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Institute of Health and Wellbeing Early Career Researchers' Blog

The Benefits That Voluntary Work Can Bring To Your PhD

PhD Experience, Ruth Agbakoba

The Benefits That Voluntary Work Can Bring To Your PhD

By Ruth Agbakoba

No one has ever become poor by giving” – Anne Frank

This inspirational quote illustrates the value of generosity. In this post I would like to share my personal voluntary experiences as they have positively impacted my PhD Research. Moving to a new city can be a very daunting prospect for students. For me, having a close bond with my twin sister Faith, I knew that the adjustments would take time. However, what we do share close to our hearts is our charitable works from childhood. Glasgow is very much a cohesive and friendly city to live and study. The “People Make Glasgow” slogan was unveiled as the new brand name for the largest city in Scotland. It represents distinct warmth with the people of Glasgow being at the heart of this brand. During my time in Glasgow, I have come to experience this warmth for myself, most notably in a volunteering capacity.

Last year I attended The Gathering, which is the largest event in the UK for social enterprises and voluntary organisations. It was organised by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) and held at the SECC in Glasgow. It consisted of two days, jam packed with exciting talks and opportunities to share knowledge.  I attended a session on Digital Inclusion and Participation in Rural Scotland. The session explored ways to help people and charities across the UK to develop the skills and confidence needed to join the online community, get connected and benefit from the internet.

After the session, I began to speak to other delegates during the coffee break and visit the numerous stands in the exhibition hall. I was then approached by Gozie Adigwe a Senior Eye Health and Equalities Officer at the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB Scotland). We began to discuss the interesting projects that were presented at the conference and up and coming projects within RNIB Scotland. One project in particular being “You Care Eye Care” funded by the Scottish Government’s Self-Management Impact Fund and the ALLIANCE from March 2015/16. The project is a self-care initiative aimed at people of Black African origin (BME) aged 25+ living in Glasgow with a visual impairment or at particular risk of sight loss.

Glasgow is home to approximately 12,000 people of African origin. Little research has been done specifically in the BME community but it is thought that Black Africans experience early onset of sight loss and more aggressive symptoms. Yet they have a less than satisfactory experience of eye health services. Some individuals are not even aware or know what they are entitled to and therefore do not access services. The project set out to create awareness and provide practical support to enable them to better manage their condition, develop confidence in making informed choices about their eye health and develop coping strategies to improve wellbeing.

Volunteers comprise a large proportion of the RNIB workforce.  The Project Officer Satya Dunning was advertising for several community posts including an Administrative Research Assistant which I successfully applied for. I dedicated a couple hours a week to support clients in the creation of their co-produced peer-support group “See No Borders”, manage correspondence with community organisations and engagement with clinicians. While working on the project, I was able to gain an understanding of how the third sector operates. Additionally, I learnt about the importance of empathy, empowerment and motivation – key values that I have carried forward in my everyday life.

A celebration was held to mark the first anniversary of the project on Tuesday 22nd March at Maryhill Burgh Halls. This event provided an opportunity to bring diverse voices and experiences of sight loss issues affecting this community. With over 50 stakeholders invited (and all the clients and staff), delegates gained a holistic perspective of how working together to integrate services in a citizen-led way can help towards future provision of care services.

The evening provided opportunity to showcase African Arts and Culture, Story Telling, Dance and Entertainment supported by Chief May and the Ha Orchestra (Gameli Kodzo Tordzro) with African cuisine provided by Karibu Scotland. The most poignant part of the evening was the clients themselves who had the spoke about what the project had helped them to achieve personally. In closing remarks, delegates were informed that the project was deemed highly successful and that they received an additional three years funding! GREAT NEWS!

So, why did I share this experience with you? Because by extending a helping hand I have been able to gain so much more that has facilitated my own research. There is an African Proverb that says “When you are helping people you are helping yourself”. This opportunity has opened up many more doors than I could have expected. I would encourage readers to do all you can to lend a helping hand to voluntary organisations. I have since become a Social Media Ambassador for Mary’s Meals another wonderful charity that I am excited to work with! 🙂

Ruth_post

Photo: Courtesy of RNIB Scotland – You Care Eye Care Celebration Event.

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