Why I chose to volunteer, and why you should, too!

In the spirit of International Volunteers day on December 5, I have decided to share my volunteering experiences with you, in the hope that you will want to, too!

I have always loved the idea of volunteering; being able to give back to society and make a difference to other’s lives- who wouldn’t want to? Well, people who need money, some may say. I spent the summer between my second and third year of university volunteering for two different organisations, alongside a part time job at a bar. If you are in an environmental field like mine- you will understand how hugely many organisations rely on volunteers in so many ways, including gathering research and raising awareness. Because of this, I decide to commit to volunteering over my summer, as a great way to get stuck in and involved in the field.

In June, I went to South Africa to volunteer for an organisation called Operation Wallacea for a month. They are an amazing institute which relies on volunteer contributions of both time and money to complete much needed animal and plant conservation projects all over the world. Their goals and aspirations really resonated with me, so it was a very easy decision that I made to volunteer with them. Visiting South Africa has always been a dream of mine. I loved the idea of a polished and perfect safari holiday, but I knew what I would love more would be getting down and dirty in the bush, conducting research which contributed to large mammal conservation.

The month was incredibly rewarding, and I really felt like I was making a difference in the reserve. It was clear to see how underprivileged some areas of the country were, and how important the volunteers were to the reserve maintenance. Not only did they make full use of our presence- encouraging our full commitment into field research, they went out of their way to help us have astonishing sightings of the animals in the bush ranging from elephants, to lions, to monkeys. The work that the volunteers did helped the reserve target species specific conservation and management, altered fence structure and location, as well as road signposting (to lessen roadkill) and plant species placement. It was amazing to be part of this process and to know that just by me being there- ultimately living my kind of dream- I was really helping the conservation of species that I know and love.

For the rest of my summer, I volunteered with the Bat Conservation Trust at home in London as an Out of Hours Helpline volunteer. In this role, I took phone calls, from home, from members of the public who had encountered bat related welfare problems/ issues. This ranged from bats being found in people’s houses/gardens injured, to bats found on boats which had travelled long distances- which could be carrying diseases. The training for this role was really informative- I was taught exactly what to do if a bat was hurt, a baby bat was found, if someone had been bitten by a bat, if a cat had bitten a bat and so on. I had one call from a man in a Tesco carpark on one day in August when it was 30 degrees outside. He had found a very dehydrated bat crawling sluggishly across the car park. Luckily, he called the helpline and spoke to me- I was able to give him the correct advice and care contacts so that the bat survived and made it to safety. It was so heart-warming and rewarding to know that I was saving little bats’ lives!

Overall, I would thoroughly recommend volunteering to everyone. It can be really tricky finding a role that would fit around another paid job- but it is possible! I spent my whole summer waitressing and bartending, along with taking my bat calls every week or so. It was so rewarding, and I gained so much confidence and experience. Do your research, get stuck in, and find the role right for you (you won’t regret it)!

If you want to get involved in some volunteering over the festive period, here are a few wonderful organisations that are always looking for volunteers to get involved:

Crisis at Christmas

The Salvation Army

The London Basket Brigade

Shelter from the Storm

Written by Jodie Velarde-Phillips

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