Care and Wellbeing Services (CCAWS)