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Zayna Dar is a first-year Undergraduate at the SELCS Department and has been volunteering with Good News Shared. Have a read through her story below to see what it’s like volunteering as a first-year student, how her writing of goodwill articles during COVID-19 has helped her community, and why she finds volunteering so rewarding.

Tell us a little about your volunteering 

I am presently volunteering as an article writer for Good News Shared, a website whose mission is to spread goodwill and compassion through uplifting news stories of charitable acts of kindness. My role as a volunteer is quite flexible in terms of workload, however, I have decided to commit myself to a target of two stories per month. If I have been browsing the internet and I encounter a news story that piques my interest, I send the founder of the website, Nisha Kotecha, an e-mail briefing its subject matter. After I have received approval to cover the story, I set about researching the news item in greater depth before I embark upon the task of writing a column.  

 

How did you find out about the role?

I discovered the article writing role at Good News Shared through UCL’s online volunteering directory, which advertises over 500 active opportunities offered across a range of different categories, from tutoring and mentoring, to conservation and the environment. It is definitely worth keeping close tabs on the page, as new roles are published regularly, and owing to the broad selection of voluntary work available, you are bound to find a position that appeals to you.

Why did you want to become a volunteer?

I decided to volunteer at Good News Shared in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, as I was feeling quite dispirited by the overwhelming sense of gloom that dominates the mainstream media. I was eager to support a cause that deviated from the cynical status quo and provided a refreshingly optimistic coverage of current affairs. A chance to enhance my transferable skillset while simultaneously supporting a non-profit organisation seemed like a perfect combination of motives. The variety of volunteering placements endorsed by UCL is extensive, and I was able to locate with ease a role that suited both my career aims and my personal interests.

What difference do you feel you’ve made by volunteering?

On an individual level, volunteering has had a notably positive impact on my mental wellbeing, as well as my sense of drive and direction. In such a trying time, being able to focus my attention on a fulfilling project has improved my frame of mind enormously. I have enjoyed the challenge of undertaking responsibility in uncharted territory, one that is out of the scope of my previous work experience, but one from which I have taken away invaluable lessons about giving back to the community and utilising my time profitably. 

What impact has volunteering had on you?

As a Comparative Literature student, from an academic perspective, the process of investigating a news story, amassing information from multiple points of reference, and producing an article is a replication of the stages of essay writing. Volunteering as an article writer allows me to hone the critical skills that are essential to my discipline, such as research, determining the credibility of sources, and structuring a piece of writing in Standard English. It has been immensely helpful to apply the tools I have acquired from my studies to a real-world context, and it has opened up the gateways in regards to prospective career options that I may pursue after I have graduated, such as journalism or screenwriting.

What’s the best thing about volunteering?

It is very rewarding to be able to circulate my articles with my friends and family, and consequently, brightening their spirits has been a massive incentive that has compelled me to persevere with my personal goal of writing two stories every month.

And the most challenging? How did you overcome the challenges?

The greatest obstacle I have had to tackle in terms of volunteering has been quite simply urging myself to make the leap from a desire to volunteer, to taking the steps to actively becoming a volunteer. Initially, the prospect can be daunting, especially if you are undertaking a role in a field in which you have had limited prior experience. However, once you overcome the hurdle of finding a suitable role in a sector that you are passionate about, the duties you are assigned as a volunteer allow you to harness your interests in a productive and beneficial way for both yourself and for the association that you become affiliated with.

Tell us about something memorable that’s happened to you whilst volunteering

One of the items I recently covered detailed the voluntary efforts of a therapy dog and her owner based in Maryland, who have managed to raise the funds for thousands of care packages for hospital personnel situated in Baltimore. After my article was posted, I was flattered to learn that a subscriber had featured my article on his website ‘Not All News is Bad!’ and on the news outlet’s Facebook page. The appreciation of my work by various readers was a greatly motivating source of encouragement, but it also made me realise that regardless of whether or not my work was acknowledged explicitly, no good deed is in vain.

Would you recommend volunteering? If so, why?

I would certainly recommend volunteering to all UCL students at all levels of study. If you are concerned about time management, balancing the demands of your course alongside volunteering is feasible, as the roles are specifically tailored towards students, therefore in many instances, you have a fair degree of control over the amount of time you dedicate to volunteering. Sparing a handful of hours a month to volunteering is such a minor sacrifice, and you will soon discover that the knock-on effect of your contributions far outweigh any reservations you may have about time commitments. I can guarantee that once you take the plunge, you will discover untold talents that can lead you into a multiplicity of novel directions.

How has COVID-19 impacted your volunteering and how has it changed what you do?

In a logistical sense, COVID-19 has had virtually no impact on the means by which I volunteer, as the role I assume is home-based. However, it has affected quite drastically the content of the stories that I report on. Encouragingly, the virus has triggered a surge in localised relief efforts, and I think now more than ever there is a need for a platform such as that of Good News Shared to publicise and inspire altruism. The focal point of the stories that I cover has shifted from large-scale social enterprises and prominent charities to the humanitarian work of individuals who have taken the initiative to launch their own community projects in a bid to alleviate the pressure on key workers or on vulnerable sectors of the population. 

If you want to make a difference through volunteering like Zayna, browse the opportunities on our volunteering directory to see what you can get involved in.