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Kevin just finished his undergraduate degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. During his studies he did quite a lot of volunteering, including volunteering for the Model United Nations School Programme, part of the UCL United Nations Association. In this Profile Piece, Kevin shares his volunteering journey with us, what he thinks about volunteering, and also reflects on some of the challenges about his time volunteering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tell us a little about your volunteering.

When I joined the Model United Nations School Programme in my first year, I just thought it would be a great opportunity to build my confidence, become a great public speaker, and find out more about politics in general, while doing something that builds your character.

Then in second year I became part of the committee, which was basically all online because of all the difficulties around COVID-19 at that time. It was quite tricky to find a way to keep children engaged yet it was a good opportunity to get them into public speaking, especially kids that might be from an underprivileged background, and see how we could help them build their confidence, which is very helpful to develop when you’re younger.

On a normal year, we would go to schools once a week to deliver the lessons. The volunteers would just sign up and they could commit as much as they want. The lesson plans are created by the volunteering division of the committee, we try to make it easy for all volunteers to just join, have the lesson plans ready and do their teaching. Of course, they could tailor the lessons if they wished.

When we did online lessons, basically what we did instead was recording the videos and then they were live streamed to the school. That said, I think it was an opportunity to try and make lessons more engaging. What we did with my groups specifically was create some online activities that could be carried out offline. So they watched the video and then we had these activities on different websites, which they could access while watching the videos. This was a way for us to see who did the activities, so how many kids were engaged, and for them to participate. We also had a challenge where, as they went on, they could earn points, so that at the end we would give an award to the most engaged student, even though it was offline. So it was kind of trickier, but we still found a way to make it work.

Why did you want to become a volunteer? 

I had been working on a project about social mobility also with the Volunteering Service, and I had lots of support in terms of DBS application, travel expenses, admin, etc. So I thought to myself, since it’s this easy to join a volunteering programme, let me try and do something else during my second year that's more active and group based, and I took that opportunity to have a mix between helping kids from an underprivileged background and help them with their public speaking, which is a key skill that they might have not had a chance to develop.

So really that was it, it was in line with what I had been doing for a while, and the ease of finding opportunities through the volunteering service really made me think, well, why not? It was an easy commitment, just once a week, and it's rewarding.

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

I think the difference I have made by volunteering is breaking down complex skills into digestible lessons. Busting this myth of “public speaking, confidence, and doing speeches is so hard”.

So hopefully by breaking it down and by giving them little doses of this public speaking skills, it gets them on a better track for being more confident individuals, which can help them be better students when they do oral presentations, do better with university or job applications in the future, and many things that these skills could unfold in.

What impact has volunteering had on you?

I love volunteering because, first of all, it makes you feel like you're making a difference, and when you see it, it's amazing.

I have received lots of help, lots of mentorship, and I want to give that back. Volunteering gives me that sense of giving back to the community and making a difference, which is what drives me to do it.

Also, through my volunteering I’ve developed a lot of interpersonal and transferable skills, just thinking about being organised, teamwork, and project coordination, and finally, a key skill is being able to put yourself out there and get out of your comfort zone.

What’s the best thing about volunteering?

Within the MUN programme, I think it was the intellectual challenge of saying, “how can I take this big thing and make it easy and digestible and understandable?”, and a good takeaway was that you can make anything easy to understand. It’s like when you ask ChatGPT to unpack the most difficult thing and it does it so simply, and you think “if AI can do it let me give it a go”. It’s very rewarding to realise you can do it, and it’s such an important skill at university and at a professional level.

With volunteering in general, I think it's just that sense of giving back and knowing it's a two-way street, I think it can’t be replaced by any monetary incentive.

You have hinted at some challenges already, but what would you say was the biggest challenge? How did you overcome this?

Yes, the first one I mentioned is adaptability, so how can I adapt to these new circumstances (around the pandemic) and how can I make it work despite the new mode of delivery (moving to online)?

The second one, I think was building rapport with those students, how can you build rapport with somebody you cannot see, somebody who does not know about you, really somebody who can't ask you questions in real time?

I think the way we overcame this was by being yourself in the materials that you deliver, as much as you want to be a role model, you want them to see you for who you are. So even in our videos we would try to have some little jokes and fun activities, give examples from our degrees and our lives (keeping all personal details confidential), to let them see who we were despite not being able to interact.

Would you recommend volunteering? If so, why?

I would definitely recommend it. It's so easy to get into volunteering that I wouldn't understand why somebody wouldn't do it! You can just go into the website, find an opportunity, send your request, then get contacted by either the Students Union or the organisation itself.

Plus, you can do anything really, you can do it once a week or once a month, you can work with older people, with children… I love looking after children so I chose this project, but you could do anything, something for sustainability, pro bono, a hackathon, consultancy challenges for charities… there's so much you could do! It could be for personal, but also professional development.

So anyone can get anything and, especially if you're struggling to get any work or extra-curricular experience, volunteering is a great place to start.

Want to start your own Student-led Volunteering Project? Find out more and share your ideas with us here!