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Cristina Fiani is a third-year Biomedical Engineering student.  She spoke to us about her experience of volunteering with Bookmark and Girls Friendly Society and how the benefits of volunteering goes both ways. 

Tell us a little about your volunteering

I am currently volunteering virtually with Bookmark - who I’ve also volunteered with face-to-face earlier this year - and Girls Friendly Society (GFS).

As a bookmark volunteer, my role involves engaging with a child twice a week through online sessions that last 30 minutes. During this time, we play games, read books to to build confidence in reading and have fun!

At GFS, I recently became a ‘content creator’. I create activities on different themes for groups of girls, which aim at developing confidence, self-esteem, wellbeing, and resilience. In terms of commitment, it is very flexible.

How did you find out about the role?

I found out about the roles at the UCL Volunteering Fair and the volunteering directory

Why did you want to become a volunteer?

I wanted to do something that was outside of my studies, interact with other people off-campus and share my knowledge.

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

I hope I have helped the children gain confidence to find their voice, learn and have fun while learning. I think that children who learn with someone different than the usual people they’re in contact with (such as teachers or family members) can help them improve a lot, especially with 1-to-1 sessions and activities.

What impact has volunteering had on you?

Volunteering has been incredibly helpful for my mental health. I tend to stress, and as a third-year student, volunteering has helped me get my mind off of, and “escape” from the pressure I put on myself when it comes to studies. At the end of every single session, I feel happy, especially when the children say they had a lot of fun or they didn’t even see the time passing! It has also helped me develop communication skills!

What’s the best thing about volunteering?

I would say interacting others, sharing your own experience and having something to commit to. It’s all about sharing and helping without any expectations.

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

I haven’t had particular challenges within the volunteering sessions. However, I would say the most challenging for me was time management. There were times when I felt it was impossible to do it all, especially when I was volunteering face-to-face in a school that was 45 minutes away from UCL and I had a lot of coursework deadlines coming up. However, I did not want to give up, thinking there is a child waiting for me for a 30 minute session, which is not that long! So I would still go, and every time I would come back less stressed and happier!

With online sessions, the main challenge is technical issues but there is a lot of support from the school and the organisation, so we make it work and it usually ends up being fine!

There is a positive side to virtual volunteering because you don’t need to rush to a place; you can just do it from home or anywhere around the world.

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

I cannot think of any particular thing; I would say the whole experience is memorable!

Would you recommend volunteering? If so, why?

Yes, I definitely recommend it! However, it really needs to be something you commit to and know you’ll do because you love it!

How has COVID-19 impacted your volunteering and how has it changed what you do?

I think both organisations have done such a great job dealing with the pandemic, finding safe platforms for children and online training for us to be able to continue volunteering!

As the summer term for schools is almost ending, I have already done most of my online reading sessions with Bookmark, and it has been great! Regarding my role at GFS, I prepare activities on my own time at my convenience and send them by email, so I haven’t had any particular issues.

If you want to find an opportunity that relates to your academic interests or your passions like Cristina, check out all the available volunteering roles on our directory!