This week Project Spotlight is going to be talking about volunteering at My Place Youth Club with The Children’s Society. The Children’s Society is a national charity running many different projects aimed at helping children. In Coventry they run a weekly youth club on Wednesdays aimed at young refugees and asylum seekers- and this is where I volunteer 2 or 3 times a month.
What do we do?
Each volunteer has a different role at youth club. Usually there will be one volunteer who is head chef, and is in charge of purchasing food (you get the money back!), and then cooking a meal for 25-35 people , and they will usually have somebody to help them in the kitchen. We always make vegetarian food, as some of the young people fast on Wednesdays, meaning they can’t eat meat, and so it’s easier to avoid any problems and just make something everyone can definitely eat. One person will be in charge of running crafts activities, where some of the quieter young people tend to enjoy spending time. Another will prepare a group game, something that is done every week to get all the young people co-operating. This time John led the group game, and had brought a small sponge ball. We all stood in a circle, and he stood in the centre. He would throw the ball to someone, and they had to clap before they caught it- but John also tried to trick people by pretending to throw the ball, and making them clap- in which case they were out! Mohammed won the game and got some chocolates as a prize, and immediately shared them out with other young people and volunteers- which was kind. 🙂 Any other volunteers are free to help out where they are needed, and to spend time talking to the young people. Last time I went I was in charge of crafts! So I collected some leaves from campus and took them with me. Then I painted the leaves with the young people, and printed them onto paper to create some cool patterns! I forgot to take pictures of this unfortunately 😦
What about the young people?
The young people are mostly from Eritrea and Afghanistan and are aged 13-18, but we also have some from Iraq, Syria, Sudan and other countries. A lot of them have been through a lot of bad things to get here, and have some quite harrowing stories to tell. When I first volunteered in July, I was a bit nervous, because they were in such tight knit groups already. However, they are all very friendly, and one young person, Birhane, decided to ‘take me under his wing’; he showed me around and introduced me to other people- it was really nice! There are differing levels of English knowledge among the young people. Some you can have a fluent conversation with, and others only know a few words- and you have to communicate with them by actions (mostly playing table tennis!). During youth club, the young people either play PlayStation (we have an old PlayStation 2 donated by John with FIFA 2009!), table tennis, pool, or do the craft activities; it can sometimes be a struggle to get them to stop playing in order to eat! The main thing you’ll find if you come, is that they are all really kind and positive- going to youth club always leaves me with a smile on my face.
Volunteers are a mix of students from either Warwick or Coventry University, and local working people. It’s a good way to meet people outside of the student bubble, and to talk to people from interesting walks of life. There tends to be between 2 and 5 volunteers per youth club, but we could always do with more (especially when there’s just 2 of us!!). The most important person at youth club however is Lizzy! Lizzy works for The Children’s Society, and basically make sure everything goes as it should, but she also offers tangible support and assistance with any matters that the young people might have. If a young person is having a problem of any kind, Lizzy will try and help them as best she can! You can see Lizzy on the right in the picture below as we start our post-youth club debrief.
What do students say about volunteering there?
Youth club has become the highlight of my week during my university years. It has given me the opportunity of meeting and supporting some of the most wonderful people I know. The resilience, energy and eagerness to learn and enjoy life that I have found in these young people there is truly inspiring to me. It has also put a face and a name to tragedies we in the West are often too detached from, and helped me grow immensely as a human being and as a political member of society. I am now studying Social Work with the view of working with refugees in the future so volunteering at youth club has truly been a life changing experience for me.
-Sara Tornielli, who has been volunteering at Youth Club for over 3 years.
If you find yourself reading about the refugee crisis in Europe, and want to help in some way- I would say that youth club is a fantastic way of helping some local vulnerable young people in our society. When I used to read about refugees coming to Europe, they were just numbers and statistics because I had never met any of them. Now when I read about the things refugees go through, I think about the young people I’ve spent time with. It’s made me appreciate that these are kind and caring people, risking their lives to try and build a better future for themselves.
How can you volunteer?
Hopefully some of you will want to get involved after having read about my experience volunteering with The Children’s Society! To volunteer you need to get a DBS check with The Children’s Society, and you will also need to have some training and attend an informal interview. The training was really interesting and perception changing, and the interview was a nice way to meet some people who work for the charity. The best first thing to do is send an email to either Furat, email@example.com or Lizzy, firstname.lastname@example.org and they will help you with the process.
I hope you’ve found this interesting, please leave a comment if you’ve got any questions, and I’ll try and answer them the best I can!