Changing the perceptions of volunteering
Liam Beattie Huffington Post blogger, Oxfam volunteer
10th Jun 2014
In this guest blog, Huffington Post blogger Liam Beattie describes the benefits of volunteering for Oxfam. You can follow him on Twitter here: @Liam_Beattie.
This year, 1-7 June saw the 30th National Volunteers' Week, a celebration of the amazing work done up and down the country by volunteers. As a recent Oxfam volunteer for nearly two years, it was a great week to reflect back on my volunteering journey within the organisation and look at the skills and experiences I was fortunate enough to gain.
From the age of 14 I had been involved in volunteering within the Scottish Borders where I grew up and went to school. I was involved in various youth organisations and went on to have experience of sitting on charity boards at the relatively young age of 17.
It was with great excitement in 2012 that I was successfully chosen to sit on the National Youth Board of Oxfam. I was absolutely thrilled to be joining an organisation I had some previous working relationship with through the Scottish Youth Parliament, but I was excited to learn more about one of the country's most recognised charities.
The first group meeting where we discussed the work Oxfam was doing ahead of the G8 summit in Northern Ireland instantly grabbed my attention and sparked my enthusiasm. This combination of more hands on activism and campaigning was a great way to learn more about the ethos and what makes Oxfam volunteers tick.
One of the highlights during my time on the Youth Board was getting to visit Oxfam House where we met several members of staff who made us feel so welcome. This was so refreshing to see an organisation not treat its volunteers, more specifically its young volunteers, as a mere box-ticking exercise. On the contrary our views on youth engagement were listened to and I do feel our work did make a positive impact into the work Oxfam does with young people.
National Volunteers Week is a great time for the sector to pat itself on the back for offering so many opportunities to people both young and old across the country. However the work is far from complete in order to challenge perceptions of what volunteering actually entails. During my time with Oxfam, I often received puzzled looks when I informed people that I was neither digging wells in developing countries, nor was I working in a shop on a Saturday. From working alongside staff at Oxfam I know a lot of work is going into addressing perceptions and I hope other organisations follow
It wasn't just the opportunities that Oxfam gave me, but the personal development skills I gained too. This is an area organisations such as Oxfam need to heavily promote, especially when trying to recruit young volunteers. Many of the skills I gained in campaigning and wider activism were not something I could have learned in a classroom or lecture theatre.
Upon leaving Oxfam I have started working in my first full time job within the charity sector in London and I know that it wasn't just my degree that got me here, it was my volunteering too.
I'm incredibly grateful to everyone at Oxfam during my time on the National Youth Board for their support and more importantly their encouragement.
I would encourage my generation to get involved in volunteering whether it be fundraising in school or helping at a music festival - you might just surprise yourself at the possibilities out there.