Friday 2 June 2017
This week, 1-7 June 2017, we are celebrating National Volunteers’ Week. Get Yourself Active volunteer Iyiola shares with us his own personal experience of volunteering and the positive impact it has had on his life.
I volunteer because…
I volunteer because I want to give back
I volunteer because it enriches me
I volunteer because I meet new people
I volunteer because I was isolated
I volunteer because I learn from people
I volunteer because I teach people
I volunteer because I am a citizen
In a world where people view everything from the prism of political tribalism, ideology and even cynicism it is not surprising that some people view volunteering negatively.
I can delve into the history of volunteering in this country or around the world and highlight or espouse how it’s been used by different Governments to further agendas that suit the political or economic realities they faced. I can even chuck out statistics on how often people volunteer in the UK or around the world and whether indeed there is a slight decline on the numbers of adults volunteering in the UK and why. But I won’t. Instead I will tell my own story of my personal experience of volunteering and its positive impact on my life.
I started volunteering about fifteen years ago in Nigeria when I connected with a disabled activist (now a life-long friend and mentor) who encouraged me to use my legal qualifications to help campaign for anti-disability discrimination legislation to be passed into law in Nigeria. I became a volunteer with a local disability group which my friend formed and started campaigning for disabled people’s rights with a few others. I used legislations from other African countries like Ghana and Uganda to argue for similar legislations to be passed and for a culture change from disabled people primarily being perceived as objects of charity and pity to instead become equal citizens with rights and dignity. Becoming a volunteer with the group opened my eyes to the incredible poverty and disempowerment many disabled people were facing in my country and challenged me to give back to society what I had as a lawyer.
When I moved to the UK in 2006, I researched about volunteering opportunities that could enrich me and add to my skills set. I chose a national disability organisation where I learnt about the UK disability landscape and campaigning. The opportunity this gave me was valuable, however volunteering there also opened my eyes to the continuing form of institutionalisation that organisation still practiced.
My experience at the national organisation has made me choosier, and subsequently I now only volunteer with organisations where their ethos is embedded in social justice and rights. I have thus volunteered with a local user-led disability organisation in Islington where, for close to six years, I was a management committee member. Being a management committee member does not mean only attending meetings and eating biscuits but also involved coming into the office on occasions to help with phone calls and advising people about what they are entitled to. Volunteering with this organisation connected me with people at a grassroots level and enabled me to form new friendships.
When I was out of work recently, I decided to leave my comfort zone and volunteer at Disability Rights UK (DRUK). I chose its project on sport and getting active. The project is premised on the concept of rights and inclusion for disabled people in physical activity and sport. Volunteering on the project has expanded my horizon beyond social care, education and injustice. Inclusion for disabled people should be in all human activities and Get Yourself Active is helping to achieve that.
I am back working part-time but decided to continue to volunteer not only at DRUK but also for my local disability charity in another capacity as I am no longer on their management committee. Volunteering has become personal for me and nothing politicians or Governments do or don’t do will stop me from volunteering. Through volunteering I have become a more rounded person and I believe the more we volunteer and engage with people from different perspectives, religions (or no religion), cultures, backgrounds and experience, the more we achieve a more equal and cohesive society.
Iyiola Olafimihan is a volunteer at DRUK and his views are personal to him and not representative of the organisation.