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We sat down with Kexin Zhang, a TESOL Pre-service MA student at the IoE, about her experience volunteering with Solidarity Sports.

Would you be able to introduce yourself and your volunteering?

My name is Kexin Zhang and I'm doing a TESOL Pre-service MA. I’m an international student from China and I'm currently volunteering at Solidarity Sports. 

They are a charity organisation which holds activities for kids in poverty or dealing with trauma. It gives them the opportunity to access the new activities. We have after school clubs where we’ll take the kids to swimming pools and playgrounds to try and give them some happy memories. We also has school holiday projects where we will take the kids for a longer trip. For example, we’ve taken them to Winter Wonderland, or sometimes we will even take them to other cities. All of these experiences will make them stronger when they face their trauma and difficulties in their lives. 

I started last year in October. It was for the October half-term and I participated in two days of activities. One of the days, we brought them to the Science Museum. The other day, we just took them outside to the park and then played some games with them like hide-and-seek and football.

Another time, I helped during a Christmas trip. I recognised some of the kids and some kids even remembered me! They are very amazing kids and they’re super kind to people. They live in poorer conditions that we could imagine.

I was super thankful for this activity because having the chance to engage in the activities in the community really helped international students like me to feel more involved because we have the chance to meet local people and have conversations. 

The kids are very generous. They never would never think that because you are an international student, you are not from here – they always share the experience with you and would chat with you with great passion!

I really like these kind of experiences and I really love volunteering. It is just a great opportunity to meet with new people who are also volunteering and also to give back to the community. 

Why did you choose to volunteer with Solidarity Sports?

I am a MA student from TESOL Pre-Service in the IOE, so I plan to be a teacher in the future. I’d like to have some experience engaging with kids to that I can have some skills in the future.

Additionally, I really like sports and I’m a very sporty person. I do a lot of volleyball, kayaking, and other water sports. I also play basketball from time to time. 

This was a super nice organisation that gave me the chance to combine these two! To take the kids and teach them how to do the sports, I got the opportunity practice my teaching skills and well as sports skills. 

Has there been a particular highlight of your volunteering?

Yes! During the Christmas half-term trip, I was a one-on-one partner for a kid. Some of the kids have one-on-one partners because they need special attention from the adults. I was her partner during the October half-term and she was very shy and she would not talk to other people, only to me. 

The programme leader told me that we really needed to get her more engaged because she was an immigrant and her English was not as good as other kids. So we wanted to give her some attention and help involve her in the activities to help her play with other kids and communicate with others. But, she was not willing to do this – she would just refuse.

But during the Christmas half term trip, she actually made some progress! She made friends with another little girl the same age. She was even telling me that I should leave them alone! Actually, I was super happy to hear this. Because finally she had some friends here and was not alone anymore. She was even telling me, “We have secrets. We’ll never tell you.”

I was like, “Oh really! You have secrets?” I was very happy to hear this! It was so nice and she was so cute.

It is so amazing to see the children grow up and do something that they have never done before. That’s the greatest meaning that we are trying to make by volunteering. We are not trying to do something for ourselves, to just improve our CV, but we really want to make some changes for the kids. 

Have there been any challenges that you've come across in your volunteering?

Because they are kids, they can be uncontrollable sometimes! For my first experience, we took them to a BBC Earth activity. But the kids were noisy and it was hard to control them!

But during the training, the programme leaders had told us that we should only leave these children with happy memories, and that we should not say no to them because they already have very difficult lives. So when they were trying to dangerous or improper things, it was a little hard to know how to stop them from doing this. But every time these types of situations would happen, I would just call another adult to come and help control the situation a bit.

During the next trip, I talked to another volunteer and he taught me that it was okay to say no to kids if they are doing something that is not right. Because they are kids with trauma and difficulties, we should have empathy when they are doing things that are not right. But I also realised that sometimes it is okay to say no to them if I need to keep them safe and they will still be able to have a happy memory! I have learnt to be more like a teacher – more serious and more strict if I need to be. 

Have you found the support from Solidarity Sports to be helpful?

Yes! I think I’ll keep volunteering with this organisation because they are really well-organised. We had a pre-session training which was 2-3 hours long, where we were given knowledge from psychologists and social workers in the UK. This was to know what the situation is with the kids and their families, and also how to deal with kids with trauma. 

We are prepared with all of these skills and knowledge. We also have covered fees for transportation and also lunch if the activities last the whole day. This is good because we are not worried about any costs of volunteering. They are also really nice people. If you have any difficulties when you are volunteering, you are always able to call another adult to help with this. The programme leader is always there too. I just think this organisation is really good.

Would you recommend volunteering to others?

Yeah! It is super nice. Actually, whenever I’ve done this volunteering, I would always post an Instagram or Facebook story to tell people that I have done this and met with these amazing kids, and that the organisation is always in need of new volunteers. Because of this, my friends and classmates are already asking me how to join!

Thank you to Kexin for sharing her amazing experience! If you're interested in signing up as a volunteer with Solidarity Sports, you can check out all of their available opportunities here.