Guest article: Student Volunteering in Ireland (1st Oct 2012)
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As thousands of students across Ireland start or return back to third level life, Laura Harmon, Vice-President for Equality and Citizenship, Union of Students in Ireland contributes this great guest article on the benefits and impact of student volunteering in Ireland.
The Union of Students in Ireland is keen to encourage and promote student volunteering in Ireland. Thousands of students across the country are giving their time freely to so many different causes and projects. There are loads of opportunities for students to volunteer in college such as being on the committee of a college society or club, running for class representative, volunteering with the Students’ Union or becoming a peer mentor.
Paddy Guiney is the Campaigns and Communications Officer with UCD Students’ Union and he has been volunteering with the St Vincent de Paul Society’s soup run for the homeless for the last two years.
‘I got involved to get to know other people. It’s good to know you’re doing a lot of good even though it seems small at the time but we’re helping people who have really hit rock bottom.’
Over two hundred students in University College Cork are volunteering on the uLink Peer Support Programme. Every first year in UCC is assigned a Peer Supporter and each Peer Supporter has around twenty five first year students in their group for the year. Peer Support Leaders are there to answer any questions their group might have throughout the year about settling into college life or offering practical support when dealing with issues that they themselves might have experienced in first year.
Aaron Blake is a Peer Support Leader for the second year in a row in UCC. He emphasizes how he relied on his Peer Support Leader when he was in first year and wanted to give something back. He also highlights the importance of having a good Coordinator, no matter what volunteering programme you’re on.
‘Claire, the Coordinator for the programme is always so approachable, friendly and easy to talk to – she inspires the Peer Supporters to stay involved and always reminds us that we’re making a difference.’
‘Becoming a class representative can also be a fantastic way to gain new skills such as communication skills, teamwork, public speaking, conflict resolution and negotiation skills and is a great way to add to your C.V,’ explains Dan Ferrick, Education Officer in Trinity College Dublin’s Students’ Union, where there are approximately 355 class representatives elected each year.
According to the President of University College Cork’s Societies Guild, Jamie Hooper, ‘students who are involved in committees of societies in college may not consider it to be volunteering because they are often dedicating time to be involved in something they love but it is still volunteering.’ UCC has 87 societies, including their LGBT Society which won Best Large College Society at the Board of Irish College Societies awards in 2012. Each society has at least 4 on their committee and some have up to 14 people. Jamie adds that ‘It’s massively impressive the amount of work they’ll put in for the joy they get from being a part of their society – sometimes the work is equivalent to a part-time job, except they aren’t getting paid and many society committees work on weekends too.’
Raising and Giving Weeks are always full of volunteering activities and students across the country consistently raise large sums of money for charities every year by voluntarily organising fundraising events. Mike Thompson is the Vice-President for the Southern Region in USI and he was the President of IT Tralee’s Students’ Union. During this time, he set up a charity called Project Uganda and students in IT Tralee raised 8,500 euro through volunteering to organise a charity dinner and numerous table quizzes. Mike explains: ‘I had no charity that was personal to me and then I got talking to a local woman who had been working for a school in Uganda. The aims of the school are to educate as many children from disadvantaged areas as possible. With the money students raised through our activities, we were able to increase the school’s budget significantly that year.’
Are you a student who volunteers? Why not share your experience by commenting below? If you are interested in giving volunteering a go, click here to browse opportunities in your area and start making a difference!
Photography by Emmet Curtin