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Bryan is a second-year student currently pursuing his bachelor's degree in law. He is volunteering at the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association (ACAA), an organisation which offers different services to support the needs of Afghan refugees in London. Read on to learn more about his experience volunteering as a Political Communications Intern there.

Tell us a little about your volunteering

I started volunteering at ACAA in January, where I volunteered once a week, every Wednesday. The organisation is very flexible. They allow me to work on Thursdays or Fridays if I can't work on Wednesdays. It's meant to be a full-day job, but they usually give me some tasks, and if I don't take the whole day, I just finish them whenever possible.

A lot of my work is research-based. In addition to some administrative research, I have helped research some programmes they can get involved in and potential organisations they can collaborate with. For example, they wanted to partner with UCL and LSE formally. So, I researched what the current level of partnership looks like and what might be possible, like what UCL and LSE might offer as a more formal partnership to ACAA. They also let me review some of their social media communications and help draft a couple of them.

How did you find out about the role?

I found it on UCL's volunteering website. I went there and looked through all the different volunteering roles available and noted a few. In the end, I only applied for this one as the title it had, "political communications intern", was quite cool. It seemed like a role with plenty of meaningful learning opportunities.

Also, I chose ACAA specifically because out of all the other volunteering roles and organisations available, this was the most attractive to me. The organisation works first-hand with refugees. They interact directly with them, which makes their work feel more tangible and the experience more meaningful.

Why did you want to become a volunteer?

I wanted to be a volunteer because I thought it would be an excellent way to gain some practical skills and experience working for a Non-Governmental Organisation, especially since I am interested in working in the public sector in the future. So, I thought it would be nice to get some first-hand experience of how these organisations work.

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

I think I've contributed mainly through the research I conducted. Of course, some of that research was very important as it directly benefited certain individuals. But, at the same time, it was also helpful for the organisation.

Generally, charities struggle the most in terms of their funding. Some of the research I carried out regarding specific programmes to implement and possible partnerships, which entails cost-sharing and combining operations with other organisations, made me feel as if I'm doing something for the long-term sustainability of ACAA. I am helping them by exploring various plans to allocate their limited funds efficiently and effectively.

What impact has volunteering had on you?

It has definitely broadened my perspective and allowed me to gain insight into how such organisations operate and how things work on the ground. It also changed my way of thinking about some issues as it has allowed me to see the real-life impact these organisations have on people's lives. It also made me reflect on the things we often take for granted.

I don't think people think enough about the struggles that refugees face, particularly after they get refugee status. This role has helped me to understand the challenges that these individuals face to integrate into an utterly foreign society where they might not or might barely speak the language and lead more fruitful, productive lives. We might not realise the challenges they face of having to reintegrate and sometimes raise children in a community that is entirely different from their own.

What's the best thing about volunteering?

I think the best thing was knowing that I have made some difference, even if it was small. Sometimes you have big dreams and want to change the world, which might be challenging and not very realistic. But that does not mean you should give up and not do anything about it. Any small act you do counts and can make a difference, and that's what matters at the end of the day.

Sometimes you have big dreams and want to change the world, which might be challenging and not very realistic. But that does not mean you should give up and not do anything about it

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

Time management was the most challenging part for me, especially when I had several uni assignments on top of the tasks I had to complete. Sometimes, when I did not have time to work during the day, I would finish the tasks during the evening and send them over. But, overall, I tried to manage my time and keep an organised schedule as much as possible.

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

I remember an interesting encounter with the organisation's director and founder. This happened when I was called in for an interview and had to go to the office. I ended up meeting the director and having a stimulating discussion on Middle Eastern politics. He explained to me the ethnic politics in Afghanistan, a politics which can result in inequalities and privileges allocated to some refugees and not others. This allowed me to gain insight into how cultural perspectives may affect how an organisation carries out some of its work, which was pretty insightful.

I also remember another instance with an Afghani girl who was forced to quit Med school in Afghanistan. She's now in the UK and wanted to continue her studies here but needed financial aid. So, I helped her by researching different avenues for financial assistance, such as scholarships, bursaries, etc., that she could apply for.

Would you recommend volunteering? If so, why?

I would definitely recommend volunteering as it is a great way to get practical skills and experience while doing something good. Volunteering is less demanding and time-consuming than, for instance, doing an internship. It allows you to work over a more extended time and see the lifespan of things you helped with and worked on.