Exploring volunteering

Student volunteers of the DoGood Charity Initiative

ADEWALE ANJOLAOLUWA, NWANERI GODSPOWER, EMMA-UBA CHINONSO and ABRAHAM CHELSEA in this article, look at volunteering through the eyes of students from the university of Lagos (UNILAG). 

Volunteering, the act of providing services for no financial or social gain is an upcoming trend in Nigeria. These days the average person barely has enough time for self-care or to take up an interest or cause while trying to have a career alongside a good life. With most people trying to get ahead at work or school, it is quite easy to not realize that the person next to them needs help that they most likely can give.

Although non-profit organizations, foundations and even orphanages do their best, these institutions are only as good as their resources and the most primary of these resources is manpower -individuals who take out time to volunteer, donate and lend a helping hand, amidst having a hectic schedule. And amongst these individuals are students who try to balance school and volunteering, to make a difference, no matter how small. Working with organizations who focus on things of interest to them, these students manage to make an impact while they study and get a degree. Speaking to a few of these student volunteers, we get an insight into their individual experiences and how they balance school and volunteering.

Maryam Ashiru

Why they do what they do.

Students volunteer for different reasons and are motivated by various factors. Aanuoluwapo Adediran, a 300-level student of mass communication admits that it started from a place of “wanting to give back to society”. Having started since 2015, she has volunteered in several non-governmental as well as international organizations. 

Maryam Ashiru on the other hand, has always wanted to help people, as much as she can. A fresh graduate of UNILAG, it was this passion for helping that motivated her to start volunteering. “...I know it sounds cliché but it’s something that has always resonated with me, helping people, doing something worthwhile basically for other people that were not as privileged as I am”. 

Olasubomi Olorunsola shares a different yet similar sentiment. He believes in taking care of our environment, to have a better life. Alongside helping people, Olasubomi volunteers with organizations focused on recycling and sustainable transformation. By cleaning the environment, He slowly changes the living conditions.

Boluwatife Okemuyiwa

Tayo Oyeniyi, 400-level mechanical engineering student, is no average student, as his motivation for volunteering is the need to do so much more than school. Having started in his second year, he realized he was mainly focused on his academics and Tayo wanted more than just that. “...being an ardent reader, I realized my peers all around the world were doing much more apart from school.”

For students like Boluwatife and Kite, volunteering is an activity they were exposed to from a young age. Omooluwakite Olofiyin, a 200-level student from the Faculty of Law, is a second-generation Rotarian exposed to volunteering through her mum’s act of service. She believes that those who are fortunate enough and are in better positions should try to help other people in situations they did not choose.

This belief is shared by Boluwatife Okemuyiwa, who started volunteering at the age of 10. He was also a part of the younger version of the ‘Rotaract Club’ where he learnt and understood that there are people who need assistance. As he grew, Okemuyiwa held on to the spirit of giving and has taken up volunteering with different organizations to do just that.

Projects

Organizing holiday activities for orphanages, visiting the homeless, the sick and paying some bills are a few of the many ways these students are touching lives. Maryam who volunteered for the ‘Executive Initiatives’ while in school recounted a project she worked on with the organization.

Maryam’s team tried to help a young boy who had Cancer of the eye, by paying off the accumulated hospital bills and partnering with ‘Dorcas Foundation’ to get him into Radiotherapy. This was not what she had initially embarked on the fateful day she met his mother but because she was interested in his story, she took on the project and saw it through while doing her IT program in Year 3.

Omooluwakite Olofiyin

Omooluwakite recalls a similar project in which she visited the ‘Heart of Gold orphanage’ and spent some time with children who were abandoned because of one disability or the other. Seeing them, Kite could see nothing wrong with these children and could not understand why they were discriminated against and abandoned.

Boluwatife, who is in his final year of Law, reminisced about his first “massive" project, which he took part of in his secondary school. He alongside some colleagues raised money and installed a borehole for their school, which exists till date. He joked about the way they went about the job but that only highlights how easy it is for him to provide for others, what he can.

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“Educate a Girl and Educate a Nation” was an important project for Olasubomi, who volunteers with the Rotaract Club. Visiting an all-girls school, teaching and donating books was something he enjoyed because he was able to encourage them about the future. He wanted these girls to know that they could carry on any task and succeed. “...they could be the ones to bring us to change the world and the society around them...” he said.


Tayo did a similar work with AISEC, where he travelled to Ghana to deliver quality education to a part of the country where education was not available. While doing this, Tayo had to understand their culture and what was acceptable in that part of the country.

Describing the volunteering experience, Tayo tells us that he had to leave his comfort zone a lot, especially when he went to Ghana. He had to learn what was acceptable and what was not. With time he was able to build relationships and deliver quality education like he wanted to

Tayo Oyeniyi

It is easy to realize that Olasubomi has a passion for clean and healthy environments. “it excites me", he said. His experience as a volunteer for the S.T.E.A.M. tribe makes him imagine a world where we could increase greenhouse gases just because we take care of our waste and recycle our plastics. The vision of a better environment and improved lifestyle encourages him to keep on volunteering and taking care of his society.

For Maryam and Kite, it is hard to sum up the experience with just a few words but quite easy to repeat how they want to do more, every single time they volunteer. Completing the tasks they have at hand does not satisfy but increases their zeal and makes them look forward to next time.

While Boluwatife says that volunteering opens a part of him that is usually locked away, he also gets serious when talking about his experience. He is somber when speaking about what his experience made him realize. Bolu believes that there should be consistent and long-term actions and programs put into place for the less privileged. One could note that he has thought about this often as he talks about one day helping out with his knowledge of the law, help with policies, help create something special for these people because “...it’s not just about giving them food for a day, clothing for two months and the rest, we need to be consistent, we need to have a long term program...” Boluwatife adds passionately.

The story behind the pictures

Although volunteering is a laudable act of service, it is not always rosy for student volunteers. There are various challenges they face in the process of trying to ‘give back’. These range from being exposed to danger, the unreceptive nature of the ones they want to help, to struggling to find a balance between academics and volunteering. 

According to Tayo, it can be quite “cumbersome”. A major challenge he faced was commitment as he struggled to balance academics and volunteering. Boluwatife also shares the same sentiments as she recalls a time when she had three volunteering gigs in a week. She also mentioned that she had to skip a couple of classes but the fulfillment after the project made it worthwhile. “It is what it is sometimes, you just have to sacrifice”. 

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Trying to create and maintain a balance between academics and volunteering has been no easy feat for student volunteers. Both require commitment and have very tight deadlines. To ensure that participating in one doesn’t compromise the other, they have to find a way that works and a system that keeps them from burning out, because you cannot give help when you have none to give. 

Tayo states that the key to balance is knowing your priorities. He plans his activities for a week, a month even, and ensures he adds nothing else to it. This method has helped him stay on top of both his academics and volunteering.

Kite on the other hand, volunteers during holidays to avoid mixing it with schoolwork. She is not quite keen on missing a class or test. “It's a holiday, so you can stay there for as long as you want, as long as they need to be there”.

Another challenge, which can be overwhelming, to the point student volunteers quit, is the lack of understanding from some volunteering organizations. By overwhelming student volunteers with so many tasks and very tight deadlines, some organizations expect their academics to take a back seat, an expectation they cannot meet. Tayo says “some students end up leaving some organizations because of the commitment level. That's what I think is the major challenge students face while joining voluntary organizations".

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Organizations should understand that volunteers aid them, and student volunteers choose to do so despite the load academics brings. Using empathy when assigning tasks to them should be an instinct because not so many people will add to what they already deal with, yet these students chose to do.

 “It’s not all about the CV!”

Volunteering could be seen by some as a strategic move to upgrade one’s curriculum vitae but Tayo is of the opinion that this should not be the primary reason. He did not dispute the necessity of it but stated “...when you volunteer once, and this thing really resonates with you, you just suddenly discover that adding to your C.V. is quite secondary because you’re really doing things you like and developing as a person”. He disclosed that he had many activities he could have added to his CV but he did not.

Aanuoluwapo Adediran

Volunteering comes with its perks, and Aanu listed a few; networking, mental satisfaction, financial reward and of course, an advantage on CVs. As gratifying as these rewards are, they are not the main reasons she volunteers. Having her volunteering experience on her CV is just one of the perks but not the main reason she does. She explained that her driving force is wanting to ‘give back’ as well as solving problems, “I see a problem that non-profit organizations are trying to solve, and I think I can help”. She volunteers primarily to do her own bit.

Parting Words

Our student volunteers left us with quotes that continue to inspire them. Tayo quotes a line from Og Mandino’s the greatest salesman in the world by Og Mandino – “I will never fail if my determination to succeed is strong enough”.

Aanu sees herself as an illuminating light and shares, “There are two ways of spreading light – to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it and a candle never dies by lighting others”.

Olasubomi Olorunsola

Olasubomi gives a Latin quote that emphasizes his resolve. He quotes, “noli laborare ut non facile ad omnia” and it means do hard things till they get easier. Kite in the same vein supports staying disciplined to achieving set goals, "Who needs motivation when you've got discipline" 

Boluwatife says “The future belongs to those who prepare for it today” while Maryam’s favourite quote, “Sabali” is from a song and it means Patience. “In all things, use patience”

Volunteers are faced with challenges irrespective of the help they wish to render; but amidst all the challenges they are faced with every day their will to better the society and touch people’s lives comes out stronger. These student volunteers also hope that their stories will inspire other students like them to get involved in the noble service of humanity though volunteering. 

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