Ahad did a BSc in paediatrics and child health and is now in his 5th year of medical school. He talked to us about what it's like being Project Leader for the Origami Volunteering Project, which is part of the Origami Society.

Tell us a little bit about the project.

The Origami Volunteering Project has been around for many years. I joined as a volunteer in 2019 when I was in my 2nd year, and I volunteered at Moorfields Eye Hospital and UCLH. At Moorfields we went to the out-patients department, and with a small group of volunteers we set up a table where we sat together with the children and their parents. We worked one to one or one to two children and we taught them origami pieces. Some of the origami that were really popular that year were the jumping frog, the heart and the ninja star.

At UCLH I went to the wards. They have an adolescent’s ward which is where we usually went, and we did a little bit of origami at the patients’ bedside, because those adolescents were usually quite sick and couldn't leave their bed without help.

In 2020, all these hospitals weren't able to have us because of COVID-19 and there was a lot of uncertainty about the future of the project. However, we were able to partner with One Housing, which is a housing association where older people, that don't need high level nursing care live, spend time with other residents, and do different activities together. We ran seven origami sessions there and every week we met roughly the same group of seven or eight older people. They were very charming and they really loved the origami workshops.

Other than the actual workshops, we did a lot of teaching sessions for the volunteers because most of them didn't know how to do origami at the start. It also helped us project leaders brush up our skills. We practiced making origami together and learning from videos, and we practiced teaching each other, so that when we went to One Housing everyone felt prepared to teach the residents.

Linda from One Housing mentioned that you made some flowers for the Queen’s Jubilee, is that right?

Yes, it was quite fun. In the past, every time we did the workshops we met different people, so we did the same origami pieces every week, but with different people. This time, since we were meeting the same residents every week, we had to be a bit more creative.

The first couple of sessions we did the general origami teaching we would have done in the hospitals, and then every session we had a theme. Between March and April, it was Easter time, so we made Easter baskets where they could put Easter eggs. Then, when the Queen’s jubilee arrived, we thought of doing a box of origami roses for the Queen. We made many red, blue and white roses with the residents and One Housing arranged them in a beautiful box and gave it to a veteran from the Royal Navy who came to One Housing and then took the box to Buckingham Palace. In the Summer, Buckingham Palace sent a thank you letter, which was a huge honour.

What can you tell us about your Project Leader role?

Recruitment was a big part of what we did as project leaders, we had a lot of publicity to do, for example, we had to make posters and leaflets and then attend the stalls at the volunteering fairs.

After recruitment it was really me and another person who managed everything. From my side, I used to do all the communications with the partners, One Housing, and we were also communicating with UCLH, as we were planning to do some online workshops. I also managed the newsletter and communications with the volunteers, which included replying to emails on the project’s mailbox.

I also led the teaching sessions, which were always a lot of fun. The volunteers were very eager, and many showed up for these sessions.

Why did you want to become a Project Leader?

I volunteered in 2019 and I really, really enjoyed this project and I saw how such a simple thing -doing origami- had such a positive impact on the children at the hospitals.

Also, since the previous project leaders were not around anymore, I wanted to make sure that the project kept running so more patients and volunteers could benefit from it.

What difference do you feel you've made by leading your project?

I was proactive from the start. None of the other project leaders were familiar with the project, so they looked for a leading figure. It was helpful that I brought my knowledge from the time I volunteered, and I feel it was important that I was very enthusiastic about origami and teaching.

What impact has volunteering, and leading a project had on you?

Leading a volunteering project has given me something else other than studying to do. As a medical student, we spend a lot of time observing and shadowing and we don't always get the chance to lead because there is always someone more senior, like the junior doctor or the consultant, who takes charge.

Being a project leader gave me that opportunity to develop my leadership as I was overseeing a project with many members, making sure that everybody had a good time, and everybody was trained well enough to teach our participants.

It also helped me improve my time management skills, since I had to balance my medical training while working on this project. I had to make sure that I gave enough time to do both things well.

How has your network developed whilst being a Project Leader?

We didn't have a connection with One Housing before we made that new partnership, and since they were quite happy with what we delivered last year, we were able to keep it up this year and we're actually volunteering with them again.

I also went to social events just for the project leaders , where I met other people leading volunteering projects across UCL, and it was nice to see what other people were up to.

What was the biggest challenge you encountered? How did you overcome this challenge?

I think one of the most challenging things is that when you have a lot of people interested in in your project it’s hard to keep them engaged for long. When we started, we recruited 100 volunteers, obviously not all of them turned up to the workshops in the end. One of the hardest parts was to make sure that we kept our volunteers well informed, that they were as engaged as possible in the project, and that they didn't forget that we were around. To overcome this we wrote weekly newsletters, and we also had a WhatsApp group chat set up, which we used to share pictures of the things we had done, after every session, this way volunteers might think “That's nice, I'm going to come back next week”.

Can you tell us something memorable that’s happened to you whilst being a Project Leader?

It has to be our last workshop last year in April. By that time, people were busy studying for exams, so only a few volunteers turned up to our last session, but they were the ones who were really passionate about the project.

After we finished our origami session, I went around the room to collect some feedback and I was asking all the residents how they found the workshops. Every participant was just so full of great words for us like “You guys are a breath of fresh air”, “I enjoyed this so much”, “You should come back in the autumn”. So, lots of praise and then when we were finished with everything, they threw a concert for us. There was one resident who was very good on the drums and another who was really good on the guitar, and they played for us and they all sang.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone thinking about being a Project Leader?

Get things done early and make sure that you delegate as much as possible. You do your part, make sure that everybody's doing something, make sure the workload is evenly distributed, and help each other out.

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