Friday 12 June 2015
QMUL English Literature graduate and alumni QMSU Volunteer, Emily Yates, tells QMSU Volunteering about her volunteering journey, and where it's taken her to today.
"I love when a stranger smiles at me and I smile back and we have that nice 'stranger moment'. That's what volunteering is to me.
I first started volunteering at secondary school, fundraising at certain events and doing the odd bun sale (and probably eating most of them before they got a chance to sell…) for charity. It was nice to know that I was doing something useful, but the thing that really got me was chatting to a happy customer. Baking soon ramped up to leading a team when I became President of our University Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE)* team (which was a QMSU Volunteering Group). Although it quite possibly took up more time than my actual degree, my team and I were fortunate enough to create several amazing non-profit projects: a transformation of Stepney City Farm, English Classes for the women of Ocean Estate, and an interview and CV preparation course for Tower Hamlets teens wanting to fulfil their potential in fields such as business and science. After winning awards for the ‘most improved team’ and ‘most diverse team’ at the National SIFE Awards in 2011, we were the happy customers. Believe it or not, that happiness had arrived without a single penny being earned. I wanted more!
So, before a year’s international exchange at the University of Melbourne, I applied to become a Games Maker at the London 2012 Games. I didn’t hear from them for ages, and was gutted that I wasn’t going to get the opportunity. And then it happened – I’d been accepted to volunteer with the wheelchair fencing athletes at the Paralympics! And what an amazing two weeks it was. I even met Lord Sebastian Coe and mentioned to him that the Paralympics had ‘lifted the cloud of limitation’ for those with disabilities, and he re-quoted me in his closing ceremony speech. Suddenly I had enough contacts and confidence to do what I’d always wanted to: consult on accessibility and write about accessible travel. From giving up just two weeks of my time, the next two years of my life were sorted.
Before heading off to Glasgow to write about access for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, I worked with the amazing team at QMSU as a Volunteer Administrator. I helped to organise the 2013 Freshers’ Week and led the Freshers’ Crew that made sure everyone was having a ball. It was great to see how many of the Crew enjoyed what might have been their first ever volunteering experience.
I’m now writing this post from Rio De Janeiro, where I’m working as an accessibility consultant, helping to make the transport for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games as inclusive for all as possible. So, cake sales were undoubtedly a good start, but stuffing faces with sugary goodness was never going to measure up to the happiness I felt and witnessed when I volunteered at the London 2012 Games, the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, and all the good things that have come my way since then. There’s a quote I read recently that sums it up perfectly: ‘I love when a stranger smiles at me and I smile back and we have that nice ‘stranger moment’’. That’s what volunteering is to me. You don’t have to say anything, and there’s often very few ways that you can justify yourself anyway because you’re doing what many class as idiotic: giving up your time for free. But it’s not about words, or justification for that matter. It’s about action, meeting new people and creating experiences and memories that’ll last a lifetime… and maybe getting a free donut or two!”
Emily's extraordinary volunteering journey really started kicking off right here, at university, through QMSU Volunteering.
Have a look through the QMSU Volunteering website or email member of the QMSU Volunteering Team to have a chat about ways in which you can get involved. Even a small contribution may change your life, as well as the lives of others.
*Now known as Enactus