Nuzulia is a postgraduate student doing an Economics and Policy of Energy and the Environment MSc at the Barlett School of Energy and Environmental Resources. During her year at UCL, she has done some volunteering work, including working with one of our Student-Led Projects, Green Walkers. Read more about her experience and learnings in this Profile Piece!

Tell us a little about your volunteering.

My first experience volunteering through the SU Volunteering Service was with the Little Village organization in the Baby Bank project. They gathered donations of baby clothes, toys, and equipment throughout the year, and we helped sort all the goods at the warehouse.  We spent a whole day sorting donations and packing up gift bundles. Then they would dispatch this to families dealing with poverty issues, including domestic abuse and asylum seekers.

I also volunteered with Green Walkers; a student led volunteering project where we gathered around the UCL area to pick up trash from the streets and gardens. We have tools and equipment for picking up trash. It usually takes around one or two hours per session, and it’s really nice because when we interact with people in the community and the local shops, they are always grateful. While walking, we also talk about sustainable habits and waste management. It feels like we are doing something useful for the environment, around the university itself. I think it was a great experience.

How did you find out about the Green Walkers volunteering role?

I think it was one of the Student Union’s Newsletters. There was this advertisement about Green Walkers, so I linked up with the Project Leaders. It was very easy. From that point, we just gathered on the specified time and location for the litter picking and went from there.

I was really excited because I got to meet many new friends. Also, since this is a volunteering activity, I feel like the people who gathered have similar environmental awareness and goals. It was nice working with them so that we are not lonely in our efforts to make the environment cleaner.

Why did you want to become a volunteer? 

I was interested to be involved in community activities to immerse myself in the UK culture, and it was also encouraged by my scholarship funder to balance our academic activities. I was intrigued to join a volunteering group or activity, but it was hard to find the source of information. That’s why following the social media of the SU Volunteering Service and joining the mailing list was really helpful.

Also, one of the main reasons was just trying to contribute to the community. I am really interested in climate change mitigation, because it’s one of the things my programme focuses on, so to be able to directly act on my knowledge about how to protect the environment or how to manage waste, and just do a small contribution in an actual activity was really fulfilling.

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

I think the main difference is first within yourself because when you are volunteering, you get to act on your values and implement what you believe is right, for example, picking up trash.

Just making a small contribution makes me more motivated to be involved in these types of extracurricular activities.

The second benefit that I've felt from this volunteering is meeting likeminded people. Often times when we try to do good actions alone, it can feel so lonely and hard to make a change. But when you do it together with other people and under the same project or with the same goals, the magnitude of your what you're doing gets bigger and bigger and eventually it creates a noticeable change in your environment.

What would you say was the most challenging part of volunteering? How did you overcome the challenges?

I think one of the most challenging aspects for me is the language barrier when interacting with people from different backgrounds or countries. For example, in the Green Walkers project, I met a student from Singapore, Japan and China. Despite the difference, because we share the same spirit and motivation to do the activities, it becomes less challenging and more something that we try to cherish. We can try to practice our English through the small talk during volunteering, or even learn each other’s culture. I think just by having this kind of interaction really helps us to overcome that barrier.

The second challenge was time management. As students, especially for some of us postgraduate students, it is hard to manage our schedule during the busy times, particularly during exam weeks, or spring break when we have so many assignments. We try to find time, just one to two hours per week to try to do the volunteering, and then go straight back to our academic tasks.

In the end it was really fulfilling to be able to find the time to help others and the community apart from conducting my studies, and it was a really fun experience.

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

When I was volunteering at the baby bank project with the Little Village, we were sorting the children's clothes and one of the committee members said that we have to ensure that the clothes that are being donated have the best quality. They taught us a little exercise where we have to imagine as if we are giving the items as a gift for our own family members or loved ones, like nieces or nephews. This way we can choose the best quality items for these children. I liked this exercise and was really amazed by how they ensure that the receiving families are also happy with the gift.

I think having this perspective when we manage donations or do any charity work is important, because it makes you think about the people that receive your help and not just dispatching the clothes or items for the sake of simply giving. This process of sorting out and taking care of the donations was a very meaningful moment for me.

Would you recommend volunteering? If so, why?

I highly recommend people to join the volunteering activities under the SU Volunteering Service or with any non-profit organization. I feel like by volunteering you realize that life is so much bigger than yourself. As students, it is so easy to focus on our main goal, the academic excellence. However, we must remember that there are people outside that probably need help and immediate action, and supporting the community and helping others can be really rewarding.

I hope that future students at UCL also get to feel this kind of warmth and satisfaction through participating in the volunteering activities.

Lastly, I just want to say thank you to the Students Union and the UCL Volunteering Service. As students, we often don't have time to look for these opportunities, so to get that information fed to us through the emails or social media has been really helpful. I hope you can continue this kind of service for the future students.

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