Shuan is a first-year International Social and Political Studies student specialising in anthropology. She works as a project leader for the Student-Led Project Impact Initiative, a project founded to aid the English learning of Afghan Refugees in London.

Tell us a little about your volunteering

I am a first-year representative and project leader with Impact Initiative, and we provide tutoring for refugees from Afghanistan aged between 15 and 25. This mainly involves English learning but also providing advice and sharing experiences where appropriate. My job consists of two bits: Firstly, I oversee the English sessions and teach each week. Secondly, I work as our social media manager, so I post from our Instagram account about recruiting new volunteers or introducing members of the team. We also do short interviews with our volunteers to share their experiences with the broader network.

How did you find out about the role?

The project's founder is a student from my department, and most of the team members are also from our degree course. I think they got in touch with the first-year reps who sent out emails advertising the opportunity. This is how I found out about it.

Why did you want to become a volunteer?

I decided to join because I have been volunteering as an English Tutor back in China for over five years, and this is something I have been really passionate about. I found Impact Initiative a great opportunity to continue doing something good and meaningful while I am not in China. I have been teaching for a long time, and I just wanted to keep doing it. I have always tried to give back to my community because I am lucky enough to have access to an English education. I think it is super important to share this knowledge with more people to help them access better job opportunities. It is such a simple thing to share my knowledge with others, and yet the impact on their lives is huge, having just come here from Afghanistan.

It is such a simple thing to share my knowledge with others, and yet the impact on their lives is huge, having just come here from Afghanistan.

What difference do you feel you’ve made by volunteering?

I can see them slowly progressing with the content. We have started with simple terms and words. We are now moving on to more advanced things like verbs and tenses. And there are some students who are so advanced by now that they can make some basic conversation with you which I think that is huge progress.

What impact has volunteering had on you?

Firstly, I would say my communication skills greatly improved. We have to continuously liaise with other volunteers, the students, the organisation we are partnered with, etc. During my time volunteering, I also became much more patient and focused on what to teach. I needed to ensure that they are actually learning and nothing is too hard or too easy in the material. I have grown more conscious of what I am teaching and learned to put extra effort into the whole process.

What’s the best thing about volunteering?

I would say it’s the act of a good deed because we don’t do it for any reward or personal benefit. We do it because it is good for people. These people are struggling. They have been through a lot, and we can make a huge difference in their lives with a little effort. Every time I go to a session, I feel that people are actually learning and want to learn. For example, when I ask a question, and they reply correctly, they are so happy. And this happiness is very rewarding for me because I know that what I'm doing is making a difference.

And the most challenging? How did you overcome the challenges?

I would say the language barrier because most often, they only speak Farsi, which I personally do not. We always have one or two volunteers who talk Farsi but translating everything still takes lots of time. For example, when we make a PowerPoint, we have to find the correct translation for each word and put it on the slides. Each time a new concept needs explaining, I find that quite hard in terms of preparing the material for the class.

We also teach quite big groups at a time. Some people in one group have a different level of knowledge, and some are super shy and quiet. So, you need to think about how to split them for exercises so that everyone stays on track.

Tell us about something memorable that’s happened to you whilst volunteering

There was this moment when I stopped for a second and watched everyone else work. There was this a volunteer who said, ‘Okay, say this word with me…’ and the student was then repeating the word and pronouncing it well. And I saw how concentrated she was and how closely she listened… It touched me how they had this pure aspiration for knowledge and learning. I think sometimes it’s tough to find this in society because usually everything is done in exchange for something else.

Would you recommend volunteering? If so, why?

I think everyone should try it, at least. I feel like volunteering helps you recognise different communities in society and that not everyone has the same access to education or other resources we take for granted. And this recognition can then help you realise the importance of giving back to the community.

Volunteering is meaningful, and that is why we do it – what we do makes such a big change. So, I think yes, definitely try it and see because before you start volunteering, maybe you feel that this would be too daunting, or you cannot commit to it. But once you have done it, you realise that each moment you are with a student and seeing how focused they are makes you keep moving forward.