Student volunteers making positive change in a year of despair

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By Thea Powell, Second Year English Literature

It’s been a long year of online learning. Stuck at home, eyes glued to computer screens all day, holding out hope that our tutors don’t tell us to turn our cameras on and notice we’re wearing pyjamas and eating a bowl of pasta. Sometimes it’s felt as if the only crutch we’ve got to lean on are the stories that tell of kindness and selflessness – the stories which affirm that there is still room for hope.

Money-raising ventures and public displays of community from Captain Tom’s £32 million garden walks to the quarantined Italians’ morale-boosting singing from balconies have captured the attention of the media and public over the past year, and rightly so. However, examples of people dedicating their extra time to a worthwhile cause have been everywhere. One friend of mine has devoted countless hours to a non-profit organisation offering personal development to Bristol students; another spent weeks studying trespass law to help a group of squatters living nearby with their legal counsel.

World Citizen Artists is a community organisation with projects led by Bristol students which works to raise awareness through art and music by featuring engaged artists and musicians with humanitarian messages. Since joining, I’ve met so many students who are passionate about social issues and are using their free time for good.

Fellow volunteers gave me an insight into their motivations for volunteering:
‘When I started university, I wanted to find a voluntary experience that complemented my studies by allowing me to engage with global and humanitarian issues”, said Willem Harrison Barraclough, a 1st year politics student. “WCA has been a great opportunity to combine my interest in music and engage with social issues.’

Emelye Goult, a first year Liberal Arts student, said: ‘By joining WCA, I feel like my free time is being used in a way that contributes to a source of change. It’s a community where positive change is the fuel that drives everyday life.’

Rebel Layonn is a musician from Haiti supported by WCA. | Epigram / World Citizen Artists

There is no pretending that students joining volunteer-based organisations will not benefit us in ways other than the satisfaction of working for positive change: it is, of course, natural for students to find voluntary work in order to build on their CV and gain experience for later careers. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of merit in finding work that is of value to others, as well as the volunteers themselves.

Helen Babbage, a 4th year Russian and Czech student, sheds some light on this: ‘Volunteering for a humanitarian organisation is an opportunity to pursue self-development and meet new people in an environment that is more removed from the profit- and status-driven corporate sphere than many equivalent opportunities. In the current economy, young people often have to set their values aside to enhance their CV and secure their future, so I think finding and working for an organisation that aligns with your values is both rewarding and fulfilling.’

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Lots of things in the current climate can make us feel like we’re not doing enough – deadlines, or more generally the ‘lockdown blues’ in all its forms – when, actually, we’re a great bunch. Our recognition of those working for change should obviously not be restricted to those attached to an organisation; it is only since joining WCA that I have begun to notice how many of us are devoting our time to causes we believe in, both officially and unofficially. To all those doing so: give yourself a pat on the back. We don’t give ourselves enough credit.


If you are interested in finding out more about WCA or their work, see their website here.

Cover Image is of Lili Del Sol, a Columbian musician supported by WCA.
Image Credit: Epigram / World Citizen Artists

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