Why did you choose to volunteer for Refuweegee?
I arrived to Scotland five years ago and although settling into a new place always has its challenges, Glasgow’s welcome was incredibly open, warm and friendly. It sounds cheesy, but it’s true: People Make Glasgow. So when I learned about Refuweegee and the work they do here in Glasgow, I was keen to get involved. I really liked the idea of extending the welcome I received to those who had to flee their homes and had to leave so much behind. Working with Refuweegee has introduced me to the realities of many other people in Glasgow outside our ‘West End bubble’, whether refugees and asylum seekers or people who have been in Glasgow their entire lives. It feels like I am dedicating my time to something worthwhile.
What have you enjoyed most during your time as a volunteer?
There are so many things that make working for Refuweegee enjoyable. The flexibility, for example: there is no sign-up or application process; if you want to volunteer, you simply get in touch whenever you see an opportunity you like, and you can do as much or as little as you have time for. This makes it easy to manage alongside a busy exam schedule or other commitments. Secondly, there are lots of different tasks that require volunteers, so there really is something for everyone. Some might enjoy sorting donations for the welcome packs and monthly pop-up events, others might prefer distributing them at the pop-ups, organising events such as the ‘Walk this Way’ tours, fundraising, or chatting to people at a stall at festivals and events. There are many ways to get involved, and Selina and Hannah are really encouraging if you want to bring your own talent, experience or even subject expertise to the organisation. Especially in the new Byres Road space we are looking for ideas for workshops, events, exhibitions, and collaborations, so there is so much scope for trying out new things! Most importantly, I really enjoy being part of the Refuweegee community. Everyone is incredibly open and friendly and it doesn’t take long until you feel part of the team.
How much of an impact do you feel your volunteering has made?
You often directly see the impact of your work and of the combined effort of the community. At the last pick-up event for instance, I was at the table for baby clothes and baby items. My job was to keep the table stocked with baby clothes (which had been donated by the community across Glasgow), but also to generally chat to people and help them out if they needed anything specific. The pop-ups are a great experience because you help distribute the donations to those who need them most and you get the opportunity to actually engage with some of the recently arrived community. And you directly see the impact of donations and your work: in my case, for instance, there was a woman who was pregnant and was able to find lots of items of clothing she needed for when her new-born child. But even in other ways, for instance when running stalls at festivals and events, the impact is direct because you speak to people and inform them about the work Refuweegee do, and how they could get involved. So often people remember “I have a pram or buggy at home that I no longer need, I will get in touch to donate it”, and that’s really what it’s all about, giving everyone the opportunity to participate and contribute. It’s genuinely so rewarding to be part of that exchange here in Glasgow.
What would you tell a student who is thinking about volunteering?
Do it! Give it a try and see how you feel about it – there is no obligation to stay if you’re not enjoying yourself, but chances are you’ll want to stay in touch and come back! I think it’s worth thinking about what you could see yourself doing: are you a sociable and chatty person who loves to infect others with their enthusiasm? Are you more of a planner who might be able to direct some fundraising activity? Would you like to plan the ‘Walk This Way’ tours around Glasgow or act as a tour guide? Or are you perhaps more comfortable sorting donations and creating welcome packs rather than interacting with people? There is space for anyone and everyone, I think it’s really just about finding the way in which you can have an impact and enjoy what you are doing.
If you could sum up your volunteering experience in one word, what would it be?
Energising. We sometimes spend so much time studying and writing essays that we forget that working does not have to be draining and exhausting. Refuweegee has made it clear for me what kind of work I want to be doing in the future to make the most of my time, my talents and knowledge, and it’s been a great reminder that there’s more to life than just deadlines and grades.